I remember when we traded for Randy Moss, people would come up to me and ask: "What do you think of the Moss deal?" My simple reply:
We had just acquired one of the most talented receivers in the NFL, along with two other very good receivers, and an amazing and versatile defensive player in Adalius Thomas. We went 14-5 without these guys, and came a few dropped passes away from making it to the Super Bowl.
Obviously, my projection of 19-0 was not a serious prediction. But I did feel supremely confident in the Patriots, and felt as though they were the favorites to win the Super Bowl. And I still feel that way. But with the beginning of the season looming on Sunday, I'm starting to have doubts.
Maybe doubts isn't the right way to describe it. I think we will win the Super Bowl, and go 17-2 or 16-3 overall. BUT, if we don't, if we fall on our faces and go 9-7 and miss the playoffs, or go 10-6 and lose in the 2nd round, I can easily see how it will happen. The margin of error for this and any other NFL team is so slim, that almost any team could go 17-2, or 7-9.
So if we fail this year, here are some of the reasons why:
You expect to be injured and missing players in the middle or end of the season. But the Patriots will be starting with Richard Seymour out for 6 weeks, and Rodney Harrison suspended for 4 games. These are two keystones to our defense. Thomas can step up and rush off the outside, but there is no replacement for Harrison's presence in the defensive backfield. We play the Jets and the Chargers to start the season, a pair of playoff teams, and we'll be missing two of our best defenders.
Asante Samuel has rejoined the team, but he missed most of training camp during his holdout. The Patriots are better with him than without him, but for the first few games, he will not be at top form. We have two divisional games in the beginning of the season, and winning them will be huge for our playoff drive. But what are we going to get out of Samuel?
Laurence has been wearing the red shirt for most of training camp, and he will be our only main option in the backfield this season. He's never been a runningback for a full 16 (and up to 20) game season He was very good last year, for a rookie. But he had a lot of help from Corey Dillon, which he won't be getting this season.
We ran for about 1,800 yards last year, with Maroney accounting for 745 of those. Dillon got a lot of hard yards, wearing down opposing defensive lines, which allowed Maroney to slip tackles, run to the outside, and get his kind of yardage. Maroney now has Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk supporting him, but Faulk is not a power back like Dillon was. Morris isn't half bad, he's actually a solid back, but he is no Corey Dillon. I think it's safe to say that our running game will not be as good this season as it was last year.
Moss + Stallworth + Welker
We really have no idea what to expect from this combination of guys. Brady has never had a WR as talented as Moss. Nor have we ever had as many deep threats as we do now. I've never been a big fan of the deep ball. I think it's important for the deep pass to be a threat, but I prefer the medium routes that guys like Branch and Givens used to run to perfection, spreading out the defense horizontally, as well as vertically. I think Welker and Watson will be able to do this, and we could potentially have a really dynamic passing offensive, but it could all collapse just as easily. It's an unknown. Also, Moss just started to participate in full practices.
Loss of Daniel Graham
Ben Watson has shown some potential to be a very good TE. He was one of our best deep threats last year. But Graham was a leader, an excellent blocker, and a very good complimentary tight end to Watson. I like David Thomas, though, but we've only seen him for a few plays. I think having multiple tight-ends will be key to our offense, ensuring that linebackers don't rush Brady and have to cover TEs, creating mismatches, and blocking for Maroney. How David Thomas performs will be a big part of how we perform as a team.
Tom Brady just had a baby, Rodney Harrison just got suspended for HGH, and Randy Moss is a potential distraction bomb waiting to detonate. The Patriots are just as vulnerable as any other team to being distracted by all this off field crap. In the past, we've been able to remain focused no matter what, but that could all change easily.
I still think we're the top team in the NFL because of who the coach is, who the QB is, who the team leaders are, and how our talent performs. My prediction is a 13-3 regular season, and a Super Bowl victory.
I can't wait for Sunday.