It’s almost that time of year once again.

No. Not Christmas time. Not yet.

It’s the time to bash the Patriots before they open up their playoff run.

This past week, the Patriots were the beneficiaries of a pair of tripping calls that helped them close out the Cowboys.

A pair of random calls that just happened to go in their favor ended Dallas’ last real hope of a win.

As a Cowboys’ fan, I’ll break the news to other fans as easily as I can. Dallas would have found a way to lose that game anyway.

With Bill Belichick on one side of the field and Jason Garrett on the other, there couldn’t have been many bigger coaching mismatches in the history of the NFL.

So we can definitely chalk this one up to something more than just the refs.

However, it seemingly never stops for the Patriots.

It started with Spygate almost 20 years ago. They were the immediate villains.

What was never said was they certainly weren’t the only team doing it. They were just the best. And bad teams probably aren’t going to get targeted quite as much as the best ones.

(Astros’ fans can use that same reasoning in the next few months).

Years later, there was Deflate Gate. As if improperly inflated footballs have always been the secret of their success.

Football fans point to their division being the worst in the league, and that is a valid point.

But at some point, the excuses can stop.

Tom Brady may be the best quarterback of all time. Belichick is the greatest coach of all time.

And to be honest, nobody can completely cheat their way to 20 years of success.

If they could, then they would have done it.

So cheer against the Patriots every chance you get. I know I still will.

But while you’re doing it, at least give them a little respect on the side.

Cheating or not. They kind of deserve it.

Tonight the Texans will get their shot at the Patriots in prime time. The 7:20 p.m. game can be seen on NBC.

Pro football: San Francisco at Baltimore, noon today, FOX: The Patriots and Texans have the prime time spotlight, but this possible Super Bowl preview is the game of the week. Baltimore stands near the top of the AFC, while San Francisco is on top of the NFC.

Pro football: Minnesota at Seattle, 7:15 p.m. Monday, ESPN: A second straight huge prime-time game will be on Monday Night Football. Russell Wilson is a serious MVP candidate going up against one of the best defenses in the league.

Pro basketball: Dallas at New Orleans, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, TNT: Luka Doncic is already a legitimate star as evidenced by his recent stretch of All-Star like play. He’ll get the prime-time spotlight on Tuesday.

Pro football: Dallas at Chicago, 7:20 p.m. Thursday, FOX: The Cowboys get their chance against another potential playoff contender. Even with a struggling Bears’ team, don’t expect this one to be easy.

Pro basketball: Denver at Boston, 7 p.m. Friday, ESPN: Denver is quietly making a case for being the best team in the league. They’ll make the cross-country trip to take on a Boston team never far away from the spotlight.

College football: SEC Championship Game: Georgia vs. LSU, 3 p.m. Saturday, CBS: This is always one of the biggest games of the season. That will be no exception once again this year when two of the top teams in the nation go after a playoff spot.

Josh Havard’s email address is

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