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.
|Thomas turns down Celtics´ video tribute|
|Moyes unaware of Chelsea interest in Carroll|
|Verdi wants Bologna stay amid Napoli links|
|Ronaldinho retires – A shining light of Brazil´s 2002 World Cup-winning team|
|Ronaldinho retires – a World Cup and Ballon d´Or among Brazil great´s prizes|
|Celtics great White dead at 71|
|World Cup glory and Bernabeu magic - Ronaldinho´s best moments for Barca and Brazil|
|Trust the Process – 76ers only behind Warriors and Cavs in merchandise sales|
|Ligue 1 Review: Balotelli at the double as Payet shines and Malcom toils|
|Pato still dreaming of World Cup selection|
|FA Cup Review: Iheanacho makes VAR history, kit confusion reigns|
|Wallaby saves wallaby: Farr-Jones in Sydney Harbour Bridge rescue mission|
|2016-17 UEFA Study: PSG, Man City drive record-breaking spending|
|Conte packing in homework as Chelsea games stack up|
|2016-17 UEFA Study: The headlines in transfers, wages and revenues|
|2016-17 UEFA Study: Manchester United record highest revenue but largest debt|
|Monaco stay perfect, Murcia overcome Oldenburg|
|Iheanacho scores English football´s first VAR goal|
|Materazzi not surprised by Coutinho transfer fee|
|Ronaldinho retires - Brazil and Barca great plans 2018 farewell|
|Jags RB Leonard Fournette uninjured in three-car accident|
|India revenge would heal Proteas´ scars - Elgar|
|Koziello swaps Nice for Cologne|
|Simeone ready to unleash Costa and Vitolo alongside Griezmann|
|Head coach Cooper to leave Stade Francais|
|Silverwood plays down talk of replacing Bayliss|
|Lambert ´never thought´ he would return to Premier League|
|Wenger ´very aggressive´ towards referee Dean, says FA report|
|Reported Arsenal target Malcom starts for Bordeaux vs Caen|
|Valverde not making big deal of Dembele´s latest Barca blow|
|Costly day for Kohli as Proteas close in on series win|
|Date set for Afghanistan´s maiden Test|
|Returning McIlroy ready to end winless run|
|In-form Short leaves coach Kirsten needing dental treatment|
|Arsenal will have a ´hard time´ signing Malcom|
|Ronaldo and Madrid nominated for Laureus awards|
|Nantes´ Diego Carlos brands Chapron clash ´historic´|
|This is not important - Conte unconcerned if substitutions upset Hazard|
|Conte ´doesn´t think´ Chelsea have pursued Sanchez|
|Cobblestone climb part of 2019 Tour de France Grand Depart|
|Emery hints at Neymar return against Dijon|
|Joshua labels Parker claims ´fake news´|
|´Emotional´ Fleetwood honoured by Seve Ballesteros Award|
|Tears for Kvitova as Bouchard sets up Halep meeting|
|Mkhitaryan key to United-Sanchez deal, claims Raiola|
|WATCH: Sabalenka wins point using racquet throat|
|Federer, Djokovic and Zverev among Australian Open first-round winners|
|Kubica gets reserve role as Williams hire Sirotkin|
|Shambolic Stars out after Sixers thrashing|
|Wales pick uncapped Worcester wing Adams in Six Nations squad|
|Tevez: CSL spell was a holiday|
|Mignolet considering Liverpool future|
|Laidlaw among several returning stars in Scotland Six Nations squad|
|´Fairy tale´ 2017 motivation for Federer|
|Fred waiting for Guardiola call amid Man City speculation|
|Dominant Federer makes light work of Bedene|
|Halep faces nervous wait over ankle injury|
|Inter confident but patient over Rafinha|
|Kohli fined after umpire outburst|
|Djokovic hits back at Australian Open boycott suggestions|
|De Grandhomme lifts Black Caps to win in Taylor´s 200th ODI|
|Giggs had counselling after Old Trafford exit|
|Durant continues dominance over Cavs as Warriors win|
|Halep survives scare and rolled ankle at Melbourne Park|
|Westbrook ejected against Kings after arguing call|
|Djokovic eases past Young on return|
|Sharapova staying grounded after Melbourne win|
|Neville: Mourinho would happily swap Mkhitaryan for Sanchez|
|Raonic suffers surprise loss in Melbourne|
|Sharapova wins on return to Australian Open|