One quick look, and the New England Patriots seem to have it made. Sparkling 14-2 record, defending NFL MVP Tom Brady at quarterback and reigning Coach of the Year Bill Belichick on the sideline.
Problems? What problems?
Well, they exist. The playoffs proved it, and the offseason emphasized it. The Patriots could use—no, need—some help in the 2011 NFL draft.
Teams that finish a season with the league's top record don't usually have to hit the home run the Patriots have to hit this year. Fortunately, the Patriots are set up well to knock it out of the park, with three picks in the top 33 selections. For all intents and purposes, that's three first-rounders.
He'll be tempted to make a deal. He's got to resist that that urge.
The 14-2, at-one-point-unbeatable Patriots need help with pass rushing and the offensive line, and could use it at the receiver, running back and defensive back positions. They need that, all of that, now.
The playoff loss to the Jets, and the following surges of the Steelers and Packers, showed that a pass rush is still a necessity to win in the postseason and a difficult weakness to cover up. The offseason has seen a shaky offensive line take a turn for the worse. Stephen Neal is gone, and Matt Light and Logan Mankins could very well have played their last games in Patriots uniforms.
It'll be difficult for the Patriots to reach their ultimate goal of a Super Bowl title without addressing those issues, and without addressing them with players that can contribute at a high level right now. The team best designed to win with those weaknesses played in Foxboro last year, and lasted only one playoff game.
The Patriots need to take advantage of those high picks and their access to the top players. New England has shown an ability to pull good players out of the later rounds, but this isn't the time to be taking chances in the pursuit of a steal, and it's certainly not the time to be stocking for the future.
The time for New England, so goes the saying, is now. Tom Brady is 33, and will be 34 by the start of the season (whenever that is). He is coming off of foot surgery, and had injuries hampering him last year, in 2008 (the whole year) and at the end of '07.
There's no telling how much longer Brady will remain elite, but the Patriots have to get what they can out of No. 12's finite peak. That starts with getting the best players they can to fill the spots they need.
The Patriots have done a great job recently of turning good draft position into great position down the road. But "value" can't be the key word this year. This team, despite its faults, is in a premium position to win right now.
New England has its issues, but it has its chance to fix them. Now's the time to cash in.
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