The New England Patriots enter the playoffs as the AFC’s top seed, but their biggest opponent might be the perception of a fracturing relationship between arguably the franchise’s three most important pieces.

The team on Friday dismissed as “flat-out inaccurate” an ESPN report suggesting a rift involving owner Robert Kraft, Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

According to the reports, the Patriots’ big three have had significant disagreements this season – behind closed doors – that have led to dysfunction and threaten to end an owner-coach-quarterback relationship that helped the franchise win five Super Bowls over the last 17 years.

The three released a joint statement hours after the report, which cites undisclosed sources, was posted on ESPN’s website.

“For the past 18 years, the three of us have enjoyed a very good and productive working relationship,” the joint statement said. “In recent days, there have been multiple media reports that have speculated theories that are unsubstantiated, highly exaggerated or flat out inaccurate. The three of us share a common goal. We look forward to the enormous challenge of competing in the postseason and the opportunity to work together in the future, just as we have for the past 18 years. It is unfortunate that there is even a need for us to respond to these fallacies. As our actions have shown, we stand united.”

The story cites multiple sources inside Gillette Stadium. In short, the drama surrounds Brady, Belichick and former backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The bombshell in the report states that Belichick was given a mandate by Kraft to trade Garoppolo, which left the Patriots coach furious.

In the piece, the drama between Brady’s body coach, Alex Guerrero, and Belichick has fractured the relationship between the star quarterback and head coach. This season, Guerrero was banned from traveling on the team plane and standing on the sideline during games.

Brady and Belichick eschewed questions last month about a chasm between Belichick and Guerrero.

Belichick wouldn’t address a Boston Globe report that Guerrero had been banned from the sideline or traveling on the team plane, but said “there are different relationships, different situations with dozens of other people.”

Brady also took issue with a reporter last month who asked whether the quarterback and Belichick had talked about an adjustment to Guerrero’s access to the team.

“I have a lot of conversations with him. Those are private between he and I, and I don’t think anyone knows what we talk about,” Brady said then. “Certainly I’ve never talked about it. He’s never talked about it.”

The ESPN story states that Belichick had a meeting with Kraft this fall to discuss the team’s quarterback situation. When the meeting ended, Belichick had a “mandate” to trade Garoppolo and he did, shipping the young quarterback to the San Francisco 49ers for a second-round draft pick at the NFL trade deadline.

Multiple sources deny that ever happened, according to The Providence Journal, with one saying it’s simply untrue. One of the sources said they’d be shocked if Kraft forced Belichick to trade anyone. One thought is that if he did, Belichick would resign.

The ESPN story also states that Brady has told other Patriots players and staff that “Belichick’s negativity and cynicism have gotten old.”

Despite the reported off-the-field issues, the Patriots (13-3) have thrived on the field.

Even after losing receiver Julian Edelman in the preseason to a knee injury and linebacker Dont’a Hightower in October to a season-ending pectoral injury, they enter the playoffs with the NFL’s top-ranked offense and a defense that is allowing just 18.5 points per game.

Brady is also an MVP candidate, and passed Brett Favre for most wins in one season for a quarterback after turning 40.

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