The Patriots won Super Bowls in the 2001, 2003, and the 2004 seasons. They lost in the 2006 season, after going 18-0 through the games leading up to the Super Bowl, but, despite the loss, the Patriots had already become a dynasty.
Few people would've challenged the statement that the Patriots were the team of the decade. But, suddenly, there is competition.
In 2005, the Pittsburgh Steelers quietly won the Super Bowl. I say "quietly" because that year is most famously remembered for the Patriots' botched opportunity to make history as the first team to win three Super Bowls in a row, instead of for the Steelers' victory.
But the Steelers' victory this past year made it two Super Bowls in the last four years, and now they have a chance at two in a row. If this happens, the Steelers could suddenly dethrone the Patriots.
My personal sports philosophy is that the most recent champions should still be considered the champions, until proven otherwise.
If the Pittsburgh Steelers win the Super Bowl this year, making it three Super Bowls out of the last five years, I will have to concede the Steelers are the team of this decade, because their Super Bowl victories are more recent.
Thankfully, I won't have to do that, because the Patriots are going to dominate this year, and below I will explain why.
Despite crippling injuries to many of their stars, the team was still able to pull together, and accomplished an admirable 11-5 season. Shockingly, they still didn't make the playoffs, but this record could've won four other divisions in the NFL.
To go 11-5 with a brand new quarterback, five different starting running backs, and five defensive starters over the age of 32, is, frankly, incredible.
This year, all the pieces have come together. This team is better than the 2007 one, and this time no "miracle David Tyree catch" is going to stop them from winning it all.
Starting with the coaching, I'm going to explain how this team is better than even the incredible 2007 one, and how they have the star power to finally go 19-0.
Bill Belichick is hands-down the best coach in the NFL. Even his biggest haters can't put him below the top three.
Year after year, the Patriots are a top five team in the league. A defensive and offensive genius, he seems able to make any coach under him seem brilliant.
Take a look at some of the coaches that have emerged from under his wing: Charlie Weis (head coach of Notre Dame), Romeo Crennel (former head coach of the Cleveland Browns), Eric Mangini (current head coach of the Cleveland Browns), Josh McDaniels (coach of the Denver Broncos). Take another look at those names.
Have any of them achieved anything even close to success? They were all heralded as geniuses, who Bill Belichick spawned ideas from.
Eventually, they all got greedy and went after money, only to find they weren't as smart as they thought they were.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have continued to be a top team in the league, without missing a beat without their "star" coordinators.
It's clear that Bill Belichick was the glue for these coaches, and without him, they couldn't succeed. As long as Bill Belichick is with the team, "coaching" will be a strength for the Patriots.
Under Tom Brady in 2007, the Patriots averaged 411 yards a game, easily winning first in the league. The next closest team was the Green Bay Packers with 370 yards. That's a difference of 40 yards a game between first and second!
Their running offense was 13th in the league. Their leading rusher was Laurence Maroney with 835 yards, and he only played in 13 games (six starts). Last year, he spent all but three games on IR.
Will he be a top 10 running back this year? No, but he is going to manage at least 800 yards again, and could get over 1000.
The Patriots were fifth in the league last year in rushing, without getting a running back over 750 yards. They signed free agent Fred Taylor, who has had seven 1,200-yard campaigns in the last 10 years.
Will he be able to duplicate that success? Most likely not, but with Laurence Maroney sharing carries with Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk, and young upstart BenJarvus Green-Ellis, this team's rushing attack is going to a formidable bunch.
Bill Belichick will create a subbing plan to keep them all fresh, while still taking advantage of their very different styles, making them nearly impossible to stop.
Then, on the passing side, if Tom Brady has 15 fewer touchdowns than in the 2007 season, he'll still be the league leader. Tom Brady completely tore up the league in 2007.
Will he do it again? Probably not quite as much, but again, the incredible thing about the Patriots is that they won’t even need him to.
He will be much better than Matt Cassel, as well as coming in with a fire off of his injury. Tom Brady's quest for revenge, combined with a top five run game, with two Pro Bowl Receivers—who do you double team?
Do you put the extra man in the box to help in the run game and risk getting burned deep by Randy Moss or Joey Galloway? Or do you double coverage Moss and try to stop the run game?
What do you do when Tom Brady beats your double team? I don't see how this offense can be stopped with the talent they have.
The weakest part on this team's offense is their offensive line. It is still a powerful line, but they gave up way too many sacks last year. They need to do a much better job of protecting the quarterback.
The Patriots had the 10th best defense in the league last year, which was somewhat of a disappointment for them. Watch this defense return to the top five this year, as they continue to get younger and faster.
The defense got much better this year, as they added youth to their aged linebacker corps and got new defensive backs in their secondary who are better at coverage.
Rodney Harrison was much more bark than actual bite. He's been getting slower for years, and though the Patriots will miss his attitude and leadership, they will be improved with Patrick Chung as their safety.
The Patriots fans got worried as they saw Bill Belichick's secondary stars, one by one, leave the team—Randall Gay, Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, and Eugene Wilson all left the team after Super Bowls looking for money.
But what most people didn't see, because it was covered up by the massive pressure of their defensive line, is that all of these defensive backs were atrocious in coverage. They merely looked good because of their interception stats, which came as a result of not having to cover too tightly.
But now that they left, they aren't having the same success. Asante Samuel had good interceptions stats last year, but was beaten often in coverage.
The Patriots filled the holes left by their departures by picking up coverage specialists in Shawn Springs, Leigh Bodden, and Tank Williams. They also have two possible Pro Bowl safeties in Brandon Meriweather and Patrick Chung.
These safeties will add speed and run game help, because they're both "in the box" safeties. This will not be the typical turnover-causing defense that Bill Belichick usually spotlights, but it will be very hard to beat, and will have very good yardage stats.
The defensive line has three Pro Bowlers who all can stuff the run, but who still generate a terrific pass rush. It is easily a top five line, and is the nucleus of Bill Belichick's defensive strategy.
They clog up the line, allowing "physical beast" Adalius Thomas, 2008's Defensive Rookie of the Year Jerod Mayo, consistent Tedy Bruschi, two-time 115-tackle season Paris Lenon, and first team All-Big East Tyrone McKenzie, to make sacks and tackles.
This defense starts up front, but it has support all the way through. It is possible Julius Peppers could still be signed, and if that happened this could be a season of legend.
This unit is stacked full of veteran Pro Bowlers, starting with punter Chris Hanson.
He isn't the best punter in the league by any means, but is a very serviceable punter for the few times when their offense doesn't succeed.
Stephen Gostkowski is a Pro Bowl kicker who's already helped the Patriots forget about "the Benedict Arnold" Adam Vinatieri.
Wes Welker is a great punt returner, holding three of the four team records for punt returning with the Miami Dolphins, and the sure-handed Kevin Faulk has been returning kicks for years for the Patriots.
They will miss the speed of Ellis Hobbs, but they should be able to find a serviceable replacement for him.
Offensively, simply because of the return of Tom Brady, they're a top five team.
Defensively, they need several players to play big for this team to be a top five unit.
Patrick Chung, Brandon Meriweather, Jerod Mayo, and Darius Butler are all first or second year players. They could have a huge impact, but the Patriots will need all of them to play up to their full potential.
Injuries on the defensive line could cripple this team, as they have little depth there, but everywhere else they could recover from injuries. This is an incredibly talented, deep, motivated team.
They're trying to get back to the Super Bowl after the humiliating defeat by the New York Giants. Do I actually think they will win 19 games in a row? Probably not, since they have the fourth hardest schedule in the league.
Do they have the talent to win every game this year? Definitely. Right now, they are definitely my Super Bowl pick.
My final summary statement is this: 2010 AFC championship game, buy your tickets as soon as you can. New England Patriots vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers to determine the team of the decade.
Offense vs. defense—it's going to be a hell of a game.
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