By Clay Ward

The New England Patriots’ historical prestige from the franchise’s birth in 1960 to the late 1990s doesn’t warrant immediate attention in the past of the National Football League. Most notably, an appearance in Super Bowl XX would give the Pats their fist Lombardi trophy.

Over the past decade, the New England Patriots-with three Super Bowl wins, a fourth Super Bowl appearance, and a handful of NFL individual and team records-have a chance to go down as arguably the greatest football team in history.

Led by the league’s most valuable player and two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, New England is on an 18-0 win streak, the longest in NFL history. With a win in Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots will join Don Shula’s 1972 Dolphins as only the second NFL team in history to complete a perfect season.

The winning streak is only one of a plethora of records set by New England this season.

Some of the games all-time greats were passed by the offensive juggernaut that is the Patriots offense.

Randy Moss dethroned hall of fame receiver Jerry Rice’s touchdown receptions record, 22, with 23. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning’s touchdown pass record, 49, also fell victim to a familiar foe in Brady at 50.

They also scored the most offensive points for any year at 589.

New England’s season, while perfect in the ‘W’ column, has been tarnished slightly.

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick was fined the NFL maximum penalty of $500,000 and the organization was ordered to pay another $250,000 for spying on an opponent (New York Jets) team’s defensive signals.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also ordered next year’s first-round draft choice be taken away from the team in addition to the fines, according to ESPN.

Belichick and New England didn’t dispute the charges, accepting the punishment and fines. Still, the Patriots were allowed to keep the win.

The question is: If the Patriots secure their place in history, will the NFL place an asterisk beside it?