The Patriots open up this season on Thursday Night Football against the Steelers in a season which could be a historic pursuit for this team. The focus on the Patriots this offseason has been squarely on Tom Brady and Deflategate. After Thursday’s ruling, that can all be put in the rear view mirror for now. It’s finally time to focus on football again! Before we do that, we’ll have another opportunity to reflect on last year’s championship season. The Patriots will be raising their fourth banner in 15 years on Thursday night. It’s going to be a very excitement moment for Patriots fans considering what the team has had to go through this offseason. Having said that, this banner is not about Deflategate. Many fans and media members are making it about that. This is about a team that was the best in the NFL last year, winning the Super Bowl, and having the opportunity to celebrate that.
Another note regarding the banner: In addition to raising the championship banner on Thursday Night, there are also reports that the Patriots 16-0 banner is being removed. In my opinion, this is outstanding news. That banner never belonged there. The Patriots are about success and winning championships. This banner stuck out like a sore thumb. Can you imagine a Celtics banner at the Garden with a regular season accomplishment? It was very interesting that many Patriots ridiculed the Colts “AFC Finalist” banner last year after the 16-0 banner has been in Foxboro all of these years. Does any Patriots fan really want to reflect on that season when four Super Bowl Championship banners are hanging at the other end of the stadium?! Get rid of it!
When the celebration ends, it will be time for the Patriots to focus on the goal of winning a fifth Super Bowl championship. This team certainly has the talent to do it. There were some key losses on defense including Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and Vince Wilfork. On offense, the core is still in place aside from the loss of Shane Vereen in the backfield. The made some additions including Jabaal Sheard and Scott Chandler. However, most fans would agree that the losses outweighed the additions this past offseason. The biggest loss, obviously, is Revis. He was a shut down cornerback in every sense of the term. He took the best receivers completely out of their games. An argument could be made that he is the most impactful defensive player in the NFL besides J.J. Watt.
Although they are slightly down from a talent standpoint compared to last year’s team, the Patriots still are the favorite to win the AFC. They play in a weak division. The Jets, Dolphins, and Bills are all very similar in that they all improved defensively and could be top ten defenses this year. In fact, an argument could be made the Patriots have the worst defense in the division. Offense? It’s the complete opposite. The Patriots stand out. The have an elite quarterback who has recently been “freed”. The have the best red zone target in the NFL in Rob Gronkowski. Their backfield does not have an elite player, but with Lagarette Blount leading the way and mixing in other on third downs, they will be fine. The other teams in the division simply do not have the talent offensively to compete with the Patriots. The main reason is because they are weak at the quarterback position with the exception of Miami. And is anyone really afraid that Ryan Tannehill is suddenly going to lead the Dolphins to the promised land? Didn’t think so.
The rest of the AFC has some solid teams. Denver will always be there as long as Manning is healthy. Baltimore and Pittsburgh will be threats. Houston is elite defensively, but also lacks the quarterback needed to contend. Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett against Brady in a playoff game? Good luck! The Colts are always intriguing as Andrew Luck continues to get better every year. It seems like he’s on the brink of being the next guy to take over the league and dominate. The only problem is that the defense on that team is not built for a playoff run. This setup is very similar to what Manning had in his career in Indianapolis. The NFC is, again, much stronger than the AFC. If the Patriots get to the Super Bowl again, their toughest test will likely be in the Super Bowl. In summary, the Patriots have a legitimate shot at repeating.
No one has repeated as champions in the NFL since the Patriots did it in 2004. Teams will be gunning for them. The fact that they play in a weak division works in their favor in one sense. In another sense, the teams in the East have great defenses and, in particular, the defensive lines. They are going to be going after Brady. After all of the hype recently around Brady in the Superman type sense, fans need to remember that he is a 38 year old quarterback. When he won his appeal, the assumption by many fans was that Brady automatically would play 16 games. Have there been other 38 year old quarterbacks in which fans felt that way? Brady may very well play the whole season and lead the Patriots to another Super Bowl. The point is that each year he gets older, it’s going to get more difficult for him to withstand the grind of a full NFL season. We posted about this recently.
The Patriots are Super Bowl contenders once again. They’re raising their 4th banner. They have one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of football. This scenario is very similar to the late 1980’s Celtics. Champions. One of the greatest players of all time in Larry Bird. Looking back, it’s safe to say many fans took it all for granted. The Patriots Team is historic and is in pursuit of reaching greatness that no other team has. The focus by many fans has been to attack the league and anyone outside of New England for suggesting that there may have been foul play.
It’s time to move on and enjoy this historic TEAM run…starting Thursday night.