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.
|AC Milan 0 Benevento 1: Rossoneri suffer again as bottom side stave off relegation...for now|
|Ulster stay alive in dramatic fashion as Bellini sparkles for Zebre|
|Semi-final pain for frustrated Kane|
|London stay was crucial to FA Cup Wembley win - Mourinho|
|Pochettino: Spurs need four more years – with me or another|
|Kaepernick honoured with Amnesty International award|
|He has not delivered optimal performances - Stoger explains Schmelzer omission|
|Kvitova and Pliskova put Czechs in control|
|Modric open to Ibrahimovic union in MLS|
|Spurs can´t keep doing this – Alli|
|Bulls keep Rebels waiting for South Africa win, Sharks beat Stormers|
|Heynckes highlights importance of ´psychology´ before Real Madrid clash|
|United are about winning titles and playing finals, says happy Herrera|
|Pogba and United the comeback kings again|
|Destructive De Villiers demolishes Daredevils|
|Giroud thanks Wenger for making his ´dream come true´|
|Borussia Dortmund 4 Bayer Leverkusen 0: Reus and Sancho star as Stoger´s side go third|
|Manchester United 2 Tottenham 1: Sanchez and Herrera seal comeback to book FA Cup final spot|
|Zaha´s no diver, insists Hodgson|
|Quiros maintains one-shot lead in Rabat|
|Championship Review: Wolves win title, Sunderland relegated|
|Nishikori fights back to reach Monte Carlo final|
|´Nothing compared to that night´ - Masters victory left Allen feeling flat|
|Imperious Leinster ease into Champions Cup final|
|Wilson backs Wenger for international role|
|West Brom comeback branded ´useless´ by Klopp|
|Injured Kyrgios doubtful for French Open|
|Packers QB Aaron Rodgers ventures into ownership, buys stake in NBA´s Bucks|
|Lewandowski breaks Bundesliga record in Bayern Munich victory|
|Watford 0 Crystal Palace 0: Stalemate edges both sides closer to survival|
|Inter not inferior to Roma and Lazio, Spalletti insists|
|Pogba and Sanchez start for Manchester United at Wembley|
|Gayle fires Kings XI to the top of the table|
|Klopp applauds Ings´ performance|
|Hannover 0 Bayern Munich 3: Lewandowski breaks Bundesliga record|
|Livermore urges West Brom to ´keep fighting´ as relegation looms|
|Eagles give QB Nick Foles a pay rise after Super Bowl win|
|Klopp blames ´dry pitch´ and referee for West Brom draw|
|Cardiff Blues book Challenge Cup final berth|
|Salah finds the net again to equal Premier League scoring record|
|Nadal marches on towards 11th Monte Carlo crown|
|West Brom 2 Liverpool 2: Careless Reds drop points to offer Baggies slim survival hope|
|Roma will be eyeing revenge against Liverpool, warns Ancelotti|
|Bayern hand Bundesliga debut to Lars Lukas Mai|
|Costa should be back for Arsenal second leg, reveals Simeone|
|Wenger could coach Paris Saint-Germain, says Emery|
|Crusaders survive the storm, Chiefs inflict more misery on Reds|
|Wenger changed the face of English football - Dixon|
|Rodgers shrugs off Arsenal talk|
|Knights leave it late against Tigers, Cowboys end winless run|
|Austin track a disaster, says Rossi|
|Clash between top two ´more decisive´ for Napoli, Allegri claims|
|Chongqing sponsor ´positive´ over Iniesta deal|
|Valverde´s quiet crisis management leaves Barca ready to clean up|
|Wallabies centre Horne forced to retire|
|Vieira ´flattered´ by Arsenal link|
|Wenger was sacked by Arsenal, Wright claims|
|LeBron James: I won´t throw my team-mates under the bus|
|Dyche eager to feature in ´legendary´ Wenger´s Emirates farewell|
|Khan eyeing Brook fight later in 2018|
|United and City ´a million miles apart´, says Parker|
|Thorman slams dismal Giants display|
|Pogba must ´take more responsibility´, says Matic|
|Padres pitcher Ross´ no-hit bid steals spotlight|
|Cherry-Evans fined by Sea Eagles|
|Cavaliers blow lead as Raptors, Celtics lose|
|White Sox´s Farquhar faints in dugout, taken to hospital|
|Sporting Kansas City 6 Vancouver Whitecaps 0: Russell stars with hat-trick|
|Winslow fined $15,000 for stepping on Embiid´s mask|
|I don´t fear the challenge – Klopp eager to close gap to City|