Old power vs. new power

The New England Patriots have heard the whispers that Humpty Dumpty is poised for a great fall.

More than any other year in recent memory, this decade’s most dominant team is toeing the ledge precariously this season, using a patchwork assemblage of players.

Although the three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots, at 7-3, were not in the big game last season, every team prepares for the Patriots as if they were. That includes the 9-1 Chicago Bears, who travel to Foxboro, Mass., Sunday.

Bears coach Lovie Smith is well aware of one of the constants inside the revolving door at the Patriots’ facility.

“[Quarterback Tom Brady] looks like a Hall of Fame quarterback every time I see him and that’s where he’ll end up, too, once it’s all done,” Smith said. “You look at his record — it’s a big challenge for our defense. We haven’t played a guy like this in a while.”

The Bears already have playoff gold in sight. If they win, and Green Bay and Minnesota lose this week, Chicago earns at least a share of the NFC North.

“Some guys can probably think that far ahead, but I can’t,” Smith said. “I can tell you a lot about New England and we have a tough game against them this week. We’re trying to get that 10th win and that’s about all I can handle.”

Smith is rightfully cautious. Despite their record, the Bears have looked inconsistent at times, particularly with quarterback Rex Grossman guiding the offense. Even with the occasional stumble, the Bears have been the class of the weak NFC this season.

Brady, a former Serra High School star, will shoulder a tremendous burden in trying to avoid Chicago’s relentless defensive attack.

“I think [coach] Bill [Belichick] might kill me for saying this, but it’s because he’s the best,” Patriots fullback Heath Evans said of Brady. “He’s a competitor. He gets a tenacity about him week in and week out. Some weeks, we give him time and he’s able to pick teams apart.”

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