Since James White nudged the ball across the goal line in overtime of Super Bowl 51, Patriots fans have been waiting for this moment — a fifth banner will be unveiled from the rafters tonight at Gillette. Not even Bob Kraft was prepared for it. He had to spend millions to find a spot for banner No. 5. Something tells me he was able to afford it. He’ll survive.
The view from section 326 will be glorious. When this lowly Pats fans ordered two season tickets over the phone 25 years ago there was no waiting list of 50,000 people. It took 15 minutes. I saw a glimmer of hope with Bill Parcells taking the helm. But not in my wildest dreams was this measure of success ever expected. Five rings, more division titles than Kenny Rogers facelifts, and 10 appearances in the AFC championship game in the Brady/Belichick era.
But as the new season dawns, there are questions…not many, but some. Is there anything that can derail this dynasty?
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Tom Brady is 40 years old. Now we all now 40 is the new 30 but the fact remains very few NFL quarterbacks have had success this late in their careers. Will Brady fall off the cliff? I say no and that he has at least two championship seasons left in his right arm. Whether the TB12 pajamas or avocado ice cream has anything to do with his longevity is up for debate, but he has looked sharp this preseason and there’s no reason to think this won’t be a typically superior year.
Even if there is a bit of slippage, it may be tough to detect, thanks to an offense that is as loaded as any Brady has ever had to work with. On paper, this team may match the numbers of the legendary 18-1 team of 2007. The loss of Julien Edelman is profound, but Brandin Cooks is a game-changer. His outside speed will open up the middle for Gronk, Amendola, Hogan, and a slew of running backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield. This offense is a defensive coordinator’s worst nightmare and it will be fun to watch.
On defense, the main concern is a pass rush. Free agency and injuries have depleted the depth on the edge. The secondary is excellent and it may have to be because quarterbacks may have a lot of time in the pocket to pick out a target.
As for the bigger picture, there isn’t any drama within the division. The Patriots may actually clinch the division by midnight. The Jets may not win a game, and the Bills seem to have ridded themselves of any players capable of helping them win a game. The Dolphins could be mildly competitive, but Jay Cutler is their quarterback. Color me unimpressed.
In the conference, I see few challengers: the Raiders are good, but Jack Del Rio is not. Belichick coaches him back into the Belaggio in Vegas. The Steelers? No chance as long as they continue to play the same zone defense Brady has feasted on in the past. The Texans don’t have a quarterback. The Colts may be using the Pats third string quarterback to try to win games. In short, there’s not much to be afraid of until you get to the Super Bowl.
As a matter of fact, the most drama we may see until Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis could be on opening night. The evil puppet master Roger Goodell will be in the house to see the raising of the banner. Barstool Sports is doing everything it can to make the experience as unpleasant as possible for the NFL’s tyrannical leader. They’ve taken on a thousand volunteers to hand out 60,000 turquoise towels with a picture of Goodell wearing a clown nose. We don’t need to relieve the entire Deflategate saga, but it’s safe to say Pats fans are still bitter. Very bitter. ESPN is reporting Goodell won’t be sitting in Roger Kraft’s luxury box. Will NBC air the open show of disrespect to the nation? Tune in for the season premiere of Thursday Night Football!
But once the ball is in the air, it’s time to move on. Many are predicting a perfect season for New England. I’m not one of them. I think the loss of Edelmen and a tough second half schedule may lead one or two losses. But 14-2 is nothing to complain about. February will be here before we know it, and the blitz for six will end in another Lombardi Trophy coming to New England. I hear the Patriots have left room for the accompanying banner. Can’t wait to watch Do Your Job 3 next September. Shooting for it begins Thursday night around 8 p.m.