The New England Patriots start their postseason campaign on Saturday as heavy favourites, but also begin their 15th playoff appearance in 17 seasons with a fair share of doubt surrounding the franchise.
Rumours of an imminent Patriots demise have been far from a rarity during New England's seemingly endless period of dominance, but they have always quickly been forgotten once Bill Belichick's men have firmly reasserted their position as the superior power in the NFL.
And, on the heels of a 13-3 season in which the now 40-year-old Tom Brady has largely continued to look like a player in his prime and not one heading towards the twilight of his career, speculation emerged recently that the key players in their dynasty could be poised to go their separate ways.
A report in ESPN claimed that the relationship between Brady, Belichick and owner Robert Kraft had become strained as a consequence of "serious disagreements" between the trio, concerning the quarterback's trainer, body coach and business partner Alex Guerrero, the long-term plan at quarterback and the trade of Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers - as well as the veteran head coach's style.
Brady, Belichick and Kraft have all been quick to debunk the contents of the article but their denials will have done little to quiet the belief outside the Patriots organisation that discontent is growing within the building.
Though the Kansas City Chiefs, who stunningly marched into Foxborough and claimed a Week 1 win, are out of the playoffs, there is also a belief that New England's veneer of invincibility is eroding.
Indeed, had Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James not seen a game-winning touchdown reception overturned as a result of the NFL's increasingly bemusing catch rule, then the Patriots would be looking at a potential road game against Mike Tomlin's charges in the AFC Championship Game.
Brady also suffered something of a dip in form in the latter stages of the regular season, throwing six interceptions in the last six games and, while few expect the Tennessee Titans to have any shot of eliminating him and the Patriots in the Divisional Round, there can be no doubt the veteran's recent performances have not been of the standard necessary for playoff success.
But great teams thrive amid dysfunction and, regardless of how much substance there was to the reports of a breakdown in relations between Brady, Belichick and Kraft, the Patriots' on-field response will be expected to be emphatic, as it has so often been in the past.
The spygate scandal was followed by arguably the greatest regular season of all time as the Patriots went 16-0 in 2007, and they also successfully shut out the noise around Deflategate to beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
Angering the Patriots has rarely been considered a good idea. Neither the Titans nor the Steelers or Jacksonville Jaguars are responsible for doing so but at least one of those teams will have to deal with the consequences. Brady had a difficult December but, if his mood has indeed soured in the wake of recent reports, then it will take an especially monumental effort to stop him and New England making it back to the Super Bowl next month.
19. April 2018
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|Stunning Gayle century ends Sunrisers´ unbeaten start|
|Conte names Hazard on bench for Burnley clash|
|Rooney denies rift with Everton boss Allardyce|
|Kane will leave Tottenham unless they win trophies, predicts Souness|
|Porzingis could miss 2018-19 season, Knicks owner says|
|Portugal´s Sanches has no chance of World Cup selection - Carvalhal|
|Spurs coach Popovich to miss game three after death of wife|
|Nadal reaches 14th straight Monte Carlo quarter-final|
|Better with one arm - Julio Cesar reveals Mourinho´s Casillas jibe|
|New Hamilton deal ´agreed in principle´ for Mercedes|
|Joseph likely to miss England´s tour of South Africa|
|Mourinho has nothing to prove - Pochettino|
|Bhatti pens one-year Glasgow extension|
|I have spoken to the chairman - Allardyce upset by Everton survey|
|Kit cat: Bath player offers signed shirt for missing pet|
|Emery dismisses talk of Real Sociedad offer|
|Thiem rallies to send Djokovic packing in Monte Carlo|
|Sidibe´s Monaco season over but World Cup return possible|
|Guardiola thanks ´unique´ City staff in celebration speech|
|Wan-Bissaka signs long-term Crystal Palace extension|
|Love will be ready for game three, assures Cavs coach Lue|
|Injured Raonic withdraws from Monte Carlo, Cilic advances|
|ECB announces 100-ball format for new domestic competition|
|Bottas aiming to overthrow Hamilton and claim world title|
|Rakitic to make comeback following finger surgery|
|FIFA dismisses Brewster racism complaint from U-17 World Cup final|
|Isak could benefit from Batshuayi injury - Stoger|
|Mitchell on target again in scrappy Roosters win|
|Shaw hopes to have earned FA Cup start|
|Mercado: If I smack Messi, I can´t go back to Argentina!|
|Salah wants Golden Boot to prove Chelsea doubters wrong|
|Chelsea´s Alonso gets three-game ban for Long challenge|
|Atletico clash absolutely vital to Arsenal´s season, admits Wenger|
|CSA wants interim agreement amid negotiations with South Africa players|
|Wenger still confident Wilshere will sign new deal|
|Read and Coles doubts for New Zealand´s France series|
|Paine vows to dial down Australia sledging|
|LeBron James denies he was blindsided by question on Popovich´s wife|
|Guardiola a friend as well as a boss, says Walker|
|Heaton: Europe a realistic possibility for Burnley|
|Late charge for the Golden Boot! - Smalling jokes about goalscoring form|
|Grand slams, walk-off hits highlight Blue Jays and Red Sox wins|
|Emery unsure when PSG star Neymar will return|
|Broncos boss Bennett walks out on press conference amid Bellamy speculation|
|Chiefs, Rams to play in Mexico City on November 19|
|LeBron James helps Cavs even series, Rockets rout T-Wolves|
|Marcelo backs Ronaldo to extend scoring run for Madrid|
|Copa Libertadores Review: Libertad preserve 100 per cent record, Corinthians stay unbeaten|
|Man United should have 10 more points – Mourinho laments inconsistency|
|Gombau sacked by Western Sydney Wanderers|
|Wife of San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dies|
|Rafael: Van Gaal told me I could leave United after one-minute meeting|
|Klopp told Liverpool they could train naked because of Salah|
|Jazz star Mitchell to play game two against Thunder|
|Twins place Byron Buxton on 10-day DL with migraines|
|Zidane denies Bale problems, defends Benzema|
|Sarri: Napoli won´t change approach against Serie A rivals Juve|
|PSG will respect Les Herbiers, assures Emery|
|Chelsea boss Conte: It´s easier for Dyche at Burnley|
|It will be a great game - Allegri prepared for title showdown with Napoli|
|Pacquiao: Matthysse fight won´t be my last|
|Maybe it is my fault - Gattuso takes responsibility for AC Milan´s winless run|
|Kovac insists Frankfurt are united amid Bayern row|
18. April 2018
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|I was low and depressed - Hull KR centre Minns fails drugs test|
|LeBron wishes Cavaliers were better prepared for postseason|