That seems to be the consensus amongst NFL analysts. They are considered the most likely team in the AFC to represent the conference next February in New Orleans.
There’s a legitimate case to be made that the Patriots will storm the Super Dome as they did in 2001 and play in the game’s biggest game. But there are also very real reasons why they won’t. Here, a look at both sides.
Why They Will
Tom Brady and the Offense
All age concerns aside, Brady is still the best in the game. And with new toys to play with – specifically Brandon Lloyd – Brady is poised to have yet another big year. If Rob Gronkowski doesn’t burn himself out on reality shows and Wes Welker doesn’t pout because he doesn’t have a long-term deal, this offensive group with scorch the turf against any team in the league.
Easy, Breezy Schedule
Every few years, a team gets a break. They end up with a (seemingly) light weight schedule that lends itself well to a Super Bowl run. Playing against Arizona, Tennessee, Indianapolis, Seattle and Jacksonville all bodes well for the Pats and they should be able to coast to a 12-4 season at the very least. Top of the AFC East again and a #1 or #2 seed in the conference is a lock – if the schedule is as easy as it seems.
Bill Belichick and the Coaching Staff
It’s as cliche a cliche as there is, but there is no coach smarter than Belichick. He brought back Josh McDaniels to run the offense – no disrespect to Bill O’Brien but that’s a big step up for the unit – and Matt Patricia has finally gotten a much deserved promotion to defensive coordinator. Call me crazy, but I think titles matter. The Pats haven’t had a named DC since Dean Pees exited two years ago. Belichick is a smart coach and last season’s Super Bowl loss to the Giants obviously hurt, considering how aggressive he was in the first round of April’s draft. This is as much cohesion as the coaching corps has had in years and that’s a good thing.
Why They Won’t
Defense Still An Issue
Drafting Chandler Jones and D’onte Hightower were good moves, but they won’t be big contributors this year. While the front seven, anchored by big men Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love, will be strong and Jerod Mayo will remain consistent. But the Pats let Mark Anderson go to the Bills and for some reason Andre Carter is still unsigned so it’s questionable as to what the team is doing to improve a group that has struggled for the past three seasons. If Devin McCourty ends up making the move to safety then Kyle Arrington and Sterling Moore will be the team’s corners. Not feeling too good about that.
Super Bowl Hangover Looms
How often does a team appear in a Super Bowl in back-to-back years? Not often. It was a tough loss for the team and that kind of loss can be haunting. Do they try to overcompensate for the failure and ultimately hurt themselves? Or do they go into the season feeling exposed and pressured? Hard to say. Every team handles it differently. How the Pats handle their disappointment will dictate how the rest of the season pans out.