There's a perfectly good reason no team has won three straight Super Bowls.

It's too hard to do.

And the New England Patriots won't do it either. As dumb as it has been over the past two seasons and three of the last four to bet against the Patriots, it's smarter to pay attention to NFL history, particularly as it pertains to the No. 1 story line as the season opens: Can the Patriots win three straight? The Miami Dolphins were great in the early 1970s and perfect in 1972, but couldn't win three straight. Neither could Chuck Noll's Steelers of the late '70s, and they were talented enough to put nine players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Bill Walsh-Joe Montana 49ers repeated but couldn't three-peat.

The Patriots, for the football connoisseur not distracted by fantasy leagues, are irresistible because they win and because they marry old-fashioned teamwork with cyber-age strategies. They've got the best head coach, the best quarterback, an appreciation like nobody else of intelligent play, an ingenuity that is the league standard for figuring out how to use players, a surreal calm when facing calamity and a stunning aversion to complacency.

Still, asking them to win a third straight championship is asking too much. The offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis, is at Notre Dame. The defensive coordinator of a terribly underrated unit, Romeo Crennel, is in Cleveland. You can't speak of a man's genius for four years, as Brady has of Weis's, and then convince us that the offense will just keep on truckin' without him. It'll be too hard because Ted Johnson, deadly against the run, retired and because Tedy Bruschi suffered a mild stroke in February and will sit out this season. It'll be too hard because no NFL team stays healthy enough year after year after year. It'll be too hard because the NFL is the most competitive of the professional leagues, because while there's always a patsy or two among the 32, there's also a team or two that comes out of nowhere to turn 6-10 into 10-6.

It'll be too hard because the Colts are too good, because the Jets are too good, because the Ravens are too good, because the Eagles are still good despite their mini-drama, because the Falcons are too good and because the Panthers should be at least as good as they were two years ago in their Super Bowl season.

Somebody will stun us this year, the way the Carolina did two years ago, the way the Chargers did last year. But that team almost certainly won't be the Redskins, not this year. Yes, the Redskins have a 12-4 defense. But they've got a 4-12 offense. The Ravens figured out how to win a Super Bowl with that kind of imbalance, but more often a team that reaches the Super Bowl has to have, if not a great quarterback, then a hot quarterback. Patrick Ramsey gets no benefit of the doubt starting this season, not even from his coaches, who want Mark Brunell ready to go quickly, which isn't the best sign.

But this notion that the Redskins are one of the five worst teams in the league seems misguided as well. The defense will be somewhere between very good and superb. The offensive line appears once again to be much better than average and has some depth. The running game is potentially great. That's enough to put a team in the middle of the pack, somewhere between 15 and 25 among the league's 32. And the Redskins should get off to a good start, considering they get to beat up on not just a rookie quarterback, but a kid (Kyle Orton) making his NFL debut, in the season opener. Some people around the league expect decent things of the Bears, who also look to have a powerhouse defense and running game, but not this early in the season. Either way, neither team figures to have an impact in the standings.

Of course, the development of one player or an injury-related absence can change every scenario dramatically. I'm picking the Jets to win the AFC East, knowing that if Curtis Martin suddenly looks old or gets hurt, there's no LaMont Jordan to back him up. I'm picking the Ravens to knock Pittsburgh out of the top spot in the AFC North, figuring Kyle Boller will have grown up enough and been coached up enough to run a team in Baltimore that could be scary-good (especially with the "46" defense that will delight Ray Lewis) if the quarterback doesn't screw it up.

I've picked Philly to win the NFC for at least a couple of years but I'm wavering now, not because of Terrell Owens-Donovan McNabb, but because the club executives seem more interested in rubbing the players' noses in it than winning. Owens isn't the only unhappy bird in that nest. Brian Westbrook, a player the Eagles simply cannot win without, is upset with his contract and says he's gone after this year. The team cut Corey Simon for what appears to be no good reason, weeks after making him the franchise player. When players sense management is more interested in money than winning, problems arise quickly.

But the Eagles are too talented to bet against. Put me down for the Eagles, Vikings, Panthers and Rams to win their divisions, with the Falcons and Cowboys to take the wild-card spots. (I want to take Arizona to win the sorry, no-account NFC West, but Kurt Warner is so done and the offense looks dreadful.) If those six teams make it, the big disappointment in the NFC would be Detroit, which enters the season on the downer of Jeff Garcia's fractured leg robbing the team of its potential starting quarterback if Joey Harrington continues to struggle.

In the AFC, which is much more difficult to handicap, give me the Jets, Ravens, Colts and Chargers to win their divisions, and the Patriots and Jaguars to win the wild-card spots. That leaves out some pretty good teams, including the Steelers, Chiefs, Raiders and Bengals.

My crystal ball has the Jets over the Colts in the AFC, the Eagles over the Panthers in the NFC, and the Patriots playing a lot of great football and winning a lot of games . . . just not enough to rewrite the record book.