The worry is that Belichick's defense, soldered together with obediently functioning spare parts, will not merely bend but also break in the playoffs, as it has the past two seasons, when it is subjected to the ultimate stress test. What's more, the remainder of the schedule will not afford the Patriots even a simulation of such a test. The Redskins, Broncos, Dolphins and Bills likely will do little to prepare New England's defense for the considerably more-rounded Ravens or Steelers, or even the Texans or Jets.
Belichick would never admit as much. In the middle of last week he rudely chastised a reporter who dared to suggest that the winless Colts might not be the best gauge of his defense's progress. "You can go ahead on your soliloquy," he said—which the reporter couldn't, as he interrupted her. "I'm not sure what games you're watching here," he added.
Still, Belichick's sour demeanor after Sunday's win suggested where his concerns rest. Yes, the Patriots had won, but they had given up 21 straight fourth-quarter points and had allowed quarterback Dan Orlovsky—whose last victory came in 2004 when he was a senior at UConn—to complete 30 of 37 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns. The concern is likely the same one that Beane once famously expressed: "My s--- doesn't work in the playoffs."
While Belichick's impressive rebuilding effort has produced an NFL-high 44 regular-season victories since 2008, New England's postseason record in that span is 0--2. Belichick will not know until early in 2012 whether he has formulated an entirely new type of champion, or whether his mad science has again produced what it has for the past several seasons—a team that wins plenty while being rebuilt but that, come January, leaves its creator with singed hair and a sooty face.