Frank Doyle looks at the New England Patriots – will the smooth-running offense get derailed by a suspect defense?
New England’s 28-21 loss to the Jets in last year’s playoffs was over-shadowed only by 8-8 Seattle’s win over New Orleans in terms of shock value. New England dominated the league with a 14-2 record, Tom Brady was MVP – again – and it didn’t look like anyone could lay a glove on the Patriots. Until the Jets swaggered in to Foxboro, stomped the Patriots, and swaggered away again.
So the question the person interested in NFL gambling has to ask him or herself is: who are the real Pats? Is it just a New York thing that’s developed with them recently, or is this the beginning of the end of the Patriots’ greatest-ever era?
On the face of it, the offense can be relied upon to deliver, just like it always has. Brady and Belichick are the perfect combination, and the arrival of Chad Ochocinco gives Brady a downfield option that he didn’t have last year. Brady knows exactly what he wants to do, and he has the gifts and experience to do just about anything he wants to at quarterback.
The Patriots problems are on the other side of the ball. While Belichick has been able to replenish the supporting cast around Brady, he has not been as successful replacing the great players that manned the Patriot D when they were winning Super Bowls in the early 2000s.
The current Patriots have great players on defense, but they have nobody of the calibre of Tedy Bruschi or Rodney Harrison or Mike Vrabel. And for all we read about schemes and cultures and game plans, a team is only ever as good as its players.
New England’s defensive stats from last year are poor. They couldn’t put pressure on the opposition quarterback – Mark Sanchez threw for three touchdowns in that playoff defeat. Belichick has signed Albert Haynesworth in order to address that and if Belichick can turn Haynesworth back to what he was at Tennessee, the New England defense will get a whole lot better.
New England is still good for 12 or 13 wins and a trip to the playoffs, but whether or not it can go all the way depends on the defense executing the fundamentals – even though it’s Brady, as always, who will get the headlines.