New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady warms up before an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Dec. 2, 2018. Credit: Elise Amendola | AP

Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned.

After all these years (and jeers) of staying loyal and faithful to the noble cause, I have strayed.

I fear I have gone to the dark side.

More and more as the seasons pass, I have found myself admiring and appreciating Darth Hoodie — the evil and wicked Dark Lord himself.

And I have found myself rooting for and respecting Tom Shady, the dastardly deflator creator himself.

Forgive me, Lord, for I have become a fan of the New England Patriots and I actually want them to beat the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in the Super Bowl.

I know, I know, I used to publicly castigate my former Sentinel colleague George Diaz, who would typically line up against me in our annual pre-Super Bowl prediction column face-offs. Last year, when Diaz picked the Patriots, I chastised him for, “Once again contributing to the proliferation of evil, publicly endorsing Bill Belicheat, Tom Shady and the New England Scoundrels, who have lied, spied, deflated and perpetrated their way to five tarnished and tainted Super Bowl titles.”

Two years ago, in an attempt to publicly shame Diaz for predicting New England would beat Atlanta in the Super Bowl, I wrote, “Picking the Patriots over the Falcons is like picking the shark to devour the skinny-dipping woman at the beginning of ‘Jaws.’ Even if you thought it might happen, how could you actually endorse it with a published prediction?”

Now that Diaz has ridden off into retirement, where he can be found on Facebook taking selfies of his early-bird dinner specials at the Golden Corral, I think I owe him a retroactive apology. Georgie was way ahead of his time in his acknowledgement of Patriots greatness.

Likewise, I’m out of the Belichick- and Brady-bashing business. I’m no longer going to try to disparage the Patriots dynasty because of Deflategate or Spygate or any other concocted scandal. Brady and Belichick have been too good for too long to claim that their greatness is somehow a product of cheating and chicanery.

It is time now to appreciate and applaud their accomplishments instead of smearing and slandering them. Especially when you’re a sports fan in the state of Florida, where the NFL teams are in a perpetual state of disrepair and dysfunction.

The Patriots have made the playoffs an NFL-record 10 straight times. The Bucs, Jags and Dolphins have combined to make the playoffs just twice in the last decade. Starting with his first playoff victory 24 years ago, Belichick has compiled a 30-11 all-time record in the postseason for an incredible .732 winning percentage. The Jags, Bucs and Dolphins, in a combined 120 NFL seasons, have an aggregate of just 33 playoff victories.

Since Brady started his first game for the Patriots in 2001, the Jags, Bucs and Dolphins have trotted out 46 different starting quarterbacks, including such ignominious names as Cleo Lemon, Sage Rosenfels, Bruce Gradkowski, Chad Henne and on and on and on.

The Patriots have had 18 straight winning seasons, gone to eight straight conference championship games and are in their third consecutive Super Bowl. And they’ve done it in an era when the NFL, via the draft and the schedule, punishes the best teams and rewards the worst ones. And, still, the Patriots win over … and over … and over again. Belichick and Brady have made a parody out of the NFL’s parity.

To do what they’ve done in today’s NFL is unprecedented. What Nick Saban and Alabama have done in college football is amazing, but staying on top is much harder in the NFL. As the legendary Jimmy Johnson, who won a national title at the University of Miami and two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, once told me: “It’s much more difficult to stay on top in the NFL. The elite college programs have much more talent than most of their opponents and have seven or eight built-in wins per season. It’s not that way in the NFL, where it’s dogfight every week and every season.”

Nonetheless, every week, every season, every down and every day for almost two decades, Belichick and Brady have managed to stay on top. They have won at least one postseason game in 14 of the last 17 years. They are in the Super Bowl for the fifth time in eight years

Former Florida State offensive lineman Tre Jackson, who now plays for the Orlando Apollos in the new Alliance of American Football, was drafted by the Patriots and won a Super Bowl ring with the team during the 2016 season. He tells the story of Belichick coming into the locker room after resounding victories with the exacting exterior of a man whose team had just been blown out.

“There are so many stories about Bill and his quest for perfection,” Jackson recalls. “There were so many games when we came out with wins and Bill would come in with that Belichick look on his face and say, ‘We may have won on the scoreboard, but we didn’t win by our standards.’”

Relish and revere these Brady/Belichick standards while you still can because we will never, ever again see anything like the “Patriot Way” in the NFL.

Come join me on the dark side.

Patriots 34, Rams 28.

Forgive me, Lord.