Paul Higham explains how Tom Brady and Bill Belichick continued to make a mockery of a sport geared up towards parity by making an eighth straight AFC Championship game.
The New England Patriots flew slightly under the radar this season but Tom Brady and Bill Belichick did the trick yet again to produce an emphatic Divisional Round victory over the well-fancied LA Chargers to advance to an eighth straight AFC Championship game.
They've won four of the previous seven but lost both of the games they played on the road - and both coming against the Denver Broncos who play in the same AFC West as next week's opponents the Kansas City Chiefs.
Just think about their achievement for a second - an eighth year in a row that the Patriots will fight it out for a place in the Super Bowl. The sport is geared up for parity with a salary cap, the draft and a schedule that pits the better teams against each other to try and ensure there are no one dominant team.
The Patriots have, somehow, managed to make a nonsense of that with their run under quarterback Brady and head coach Belichick - who is famed for creating meticulous schemes to bamboozle opposing quarterbacks while Brady does the same to opposition defences.
In 17 healthy seasons as New England's star quarterback, Brady has appeared in the AFC title game 13 times and won five Super Bowls - but at 41 this was supposed to finally be the year that the dynasty started to crumble as Brady's body began to fail him, but neither he nor the team seem to have read the script.
Brady will go to Kansas City as the underdog against 23-year-old starlet Patrick Mahomes, who has electrified the league all season but now faces the toughest test there is - a Belichick defence and a red-hot Brady in the play-offs.
"Everyone thinks we suck," Brady told CBS. "You know, we can't win any games. So, we'll see. It'll be fun."
Brady never goes into any game thinking he's the underdog though - this season is not the first time he and his team have been written off, but it seemed like it could be true after back-to-back heavy defeats and the lack of pace or playmakers on either side of the ball.
Backing against the Patriots at home in the play-offs is a bit like backing Harry Potter to lose at a game of quidditch at Hogwarts, and the Patriots came out and wiped the floor with the Chargers - don't be surprised at all if they get the job done at Arrowhead next week.
New England edged out the Chiefs in a wild shootout during the season, but that was at home and they've been susceptible on the road this season, which is why they're underdogs in a play-off game for the first time in 13 post-season games.
Brady was benched in a disastrous last visit to Kansas City in 2014, and it's fitting that he returns to Arrowhead for his latest attempt to prove the doubters wrong - and don't for a second think he won't have that in his mind on Sunday.
"That was a pretty crappy loss that night," Brady said after that 41-14 loss four years ago. "But we've had some other ones. We show a lot of perseverance, a lot of toughness. This team is showing it.
"We've had some tough losses this year too, but you just keep fighting. That's what football is all about. It's a season; it's not one game or four games or eight games. It's 16 games, and you get a chance to be in this position.
"It's going to be a lot of fun to go back there and play in the champ game and try to advance."
NFL Divisional Round results
- Indianapolis Colts 13-31 Kansas City Chiefs
- Dallas Cowboys 22-30 LA Rams
- LA Chargers 28-41 New England Patriots
- Philadelphia Eagles 14-20 New Orleans Saints
NFL Championship game schedule
Sunday January 20
- LA Rams @ New Orleans Saints - 2005 GMT
- New England Patriots @ Kansas City Chiefs - 2340 GMT