Super Bowl or Bust?

As we look forward to the 2010 NFL season for the New England Patriots, it is hard to ignore the past.  Between 2001-2009 the New England Patriots were the most successful franchise in the NFL.  The Pats amassed three Super Bowl titles (2001, 2003, 2004), no losing seasons, the only sixteen game undefeated regular season in NFL history, seven AFC East titles, four AFC Championship game victories (out of five appearances), arguably the greatest offensive season of all time, and compiling 111 wins.  There is little argument against the New England Patriots being declared the team of the decade.  But, as successful as the past decade has been for the Patriots, 2010 is a new season that brings about its’ own set of challenges.  Even though it is time to look ahead towards the future and leave the past in our rear-view mirror, the past decade can certainly be used as a building block that the New England organization can mold its’ future with.

As for the 2010 season, there are certainly a number of questions that need to be answered before 1pm on Sunday September 12th when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town to open the season.  The biggest question, in my opinion, may lie under center with number 12.  2010 will mark Tom Brady’s second season since returning from a torn ACL and MCL suffered in the 2008 season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.  Almost 4,400 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions (Brady’s 2009 statistics) are certainly nothing to scoff at, but at times last season (particularly towards the end of games) Brady’s play become sloppy and lacked the crispness that has always defined his play.  The Patriots success will rely completely on the play of Tom Brady (as it has over the past 4-5 seasons).  I expect Brady to return to his 2007 self (granted expecting 50 touchdown passes is quite outrageous) and play like the Tom Brady that we have come to know and love.

The running game has been a question mark since the Patriots drafted Laurence Maroney with the 21st overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft.  Sammy Morris is returning from an injury plagued 2009 season, as is Fred Taylor.  I’ve been calling for Belichick to put more influence on the run game for three seasons now, and I’m going to call for it again.  Establishing the run with three very capable running backs will do nothing but open up alleys for the passing game.  But, I expect little to change with the Pats’ philosophy and for them to use the run sparingly as usual.

I have lofty expectations for this group of receivers/tight ends for the upcoming season.  Randy Moss is a year older, but he is still a number one wideout in the league and will put up good numbers.  Welker has undergone arguably one of the fastest recoveries from ACL surgery for a professional athlete ever.  It is complete truth when they say every ACL surgery that gets done, the surgeons get a little bit better and the recovery time becomes a little bit shorter.  I think it will take a few weeks for Welker to get his head back on straight (you need to expect at least a minimal amount of apprehension towards making sharp cuts on his bad knee), but after week four or five I expect him to be back to his old self.  Torry Holt has certainly lost a step, but he will provide a target on the opposite side of the field from Moss that the Pats haven’t had since Stallworth left.  I am very excited about the contributions that will come from Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez.  I expect Hernandez to make the biggest contribution right out of the gate.  He has the perfect body type/athletic ability/skill set to excel in the “H-Back” position (similarly to Chris Cooley).  But, Gronkowski will be the starting tight end by the end of the season, and I expect Tate to contribute to the team by that time as well.  Coming from a small school, Price may need time to develop and master the playbook, but his speed alone makes him a great asset.

The Logan Mankins contract situation is certainly something that worries me.  Mankins seems prepared to sit out for a while, and as one of the best guards in the league, the Patriots cannot afford that loss.  Nick Kaczur has some experience and was supposed to fill Mankins’ spot at left guard, but an injury has sidelined him thus far in training camp.  Aside from Mankins, the offensive line will look the same as last season.  I’m excited to see how much Sebastian Vollmer has developed with one offseason of NFL workouts and preparation under his belt.  Matt Light becomes more and more of a liability every season.

Within the next couple of days I will preview the 2010 New England Patriots’ defense and special teams, as well as provide my expectations for the 2010 season as a whole.

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One Response

  1. […] Super Bowl or bust for the Patriots. This could be their last real run with this core […]

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