It was 10 seasons ago that the New England Patriots last won the Super Bowl. But you have to give them high marks for consistency. The Patriots won at least 10 games every year during that drought, including a perfect 16-0 regular season in 2007, and another 11 games in 2008 with Matt Cassel as their quarterback. This is a football machine, folks.
But at some point, this machine has to break down. Head coach Bill Belichick is about to turn 62. More distressingly, QB Tom Brady will turn 37 before the 2014 NFL season gets underway. This doesn’t mean Brady will fall apart this year. In 1979, Roger Staubach had one of his best seasons for the Dallas Cowboys at age 37 – and promptly retired. Joe Montana, John Elway, Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton, Kurt Warner? 38 and done. Time for the Patriots to push their chips into the middle of the table.
with Revis and Browner
As usual, the football betting public feels pretty good about New England’s chances. The Patriots are the No. 4 favorites at 9-1 on the Super Bowl futures market at Bovada, not far behind the defending champion Seattle Seahawks at 6-1. Despite myriad personnel issues, the Pats went 12-4 SU (8-8 ATS) last year and are still the class of the AFC East by leaps and bounds.
That doesn’t mean they can rest on their laurels. According to Football Outsiders, New England had the No. 21-ranked defense (No. 14 pass, No. 27 rush) in the NFL in terms of efficiency. Then they lost Pro Bowl CB Aqib Talib to the Denver Broncos and LB Brandon Spikes to the Buffalo Bills. No problem: The Patriots upgraded at cornerback by rescuing Darrelle Revis from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and picking up Brandon Browner after the Seahawks gave him a pass.
These are big moves for the Patriots. Revis made his fifth Pro Bowl last year and should be an upgrade over Talib, but pairing him with Browner is key for a New England secondary that ranked No. 28 in the league defending against No. 2 WRs. Browner will miss the first four games of the 2014 season because of a PED suspension; however, as long as the injury/PED gods allow, cornerback will be a position of strength instead of weakness once the playoffs roll around.
The Pats offense ranked No. 4 in efficiency last year (No. 7 offense, No. 6 defense) despite the absence of so many of Brady’s usual targets, but New England can’t afford to roll the dice again in 2014. In comes former Carolina Panthers WR Brandon LaFell (49 catches, five TDs), who had arguably his best game of the 2013 campaign in Week 11 against the Pats, catching seven passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. New England also smartly re-signed WR Julian Edelman (105 catches, six TDs) for four years.
Now it’s time to do something about the tight end position. This turned into a black hole for the Pats last year after the Aaron Hernandez Nightmare and the injuries to Rob Gronkowski (39 catches, four TDs). It’s hard to say whether Gronkowski will be ready for Week 1 after having reconstructive knee surgery in January. Michael Hoomanawanui (12 catches, one TD) is coming back in 2014, but early mock drafts had New England focusing on Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro with the No. 29 pick in the NFL Draft.Unfortunately, after Amaro had a so-so showing at the NFL Combine, that focus has shifted to Minnesota DT Ra’Shede Hageman, who also fills a position of need. Can Gronk somehow stay in one piece this year? If so, the Patriots could be a bargain on the Super Bowl futures market. If not? Don’t let the window hit you on the way out.