Considering that the AFC is full of flawed contenders, it doesn’t take much of a prognosticator to see the New England Patriots juggernaut flattening all comers on the way to defending their Super Bowl crown as undisputed rulers of the NFL.
There are only two possible conference threats to the Patriot reign. The Oakland Raiders are rising but are still young and lack playoff experience. The other, the Pittsburgh Steelers can’t beat New England to save their lives, we once again saw this when they laid an egg in last year’s AFC Championship game. So, barring an injury to Tom Brady, the Pats can probably put it on cruise control until they return to the Super Bowl next February.
Thanks to a historic Super Bowl collapse but the Atlanta Falcons, Brady won his fifth ring, one more than his boyhood idol Joe Montana. The offseason activities by the Patriots organization have him as the favorite to start collecting rings for his other hand this year.
One great benefit that New England has enjoyed over the years is that the AFC East sucks out loud. The Pats basically get a six-win handicap right off the bat in their yearly quest for the home field playoff advantage where they are nearly unbeatable.
That is even more so in 2017 with the Jets and Bills obviously tanking their seasons to get a shot at a franchise quarterback in next year’s draft. Miami has issues due to the loss of starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill and therefore will have to settle for a run at a wild card.
The schedule breaks nicely for New England as well. The toughest games will be a home opener against the Kansas City Chiefs who are offensively challenged, a Super Bowl rematch with Atlanta that is also at home and road games at Denver (no quarterback) and Oakland in November.
There are always the annual predictions that the Patriots will go undefeated but that’s not the best thing as they found out in 2007 when they WERE undefeated but lost the Super Bowl. The longer into a year that a team goes without losing, the more the media distraction becomes so 17-0 is probably less a goal than another Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Brady could be even better this year despite his being 40-years-old. The future Hall of Famer shows no signs of slowing down and has been incredibly fortunate to have avoided serious injury for the majority of his storied career. Look for a huge year from Brady.
With the Patriots, the running game is always secondary and no team is better at using an array of backs that Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator John McDaniels have been. Gone is LaGarrette Blount who had a career year with 1,100 + yards and a whopping 18 touchdowns. He will be replaced by a versatile squadron including free agent addition Mike Gillislee, Super Bowl stud James White, speedy Dion Lewis and former Cincinnati Bengal Rex Burkhead who also signed as a free agent.
Where Brady will receive the most help is from a vastly improved receiving corps. The Patriots absolutely robbed the New Orleans Saints for speed demon wideout Brandin Cooks, uber-tight end Rob Gronkowski is back from injury and Julian Edelman will continue to be Brady’s go-to guy. Mix in Chris Hogan and new tight end Dwayne Allen and this team could threaten the points scored record.
The unsung offensive line deserves a huge amount of credit for keeping Brady healthy and that should once again be the case in 2017.
Defensively, the Patriots will be even better than last year thanks to a plethora of offseason additions.
Not only did New England once again lure yet another player away from division rival Buffalo in their top cornerback Stephon Gilmore but also kept Super Bowl 49 star Malcolm Butler.
They also added former Carolina Panthers defensive lineman and pass rusher Kony Ealy for a song. Ealy terrorized the Broncos two years ago in the Super Bowl and if not for two killer Cam Newton turnovers, Ealy could have been the MVP in what was a butt-ugly defensive struggle. Look for him to regain his form under Belichick and be one of the greatest steals in recent memory.
The Pats also resigned dominating linebacker Dont’a Hightower who was courted by Pittsburgh and the New York Jets but wisely chose to stay where he had the best chance to grab another ring or two.
Considering that the only real quarterbacks that the Pats will play this year are Matt Ryan (who already crumbled in the Super Bowl) and Derek Carr along with geriatrics Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers it should be a banner year for the defense.
Stephen Gostkowski will once again the kicker and he rarely misses.
So, what does it all mean?
The only thing that can derail this team short of another Super Bowl is an injury to Brady. The AFC just doesn’t have a team that is currently capable of beating them.
Once they get to Minneapolis there are a few NFC teams that match up better but as the last two Super Bowls that the Patriots have won have shown, they are damned good and have the luck of the devil himself.
A damn near unbeatable combination which is why that during the Tom Brady era the only two Super Bowls that they lost were on fluke plays.Wake up Right! Subscribe to our Morning Briefing and get the news delivered to your inbox before breakfast!