Since 2001 the Patriots have made the playoffs six of the last eight years. The two years they didn't qualify, they finished tied for the division lead and needed Favre to guide his team to victory in order for the Pats to win the tie breakers.
Jump to 2007, where the same characters were involved just different scenery. The Pats stood at 11-5 and needed Favre ironically to lead the Jets to victory over the Dolphins. Favre couldn't come through, throwing three picks in a 24-17 loss and the Pats were left out of the postseason again.
This year the only quarterback New England wants to see back in uniform is Tom Brady. All signs point to Brady being healthy for training and certainly the first week of the season. And with Favre out of the picture, at least for now, the Pats goal is nothing short of another division title.
It's the first of a a much larger goal for the Patriots. For a team that has made it to the AFC Championship game five of the last six times its made the postseason, success isn't just measured in division titles.
It's measured in rings. With Brady returning to an offense with the likes of Randy Moss and Wes Welker the goal isn't Super Bowl or bust, it's Super Bowl win or bust.
The last time the trio played a complete season, they became one of the most unstoppable offensive juggernauts the league has ever seen. The Pats obliterated nearly every scoring record they encountered: most points in a season and most touchdowns by a team, quarterback and a wide receiver.
The offensive firepower led to 18 consecutive wins the most by any team in a single season. But as the saying goes in all sports, offense wins games and defense wins championships. Even with the most potent attack the league had ever seen, the New York Giants defense trumped the Patriots offense in Super Bowl XLII holding the Pats to a season low 14 points.
The offense had bailed out the defense numerous times on the year, posting big numbers early, then forcing teams to stray from their game plan and become pass happy. But in the biggest game of the year, with a chance to become perfect, the defense was far from it.
During the Giants final drive that resulted in the game winning touchdown numerous defenders dropped interceptions. To top it off the defensive line allowed Eli Manning to escape from their grasp and find David Tyree for his legendary miracle catch.
Even without the reigning MVP the Patriots' offense still put up more than 25 points per game and with Brady returning this year the offense is expected to be even stronger. Barring another catastrophic injury, the offense shouldn't stumble en route to Super Bowl XLIV.
What could prevent a trip to Miami, Fla., is the defense. It allowed nearly 20 points a game, but was far worse against playoff teams.
In the six games against postseason opponents the Pats defense allowed 25.6 points a game. If you extract the 47-7 thrashing of the Cardinals, the defense allowed 29.4 points to playoff teams. This doesn't include the teams that hovered around playoff contention like the Broncos who shredded the Pats defense for 41 or the Jets who put up 34.
New England addressed the defense in the offseason by signing free agents cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden. They also brought back a familiar face in linebacker Tully Banta-Cain who the Pats drafted in 2003 and played in New England from '03-'06. In this year's draft they devoted their first three picks to the defensive side of the ball selecting safety Patrick Chung, defense tackle Ron Brace. and corner Darius Butler.
A healthy defense would also help. By the end of the season the Patriots had put 10 defensive players on injured reserve including Rodney Harrison, Adalius Thomas, Tedy Bruschi, and Tank Williams. Injuries happen every year to every team, but it's unlikely they will hit the Pats this hard two years in a row, which should account for a better defense.
An improved defense would give the Pats a legitimate shot of accomplishing their goal of winning a Super Bowl for the first time since 2004. But then again, any time a healthy No. 12 suites up for the Pats, thoughts of a Super Bowl aren't far behind no matter the defense.
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