New England Patriots Poised for Playoff Return

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New England Patriots Poised for Playoff Return
(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

It has been five years since the New England Patriots last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, the third in team’s history and final in an impressive four-year run.  But to say Patriots fans are “antsy” about the current championship drought (their longest of the century,) would be a powerful overstatement. 

Not only did the Brady-less Patriots over achieve in the eyes of last season, which was marred with a seemingly never-ending string of trips to the trainer’s table, but the team is just one year removed from an undefeated regular season (hold the jokes, Giants fans) and a record setting offensive juggernaut.

So, as the dust settles on the spectacle that is the NFL Draft and we approach the start to of the 2009 season, the fans of Foxboro are expecting another banner year-and may get what they are wishing for. 

There’s no question that the Patriots offense has the weapons to carry the team as far as they need to go.  Don’t expect Randy Moss to haul in another 20 touchdowns, but certainly with Tom Brady back under center and his favorite targets (Moss and Wes Welker) in tact, moving the ball down field is a non-issue.

The running back-by-committee approach has been effective for the Pats, whose rushing attack ranked sixth in 2008. 

This season’s look will likely mirror that of recent years, as the stable of backs in New England has been bolstered by the addition of the Jaguar’s all-time leading rusher Fred Taylor, while screen play specialist Kevin Faulk and veteran bruiser Sammy Morris both return for 2009.  

The biggest questions in the backfield still remain with Lawrence Maroney.  The former Golden Gopher has underachieved since showing loads of potential in his rookie year, plagued by mysterious injuries and an inability to break out the long runs he was known for while playing along side Marion Barber at Minnesota

Whether or not Bill Belichick will keep Maroney around, or in what capacity, remains to be seen; a successful rushing attack can be expected either way.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots have made moves this off-season to improve an aging core, while looking to solve the secondary issues starting with the corners.

Leaving the team are blue-collar linebacker Mike Vrabel, who will wear Kansas City red this year, and new Philadelphia Eagle Ellis Hobbs, who struggled to cover top receivers while in New England.

In their place, veterans Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden will fight for starting nods in the backfield, while reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Jerod Mayo and sack specialist Adalius Thomas both return to fill the gap left by Vrabel’s departure.

Surely questions still remain like the health of aging safety Rodney Harrison, but with new blood between the lines of Gillette Stadium and one of the strongest defensive front lines in the league, there is no doubt that the Patriots can hang with the high-powered offenses of San Diego and Indianapolis.

Whether or not the Patriots can truly win their fourth Superbowl of the decade remains to be seen. But barring another season of devastating injuries or severe underachievement, New England is the likely favorite to win the AFC East and make a run for the hardware.

Just don’t expect mind-game extraordinaire Bill Belichick to admit it.

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