There’s been a significant amount of chatter over the last couple of seasons that the New England Patriots are a franchise in decline, and rightfully so. Tom Brady has not signed an extension with the team and will turn 33 before the start of the 2010 season. David Tyree’s miraculous catch prevented New England from enjoying the greatest season any team could ever put together. Key pieces from their three-time Super Bowl champion roster like Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi, and Richard Seymour are no longer a part of the team. They were embarrassed by the Ravens in the opening round of the playoffs last season. Bill Belichick’s legacy took a major hit as a result of Spygate, and he missed his chance at quieting the critics when the Pats lost to the Giants in 2008.
All that being said, if you can convince yourself to not hold New England to the standard it has created for itself over the past decade, you’ll find they still look pretty damn good. As much as most NFL fans hate to admit it, you can’t remove them from the Super Bowl discussion just yet. The reason for that is due in large part to the offense. Tom Brady is Tom Brady and Randy Moss is Randy Moss. The offense will find ways to put up a lot of points, especially with Brady able to focus on football activities this off-season rather than knee rehabilitation.
The side of the ball that most analysts neglect to mention when discussing the Patriots is the defense. The reason for that? They haven’t been dominant since they won the Super Bowl five years ago. They’ve been efficient at times, but have failed to frighten their opponents for quite some time. Last year, they ranked outside the top-10 in rushing yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and total yards allowed. Surprisingly, they ranked fifth in points allowed.
Make no mistake about it, New England’s defense is going to be good at some point — maybe even outstanding. As far as potential goes, you’d be hard pressed to find a team with more. There’s a steep learning curve with a Bill Belichick defense, and New England has an abundance of young, talented guys who are in the process of tackling it. Am I saying these guys are all destined to be Pro Bowlers? I’m not ready to make that claim, but if the term “ceiling” means anything to you I recommend keeping an eye on some of them.
Last season, Brandon Meriweather finally decided to start fulfilling his potential. The Patriots took him in the first round in 2007 for a reason. With 83 tackles, five interceptions and two forced fumbles, Meriweather finally took a huge step in 2009 and could be one of the better safeties in the NFL in 2010. By drafting Devin McCourty out of Rutgers with their first overall pick in this year’s draft, New England added another piece to a defensive backfield that already includes Darius Butler and Patrick Chung, both second-rounders in 2009.
The same talent and youth exists within the Patriots’ linebacking core. People seem to forget that Jerod Mayo was an instant force and Defensive Rookie of the Year two years ago before being held back by a knee injury last season. If he can return to form and Florida’s Brandon Spikes lives up to the hype that’s already surrounding him thus far — no, not that hype — the two could form one of the best inside linebacker duos in football for years to come.
I’m aware that everything I’ve spoken about is mostly speculation at this point, but that’s what predictions are for. The Patriots defense is young, fast and hungry. No one seems to want to talk about them, and that will put a chip on the shoulder of any NFL player who cares. Barring any injuries or unexpected locker room meltdowns, I’m willing to predict this will be one of the best defenses in the NFL in the very near future.Google+