— This was supposed to be the year the rest of the NFL got back at New England after a decade of dominance, at least in terms of Super Bowl wins.
As November begins, however, the Patriots are at the top of the league.
New England, the team that people loved in 2001 for its scrappiness and loved to hate by 2007 for its arrogance, has the best record at 6-1.
The New York Jets were crowned champions after a highly entertaining — if profane — "hard knocks" series. Dallas was thought to be the first team to play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium, but the only way they make it to Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium is with a ticket.
Minnesota sent three players to Mississippi to un-retire Brett Favre after making it to the NFC Championship last year, but the Vikings have had more drama than "Jersey Shore." New Orleans looked like a good bet too, but the Saints appear to be suffering from the kind of hangovers many people get from Bourbon Street.
So the Patriots endure.
And New England has found a way to win with their best offensive lineman (Logan Mankins) out in a contract dispute, their best defensive lineman (Ty Warren), best cornerback (Leigh Bodden) and most dependable and versatile running back (Kevin Faulk) out because of injuries and their best receiver (Randy Moss) gone in a trade.
How in the name of Raymond Berry have they done this? The answer is easy: Bill Belichick.
Before the season started, Belichick wiped clean remnants of New England’s Super Bowl past, taking down pictures of players that won Super Bowl rings in 2001, ’03 and ’04. No more Tedy Bruschi. No more Troy Brown. No more Mike Vrabel.
Real-life members of those teams remain in quarterback Tom Brady and left tackle Matt Light, if the current teammates want to ask what it was like to hold a Lombardi Trophy.
New England went 10-6 last year, won the AFC East again and was spanked in the playoffs at Gillette Stadium by Baltimore. In some places that might have been good enough to be celebrated throughout an offseason as some sort of accomplishment.
For the Patriots, it was a failure, so Belichick went about remaking the roster.
Gary Guyton, a backup linebacker, is the only player left among the four Belichick sent home last December for arriving late to Foxboro because of a snowstorm. Adalius Thomas feuded with Belichick and is not on an NFL roster this year. Neither is Derrick Burgess. Moss has since been traded to Minnesota, where he learned Monday he was no longer needed.
If Belichick was going to go down, he would go down with his kind of guys. He has enough credibility stored up thanks to those Super Bowl rings to trade a Moss, role with a Danny Woodhead or go with younger players and have people agree with every move.
A defense that grew old with Bruschi, Vrabel and Rodney Harrison, now has four rookies starting: defensive ends Brandon Deaderick (a seventh-round pick) and Jermaine Cunningham (second), linebacker Brandon Spikes (second) and cornerback Devin McCourty (first).
On offense, rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Fernandez have had big impacts. Third-year running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis leads the team in rushing and has six touchdowns. Second-year wide receiver Brandon Tate had his first 100-yard receiving game against the Vikings. Second-year tackle Sebastian Vollmer fits the Patriot mold of position flexibility.
Of course there is always Brady, who has welcomed the reunion with Deion Branch and has 12 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. Maybe the Patriots are not as explosive as they were in 2007 with Moss, Donte Stallworth & Co. but they are as efficient.
All of this could get even worse for those who loathe the Patriots.
As a result of some shrewd trading, New England has two picks in each of the first four rounds of next April’s draft. They have Oakland’s first-round pick, Carolina’s second-round pick, Minnesota’s third-rounder and Denver’s fourth-round selection.
The combined records of those teams: 9-21. Not only do they have the plethora of picks, they figure to have high picks in those rounds, too.
So if you’re waiting for the Patriots comeuppance, you might have to wait quite a while longer.
And these new Patriots might have their own pictures hanging from the Gillette Stadium walls before too long.