Expect Bill Belichick to refrain from smiling in public for the entire 2011 season.
Belichick won his first 10 playoff games with the persona of intensity and perfectionism that was at the very least contemptuous. But after getting just his third loss in eight playoff games, he softened his approach and that has led him to be seen smiling at least once in a season since.
Softer Bill has lost the next two, both on his home field. He will have something to prove this year, and he will not be alone.
Tom Brady has been more relaxed, even playful with the media. He will be a lot of intensely focused. In some ways, his legacy as a clutch performer is on the line.
After winning their first 10 together, they are a below average 4-5. But the fact that they now have three consecutive losses is what everyone will be focused on. Their last win coming in the season right after the Spygate scandal might even raise a few questions given their record before it was 12-2 and it is 2-3 after it.
Or maybe the players have aged more quickly than they could be replaced. In this case, Belichick might be off the hook, but Brady may not be. He has had the weapons in recent years, with receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker both making it as recently as 2009.
Not that Brady has not put up outstanding regular season numbers because of a symbiotic relationship with that talent. And he did unbelievably well (36 TDs, 4 picks, and a 111.0 passer rating) without that kind of talent in 2010. It was why he maintained the mantle of greatest in the game.
But he has one weakness: Any team that can generate pressure with a four-man rush against an unimpressive offensive line.
While there are not a lot of teams that can do this, they all make the playoffs. The Indianapolis Colts (2006 season), New York Giants (2007), Baltimore Ravens (2009) and New York Jets (2010) all had that ability, and handed the Patriots their last four playoff losses.
And that has shown in Brady's playoff production. His touchdown to interception ratio (30:16) is over 20 percent lower than in the regular season (261:103), and his passer rating is 10 percent lower (85.7 to 95.2). He has only six games with a passer rating of 100, and he has lost two home games to only three road wins; Brett Favre has three apiece.
Calling Brady and Belichick as among the best in the big games will be at least debatable if he suffers his third consecutive first-round loss. And with perhaps three other AFC teams in the five the Patriots will be competing with, as well as the likely NFC Champion, they might well face each of these teams this season.
So they had to take a risk. They acquired notorious malcontents Chad Johnson (he said he would change his name back if Darrelle Revis shut him down...one catch, nine yards, your name is Johnson) and Albert Haynesworth in the offseason, and neither may do more than platoon. That is playing with fire.
If it works, the Patriots actually improved from the team that had the best record in the NFL in 2010. And risks like that tend to work out in the disciplined, player-led atmosphere, and malfeasance is not tolerated.
Eventually slackers will return to form, as Randy Moss did in 2010, but it should work in 2011. Especially considering the Patriots added as much as they lost.
They replaced four defensive linemen for two better ones, including taking one of the Jets top linemen, Shaun Ellis. They added another for depth while upgrading their receiving corps slightly (Johnson for Alge Crumpler).
They lost a little depth on the offensive line, at linebacker and in the defensive backfield. That is at worst a wash, so they should win 12 games and the division. (Bodog.net has their over/under at 11.5 wins, with the payoff appropriately higher to take the under.)