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.
23. Juli 2018
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|You can´t do whatever you want in life – Mourinho responds to Martial exit talk|
|Harvick bumps Busch out of way for victory|
|Klopp hails Dortmund star Pulisic after Liverpool loss|
|Fellow pro reveals Open winner Molinari´s retirement plans|
|Manchester United 0 San Jose Earthquakes 0: Sanchez returns in uninspiring draw|
|Laporte jealous of France World Cup winners|
|Tamim fires Bangladesh to ODI success|
|Liverpool 1 Borussia Dortmund 3: Pulisic inspires comeback to deny Klopp win against old club|
22. Juli 2018
|My game is back - Spieth finds Open positives despite tough final round|
|Barcelona pay tribute to retiring Marquez|
|Blow for Thomas and Froome as Moscon is excluded|
|Woods earns WGC-Bridgestone Invitational place with rankings boost|
|Clay specialist Cecchinato lifts Croatia title on return to red dirt|
|Molinari´s safety-first masterclass yields deserved Open triumph|
|Alisson to link up with Liverpool at Evian training camp|
|Woods´ return no fluke, insists Spieth|
|Johnson shrugs off shoulder injury to win second 2018 title|
|The Open 2018 diary: Kane an able golfer, hats off to Hossler|
|Tiger and Serena will talk through Open disappointment|
|Molinari: It wasn´t about being ruthless to beat Woods|
|Tiger ´ticked off´ at missed Open opportunity|
|The Open 2018: Molinari triumphs - how a dramatic final round unfolded|
|McIlroy: Great to be back in the mix|
|Open victory will take a long time to sink in, says Molinari|
|Stoke sign McClean from West Brom for £5m|
|Masterful Molinari clinches sublime Open win after Spieth, Woods fall away|
|Germany´s Ozil retires from international football|
|Vikings OL coach Tony Sparano dies|
|BREAKING NEWS: Magical Molinari wins The Open|
|Dalic claims to be world´s second best coach|
|Twelve-try Wakefield batter Hull to send Rhinos into Qualifiers|
|Sevastova cruises to Bucharest title|
|Cort Nielsen sprints to first Tour stage win, Thomas maintains lead|
|Sarri needs support to deliver Chelsea success - Zola|
|Pjanic and Rugani in Juventus tour squad as Ronaldo and World Cup stars are rested|
|Eagle has McIlroy soaring into a five-way tie for the lead at Carnoustie|
|Vettel will not lose any sleep after Hockenheim mistake|
|I manifested my dream – Hamilton revels in Hockenheim win|
|Pakistan seal crushing series sweep of Zimbabwe|
|Furious Ozil accuses German media of turning country against him|
|Woods makes his move as Spieth and Schauffele wobble|
|Vettel crash sees Hamilton retake championship lead|
|RFEF confirms one-legged Supercopa de Espana in Tangier|
|Fognini downs Gasquet to clinch Swedish Open|
|Spieth and Tiger underway as Kisner falls back|
|Iniesta, Torres suffer defeats in their J.League debuts|
|Cornet ends title drought in Gstaad|
|Martial ´very focused´ at Manchester United - Herrera|
|Root, Williamson and Bairstow - hat-trick hero Clark flourishes in Roses battle|
|Sri Lanka spinning towards crushing series whitewash|
|Ozil explains controversial Erdogan meeting|
|It´ll be hard for Tuchel to get our players – Kovac expects Boateng stay|
|Fakhar Zaman fastest to 1,000 ODI runs|
|Neymar happy for World Cup winner Mbappe|
|I was born ready! - Bellew accepts Usyk challenge|
|Tuchel seeks Rabiot answers as Barca rumours persist|
|In-form Storm go top, Rampant Roosters thrash Manly|
|Bancroft discharged from hospital after taking blow to throat|
|MLS Review: Martinez breaks record as Atlanta march on|
|Brewers top Dodgers to snap seven-game losing streak|
|Munguia wins after 12-round marathon with Smith|
|Hart ready to leave City to revive career|
|Puel shuts down Schmeichel transfer speculation|
|Four-way tie at Barbasol Championship as Lincicombe misses cut|
|Lenglet happy not to face Messi|
|Tuchel keen to get PSG stars back after friendly defeat|
|Pulisic signing would interest Klopp|