The Patriots will return to the Super Bowl in 2012.
First reason: Tom Brady
The guy's coming off a 5,000-plus-yard season, and he's playing with an immeasurable amount of confidence. He's in great shape and seems as motivated as ever. Plus, he's working with one of the best offensive units he's ever had, which is enough to make New England a surefire contender for the crown.
Second reason: Audacity
By that, I mean the audacity of the Patriots to continue being so good. Five Super Bowl appearances in 10 years? You need brains, muscles and guts to be this insanely consistent. New England's unwavering prowess is provocative, mind-boggling and downright audacious.
There was a time when four lads from Liverpool found each other and formed the Beatles. A few decades later, a few guys bumped into each other in New England and formed the Patriots. Just think about all the names associated with this franchise: Robert Kraft, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Ernie Adams, Berj Najarian and so many others. The secret of their success is in these names.
It's astounding. Somehow, these people found each other. I can't picture this band riding into the sunset with only three platinum records. There's a fourth one coming.
Third reason: Tenacity
The Patriots have been extremely aggressive during the offseason, which is a great sign. Something positively wicked is brewing in the tool shed. Something's happening in the darkness.
Consider all the potential heroes on this team: Brandon Lloyd, Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Joseph Addai, Jake Bequette, Daniel Fells, Ras-I Dowling, Steve Gregory, Will Allen, Marcus Cannon, Alfonzo Dennard, Nate Ebner, Jermaine Cunningham, Jonathan Fanene, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Tavon Wilson, Jeremy Ebert and many others.
Not every guy on this list will have a season like the one Rob Gronkowski or Sterling Moore had in 2011, but someone will. From somewhere within this crowded mess, a hero will rise.
Those are my three reasons for why the Patriots will return to the big game next season.
But, of course, it's about more than that.
I just can't imagine that we've already seen Brady celebrate his final Super Bowl victory. Try to envision a scenario in which the 2004 trophy is the last one that Brady will ever hoist. Is it possible? Sure. But is it likely enough to really picture clearly in your mind? I don't see it.
Brady will retire with four rings on his hand. That's an image I can picture with crystal clear focus.
Now, my bold prediction: The Patriots will play against the Eagles in next year's Super Bowl. Why? I can sum it up in three reasons.
First reason: Talent
Philadelphia has amassed one of the most impressive rosters in the league.
Consider the names: Michael Vick, Nnamdi Asomugha, Brandon Boykin, Cliff Harris, Emil Igwenagu (whom I wanted the Patriots to draft), Mychal Kendricks, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, LeSean McCoy, Vinny Curry, Jason Babin, Fletcher Cox, Brent Celek, Jason Avant, Trent Cole and many others.
That's a powerful roster, thick with talent, and ripe with raw athleticism. The only thing keeping them from succeeding in 2012 is the broken chemistry which derailed their 2011 campaign.
Poor chemistry can sink a team, as can poor talent. But of the two, only poor chemistry can be fixed. It's why the Jets are only as good as Mark Sanchez, the Bills are only as good as Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the 49ers are only as good as Alex Smith. But the Eagles are as good as they want to be.
Second reason: The "dark horse" factor
The NFC is a hot zone for up-and-coming teams. The Bears, Lions and 49ers will all be very strong next season. The Packers will be fantastic, and the Redskins will mount an impressive campaign. The Saints will be really good. The Cowboys will be excellent until December rolls around. These are obvious teams with obvious paths.
There's nothing obvious about the Eagles. In fact, they're downright ambiguous. They were so horrendous last season, nobody really knows what to expect from them in 2012. For that reason, they're flying under the radar.
But know this: The Eagles have something to prove. It's unwise to underestimate a talented team with a chip on their shoulder. Their ambiguity makes them a threat.
With the 49ers, you know what you're going to get. Same goes for the Falcons, Cowboys and Lions. These teams aren't ambiguous, they're crystal clear and straightforward. You can't be straightforward and be a ninja at the same time. You're one or the other.
Now think about the Giants. Do you know what you're going to get with the Giants? No. They're an ambiguous team. They were like that in 2007 and again in 2011. In fact, they were pretty ambiguous in 2008, 2009 and 2010, as well.
The Giants are the quintessential dark horse because nobody ever knows what to expect from them, which gives them an element of surprise.
Sometimes the Giants are the best team on the planet, other times they're terrible. Sometimes they're winning championships, and other times they don't make the playoffs. Sometimes you could swear that Eli Manning is the best quarterback in his family, other times you're positive that he's not.
Inconsistent? Sure. Two championships against the Patriots? You bet. Inconsistent teams who are constantly doubted have a deep-rooted psychological urge to prove people wrong. When they have the talent to pull it off, they're a team to watch out for. Those are the teams that get hot when it matters most (the Los Angeles Kings come to mind).
The Eagles are in perfect position to be the dark horse team of the NFC next season.
Third reason: Desperation
If the Eagles collapse next season, then all bets are off. The fans in Philadelphia will go nuts, and Andy Reid will be gone. Michael Vick's potential legacy (whatever that's worth to you) will be permanently shaken. Nnamdi Asomugha's stock will plummet. DeSean Jackson will be a lost soul forever. Marquee players on this team will be released, demoted or traded, and nothing will be the same.
This kind of a situation breeds desperation, and desperation can be a wonderful motivational tool. Granted, Reid's probably not the best coach to properly milk that cow, but the players on this team are talented enough and sufficiently motivated to save their careers, with or without Reid's intervention.
Their talent, coupled with their desperation and their ability to fly under the radar is what makes them so dangerous. Don't fall asleep on this enemy.
Bottom line: The Patriots and Eagles will meet in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII.
Patriots win by 10.