Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots never cease to amaze us.
With future Hall-of-Famer Randy Moss now a member of the Minnesota Vikings, once again, Tom Brady and the New England offense will look to move forward without their dynamic wide receiver.
While the Moss deal will not be without implications for the New England Patriots, the trade has had a ripple effect on a larger scale, shaking up the playoff picture in both the AFC and NFC.
After Chicago's meltdown Sunday night against the Giants, Minnesota may have seen an opportunity to gain the upper hand in what has been a competitive NFC North division so far this year.
For the Patriots, questions remain on how long they can stay at an elite level without their downfield threat. After a sputtering offensive performance in the first half against Miami, it took a spectacular defensive and special teams performance for the Pats to break away from the Dolphins Monday night.
The rest of the AFC has to be smelling blood, looking to steal a playoff spot from a now depleted-New England team that had dreams of a possible Super Bowl run.
We'll look at some of the possible scenarios and effects that Moss's departure will have around the NFL.
Tom Brady will have to weather the loss of Randy Moss in order for the Pats to have any hope making the playoffs in a competitive AFC.
People tend to forget that while Moss hasn't put up his usual, mind-blowing statistics this year, his effect on the Patriots hasn't diminished at all.
The reason why Wes Welker is able to work underneath and Aaron Hernandez is capable of stretch defenses up the seam is Randy Moss. Because the 12-year veteran from Marshall attracts constant double-teams, usually bracketed by a safety, the other New England receivers are able to see single coverage or soft zones on a consistent basis.
His presence on the field alone strikes fear in opposing defensive backs, and that's not to mention when he actually does decide to dominate a game.
Although Moss has yet to have a 100-yard performance or catch more than five balls in a game, he has broken out for two 30-yard touchdown grabs (35, 34) and remained the Pats' primary option in the red zone this season.
The trade is a head-scratcher for the Pats because they have no obvious heir apparent at wide receiver. Julian Edleman is penciled in for Moss's spot on the Patriots' depth chart, but his similarities in style to Wes Welker make it hard to see the pair lining up on the field together as the only two receivers on a consistent basis.
Another in-house option for replacing the vacant receiver spot is explosive return man Brandon Tate. The second-year man from North Carolina has the size (he's listed at 6'1'') and speed to become a force at the wideout position. Already viewed as a threat whenever he touches the ball, due to his returning two kicks back for TDs this year, Tate needs to show polish and consistency catching the ball if he wants to earn a starting spot.
Prediction: Patriots no doubt miss Moss, evidenced by their absence from the postseason, but they give valuable playing time to Brandon Tate, who shows the ability to become a big-play receiver.
Coming off of a bye in Week 4, Minnesota sits in third place in the NFC North, two games behind the Packers and Bears in the win column.
In an effort to complement Adrian Peterson and the league's fifth-best running attack, the Vikings acquired Moss to spark an anemic passing offense that ranked in the bottom 10 in the NFL in passing yards/game and dead last in passing touchdowns.
Finally reunited with longtime buddy Brett Favre, Moss will look to make an impact early on for Minnesota, and Week 5 pits him against rival Darrelle Revis. After their game against New York, the Vikings will face Dallas at home, along with Green Bay and Moss's old team, the New England Patriots, on the road in three consecutive weeks.
Looking past that brutal stretch, the Vikings only play one more team ranked in the Top 10 in pass defense (Green Bay), as they would be beginning to build momentum for a playoff run.
Within the division, the Bears face question marks at quarterback and along the offensive line after getting beaten up by the Giants. Although they sit with a 3-1 record, Chicago cannot rest easy in the NFC North, especially with Minnesota adding reinforcements every few weeks, a la Randy Moss and soon-to-be Sidney Rice.
With the Lions out of the division race four weeks into the year, the Packers pose the biggest threat to the Vikings in the North. A Week 7 battle looms between Minnesota and the Pack, but before then the Vikings need to split their next two games against Dallas and the Jets to have a shot at winning the division.
Prediction: Green Bay's early season run pushes them to at least 11-5, easily winning the division, as the Bears completely fall out of the race and the Vikings fight for a wild-card spot.
The Colts and Jaguars are just two of the team's that benefit from Randy Moss' move to the NFC.
With only three teams sitting under .500 after four weeks, the AFC is a picture of parody at the moment.
The AFC South has three teams tied for second place at 2-2, including the Indianapolis Colts, and both the AFC North and East have two teams (Ravens and Steelers; Patriots and Jets) tied for first at 3-1.
New England would be locked into a playoff spot if they continued their pace, but the likelihood of that after losing a player of Randy Moss's caliber remains unlikely.
If the Patriots do indeed fall out of playoff contention, the Chargers and Colts would be two of the favorites to claim their spot.
Known for their late-season runs, San Diego has been hard to gauge early in the season. Considering they have an elite quarterback in Philip Rivers and immense talent on both sides of the ball, the Chargers should be competing for the Super Bowl, not hoping to get into the playoffs. If they can come together and play as a cohesive unit, chemistry has always been lacking from this team, San Diego will have something to say in the AFC playoff race come January.
Even though the Colts face problems on defense, it's hard to see them dropping out of contention with Peyton Manning still under center. At the peak of his offensive capability, Peyton rarely allows the Colts to take games off, motivating the team with his tireless work ethic and on-the-field leadership.
For the rest of the AFC South, the Titans and Jaguars have major question marks on defense and at quarterback—two very difficult things to solve mid-season. Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew give their respective teams a chance to win games week in and week out because of their game-changing abilities at the running back spot. While Johnson can swing momentum with his electrifying runs, MJD controls the clock and allows Jacksonville to methodically drive the ball down the field, dictating the pace of the game.
Believed to be a foregone conclusion that the AFC North will be represented by the Steelers and Ravens in the 2011 playoffs, the Bengals should not be overlooked coming out of that division. Unlike Pittsburgh, Cincinnati made the playoffs last season, and just like last year, they will rely on ball-control and a hard-hitting defense to win them ball games. Hopefully Carson Palmer and Terrell Owens can build off their performances from last week (Owens had 222 receiving yards in a Bengals loss) and develop into a dynamic pair that will help jump start a below-average Bengals passing offense.
Prediction: With the Chargers once again stealing the division from Denver on the NFL's final weekend, the Steelers, Texans, and Jets each win their respective divisions as well. The Patriots fall just short in a wild AFC wild-card finish to the Colts and Ravens.
The addition of Moss has Vikings' fans reminiscing about that historic 1998 Minnesota offense.
Once Brett Favre and Randy Moss sync up, and Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice return to full health, the Vikings will have a chance to field the NFL's most explosive offense.
The merits of Moss have been well-described. A master of the deep pass, Moss can get behind defenses and use his height to win most jump balls against diminutive defensive backs. Another of his talents lies in the red zone, as his body position and ability to catch the football at its highest point makes him a constant factor around the goal line.
Opposite Moss will be last year's breakout performer, Sidney Rice, who is out for at least the season's first 10 weeks recovering from a hip injury. The 6'4'' South Carolina alum was a big-play machine for Favre and the Minnesota offense in 2009, accounting for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns through the air. Realistically, the injury and time missed will keep Rice from being 100 percent when he returns, but once he gets acclimated back to the pro game, defenses will have a hard time accounting for him and Moss on the outside.
Three paragraphs into an article about the Vikings offense without talking about Adrian Peterson is an accomplishment I'll take to the grave. The otherworldly tailback will see less pressure, especially from opposing safeties, because of the addition of Moss. While the former Patriots wide receiver is in the midst of an 18-game streak without 100 yards receiving, his presence on the outside will force a safety to be at least one step slower in the run game, and one step is all Peterson needs to break a touchdown run.
By Week 17, Minnesota should trot out an offense that has Rice and Moss on the outside, a healthy Percy Harvin in the slot, and AP in the backfield, not to mention Pro Bowl tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.
If last year was the most talented team Brett Favre has played with, than this year Minnesota could have the best offense he has ever played on.
The NFC East could put three teams into the playoffs if Minnesota cannot live up to expectations.
Plagued by on- and off-the-field incidents throughout his career, Randy Moss could easily upset both the Vikings' chemistry and playoff hopes with his attitude.
Protected by Tom Brady in New England, Moss will have to be on his best behavior in Minnesota. Considering he left on bad terms, demanding a trade in 2005, the born-again Viking wideout needs to stay out of the media limelight to avoid stirring up controversy on his new team.
If an implosion does occur, the door will open up for the NFC East to gobble up another potential playoff spot. While the Beast hasn't lived up to its name so far this year, all four teams in the division have a legitimate chance at winning the East or garnering a wild-card spot.
The Cowboys and Giants represent the two likely playoff candidates, but don't be surprised if Donovan McNabb uses his magic to will Washington to a long-awaited playoff berth. Michael Vick also has the game-breaking ability to team with an already-talented offense and surprise some teams in the NFC en route to a possible spot, but his health concerns make Philly tough to rely on.
The Falcons are the other viable candidate (I'm excluding the Bears because of uncertainty of Jay Cutler's health) in snagging a wild-card spot from Minnesota. Led by Matt Ryan and Roddy White, the Falcons need to improve on defense if they want to make a run at the NFC title. For a maturing team, the competition of the Saints within the division, coupled with some wiggle room in the wild-card race, can be a boon for their development as they can play against elite competition and gain experience, while still having stability in the standings to fall back on.
Prediction: As the Giants battle it out for the division crown, the Falcons sneak into the top wild-card spot in front of division losers, the Dallas Cowboys.