The next team up on our Gridiron Blitz is the New England Patriots
Music to listen to: Kings and Queens Aerosmith
Boston has an excellent music tradition with acts such as New Edition, etc. But my first thought was on Aerosmith, who along with Metallica and Alice in Chains in the early 1990’s shaped my interest in rock music. So for that, they make the cut.
Current State: Won the AFC East with a record of 10-6 but were soundly beaten in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, at home, by Baltimore, 33-14. Certainly not the way that the proud franchise wanted to end its season.
It’s been five years since the Pats have won the Super Bowl and their dynasty era has clearly come to an end.
Biggest Change: The franchise didn’t make any major changes besides signing nose tackle Vince Wilfork who I will get to in the preview of the defense. The true big chance has been the cleaning out of the core players from its run of three Super Bowls in four years continues to take place. From the departures of Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel as players last year to former general manager Scott Pioli to Kansas City, the only remnants of those championship teams are quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft. Furthermore, there may be tension between all three of them, more on that later.
Uniform Grade: The unis are solid, nothing overwhelming about them. I actually liked the throwback red jerseys the Patriots wore last season to celebrate their AFL history
Best Player: You can make a case for Brady or Randy Moss but when in that situation, you always side with the quarterback. This is an interesting year in Brady’s legacy. He’s two years removed from his severe knee injury, meaning that this should be the time he begins to feel like his old self. Speaking of old, he’s now over 30, which if you look at the history of elite quarterbacks is the time when their skills begin to erode. The Patriots are fully aware of this and have let Brady get to this point, the last year of his contract. All parties from Brady to the coaches to ownership are saying the right things but making the quarterback play without an extension is risky but fiscally feasible. Hence the potential tension.
Most Important Player: Brady is an easy choice. I could make a case for Wes Welker but I need to see him in game action since he’s recovering from his own severe injury. The defense was the squad that really let the Patriots down in their playoff game against the Ravens so I’ll go with their best defensive player, Jarod Mayo. If the Patriots hope to return to the Super Bowl, the defense has to improve greatly.
Best Case: Brady returns to his elite form, Welker recovers from his knee injury, Moss catches 10+ touchdowns, the defense gets it act together and win the AFC East. Parlay that all the way to an AFC title but loses in the Super Bowl.
Worst Case: Brady shows his age, Welker is still hobbled, the defense struggles to return to its elite form, finish second in the AFC East to the New York Jets, barely make the playoffs and lose in the wild card round.
Coaching: Say what you want about Belichick but he’s still arguably the best head coach in the NFL. However, you have to be concerned if you’re a fan of the overwhelming power that he currently has over the entire organization.
While there is an official director of player personnel, Nick Caserio, it is assumed that Belichick handles all of the general manager-related roster decisions. When Josh McDaniels left prior to last season to become the head coach of the Denver Broncos, the play calling duties on offense went to the quarterbacks coach, Bill O’Brien, but the lack of checks and balances that existed under McDaniels and Charlie Weis in the past doesn’t exist anymore. While Belichick has been rightfully credited for his defensive mind, the decision to not hire a defensive coordinator and take a more active role on that side of the ball may spread him too thin. If anyone can pull off the coaching situation, its Belichick but this may be an issue during the season.
First Memory of team: I really don’t have too many early memories of the team accept for when Bill Parcells was named the head coach. Growing up as a New York Giants fan, Parcells was my favorite coach in any sport and when he “retired” the first time from the NFL, it was fine. He even did some television work and it was nice to see him every Sunday. Than, he went to the Patriots, which wasn’t frustrating in so much as surprising. I didn’t understand at the time the desire that coaches have to be on the field doing what they feel pre-destined to do. The Patriots at the time were one the of the worst franchises in the NFL but when he took them to the Super Bowl in 1996, it didn’t surprise me at all.
Schedule: They have arguably a top-five tough schedule in the entire NFL. Within the division the Pats will have to face the Jets, Dolphins and Bills. While they may go 4-2 in those games, the times of getting five or six wins from that lot are over.
For home games, they have to host Cincinnati, Baltimore, Minnesota, Indianapolis and Green Bay, all playoff contenders for this year. On the road, the games include visits to San Diego, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Chicago. Those are all tough games. The only victories you can pencil in are Cleveland and Detroit
City Nicknames: Beantown, The Hub of the Universe, The Cradle of Liberty, The Cradle of Modern America, The Athens of America and The Walking City.
Overall Outlook: While the era of being the best team in the NFL are over, I still think they have enough juice to compete for the AFC East. The offense will be fine but the assumption that the defense will be fine is not accurate. The Pats have the potential to be an AFC contender but the brutal schedule will cause major problems.
Final Record: 9-7
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