In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be noted that I'm a diehard Patriots
I'll do my best to keep this season preview objective and fair, but you'll understand if it devolves into outright praise and giggling.
I eat, sleep, and breathe the Patriots...so when they lost in last year's AFC Championship Game, I did not eat, sleep, or breathe for quite some time.
As it is, I still can't watch a single highlight from the game, and I run from the room in horror every time it's mentioned on TV.
There's no doubt in my mind that the Patriots would have won their fourth Super Bowl if they could have stopped the Colts
—and they would have done so with the worst team of their dynasty era.
Six months later, the Patriots have their best team in recent memory, and are everyone's favorite to win the Super Bowl.
My how things have changed.
The Pats— offseason was one of the finest in the league. For the first time in a long time, they spent loads of money on impact free agents. On offense, they gave Tom Brady
slot receiver Wes Welker and wideouts Dont— Stallworth and Randy Moss
. Defensively, they nabbed the best player available in LB Adalius Thomas.
All that moving and shaking has made the Patriots the class of the AFC. And quite frankly, I couldn't be more scared.
New England's success has typically come in spite of inferior on-paper talent. The Pats win games against "better" teams because they play hard and they play smart. What's more, they often derive motivation from their doubters, and they excel when the chips are stacked against them.
An optimist would make the logical assumption that a well-coached, hardworking team that can win without talent will destroy everyone now that it's loaded across the board.
But I'm a realist—a tortured, depressing realist. And I have some serious fears going into the fall.
Asante Samuel's holdout, for starters, is giving me an ulcer. In Samuel's absence, Chad Scott or Tory James or any number of other players whose names are vaguely familiar to football fans will start opposite Ellis Hobbs.
And if any of them get hurt (like Scott did at the beginning of training camp), the secondary will be right back in its usual state of flux.
The linebacker unit, meanwhile, isn't getting any younger—which makes Thomas' play all the more important. MLB Tedy Bruschi has seen better days, and Junior Seau has already retired once. Rosevelt Colvin, meanwhile, was a high-priced free agent addition who has yet to make a huge difference in several seasons with the team.
Here's hoping Thomas avoids a similar fate
On offense, I'm still not completely sold on Laurence Maroney—however much I want to be. Maroney is everything the Patriots could want in a running back: powerful, elusive, quick to the hole. Still, he didn't exactly take the league by storm last year, and disappeared for a long stretch as he nursed a shoulder injury.
Despite my fears, though, there's no disputing that New England is in a position to win it all. Brady will have a career year throwing to such great receivers. The defensive line will continue to get better on the strength of young stars like Vince Wilfork and savvy vets like Richard Seymour. And everyone will be motivated to avoid a repeat of last year's disappointment.
If there's anything I've learned as a Patriots fan over the past few years, it's that I should always trust in head coach Bill Belichick
. He has worked wonders with limited talented, and he and his staff know how to win.
New England's 2007 season may not be the cakewalk many expect—but with Belichick at the helm, it most certainly won't be a letdown.
Even a chronically stressed realist can admit to that.
Projected finish: 13-3, 1st AFC East
Keep your eyes on: G Logan Mankins—Think Joe Andruzzi times a million.
Take your eyes off: P Josh Miller—I already miss the fleeting days of Todd Sauerbrun.