The New England Patriots are now two full seasons removed from their near-historic run at perfection. The sexiness they had in their ultra-explosive 2007 offense is only halfway back, and now they're wobbling into the 2010 season with one of their stars (Wes Welker ) in a knee brace.
Adding to Welker's woes are an unproven rushing attack of one young back who can't hold onto the football (Laurence Maroney ) and a bunch of old guys who no one truly wants to see as the starter.
There are loads of questions surrounding a team that was just one play away from going 18-0 in 2007, and we're here to help give them a fantasy spin. Worried about Welker and need the inside glance on other Patriots' stories? Read on:
1. Laurence Maroney Will Start at Running Back and Play Well
Is it really that hard to swallow? Let's be real, folks. We can't seriously expect a bunch of 33+ year olds (Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk) to do New England's bidding for all of 2010, even if it's as a collective group.
Age and injury will force the Patriots to give Maroney another go at it, and we will all quickly see, yet again, why he was thought so highly of back when the Patriots selected him in the 2006 NFL Draft.
Maroney doesn't have amazing speed or burst, but he's always been a tough runner with a solid propensity for finding the end-zone. He scored nine times last season and put up his third season of at least 700+ rushing yards, so we know the potential is there. Add in the three 33+ year olds that are the only thing in his way, and the odds are in Maroney's favor to have reasonable fantasy relevance in 2010.
2. Tom Brady Will Be Locked Up, and Then Freed
If New England had drafted Tim Tebow like many experts thought they would, or if they still had Matt Cassel in their grasp, then I could see this maybe ending differently.
But with no real option behind Tom Terrific, the Patriots will suck it up and pay the man what he's due.
Brady worked his way back mentally and physically to start to regain his 2007 form, and with Randy Moss and hopefully a healthy Wes Welker at his disposal, 2010 will be the start of his complete resurrection after getting his knee destroyed in 2008.
With a fat contract locking him up and keeping him worry free, Brady will play with more confidence and make decisions more freely, opening things up and allowing him and the Patriots' offense to get back to their high-scoring ways.
3. Tight Ends Will Continue to Die in New England
It's no secret. Benjamin Watson and Daniel Graham would both tell you: the tight end position is under-used in New England.
That's not to say that their former tight ends weren't talented (or even that they were ), but it's just that simple: tight end is not a necessary fantasy option in the Patriots offensive system.
They have the deep ball with Moss, the short and intermediate game with Welker, and the pound and grind rush attack of ancient zombie running backs.
Even with the drafting of athletic rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, we're just not convinced this position will ever garner more than 50 receptions, 500 yards, and five scores. That's decent for a TE2 if you're okay with mediocrity, but if you're looking for fantasy gold at tight end, you can pass-up New England without blinking.
4. Randy Moss Will Save His Best For Last
Moss may be 33 and slowly exiting the prime of his career, but for a receiver, he's far from being done as a big-time fantasy contributor.
Talent and role aside, Moss isn't one for laying down when it comes to getting paid. There's a reasonable chance he exits the building come the end of the 2010 season, especially if New England doesn't pay him some respect with a hefty contract extension.
Moss could have a tough time if teammate Wes Welker struggles to return to the field, but either way, Moss won't be denied in a season that could decide where (and for how much) he'll be playing in 2011.
5. Wes Welker Will Make it Four in a Row
Welker has done the unthinkable in his brief career, making it in Miami as a return man and slowly carving out a niche as a slot receiver in his final season with the Dolphins. He did well enough to garner the attention of the Patriots and hasn't caught less than 112 passes in a season since.
That's not a coincidence. Welker is the proto-typical "slot machine", and as long as he can get back to the field in full health and roaring to go in Week One, we love for him to beat the odds and reach 100+ (and maybe even 112+) receptions for the fourth straight year.
Quarterback-turner-receiver Julian Edelman and vastly slowed down veteran Torry Holt stand in his way, but considering Welker has already been gunning down naysayers with a wicked comeback trail, we aren't about to be the 100th customer to say he can't make it happen.
He's starting the season (for now) on the active PUP list, which means he can be lifted from the list at any time. As long as he gets off the list and is active for Week One, we feel no urge to drop him out of his 15th spot in our fantasy receiver rankings for 2010.