Super Bowl Leaves Patriots Looking to Next Year

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Super Bowl Leaves Patriots Looking to Next Year

17-14, Giants.

Not exactly the score Giants receiver Plaxico Burress predicted, but he did get the most important part of the prediction correct: the eventual winner.

And besides that, the Giants held the vaunted New England offense to just 14 points, their lowest total all season.

How in the world did the Giants manage to do this?

Look no further than their defensive front seven.

Rookie lineman Jay Alford, veteran Michael Strahan, and linebacker Kawika Mitchell each had one sack, with the other two going to defensive end Justin Tuck.

And besides the sacks, the defense was in the Patriots' backfield virtually the entire game to disrupt his rhythm and force quick decisions and errant throws.

The final result: an incomplete pass to Randy Moss on 4th and 20 with 2 seconds remaining, giving the Giants their third Super Bowl victory, but easily their most impressive.

Now, the Patriots and their fans are left looking for answers as they look into the future. Is this the end of an era? A dynasty brought to its knees in what was supposed to be its finest hour?

My answer: hardly.

Looking ahead to next year, the Patriots are still the odds on favorite to win Super Bowl XLIII. And why not?

They still have the best coach in the game, the best quarterback in the game, and the best offensive line in the game, all being under contract.

They do have a few key unrestricted free agents, most notably WR's Randy Moss and Jabar Gaffney, safety Eugene Wilson, and corners Asante Samuel and Randall Gay. And according to askthecommish.com, the Patriots are projected to be $10.93 million under the salary cap for the 2008 season.

So, pending the resigning of the aforemention secondary units and wideouts, the Patriots still have a very formidable roster heading into the 2008 NFL season. They'll have a good line on both sides of the ball, playmakers in the secondary, and some of the best skilled players in the league.

Their only weakness remains what it was this year: their linebacker corps. Inner linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau are both unrestricted free agents. These players, while dominant in their prime, have lost a step or two over the years, and this loss of speed has cost the Patriots a few tackles, and yards, that otherwise would have been made. Both could potentially retire after the season, leaving New England with two solid linebackers in Adalius Thomas and Mike Vrabel, but still with a hole to fill.

So where do they look for help? The first option is always the draft. The choices they have here are either LB Keith Rivers out of USC or DE/LB Vernon Gholston out of Ohio State. Either would bring fresh life and speed to the table, as well as playmaking ability and a tremendous upside.

The second option is through free agency. The top unrestricted free agent linebacker this year is unquestionably Lance Briggs. I wouldn't rule it out of the question, but Briggs would likely come with a high price tag, especially considering his reaction to the Bears' franchise tag on him, so I would mark this acquisition as unlikely.

Also in the running is the tremendously gifted Boss Bailey. However, despite Bailey's potential, his career has been hampered by injuries, and he has not yet put together a complete, decent season in Detroit. Other more likely prospects would include Karlos Dansby, a strong 26-year-old from the Cardinals and on the rise, or interestingly enough, Kawika Mitchell if the Giants do not resign him. Whatever road they choose, count on Patriots VP Scott Pioli to do what he has done in the past: find the right personnel to fit their needs.

Don't despair, Patriot fans. This most recent loss undoubtably hurts, and always will. But you have a bright future. You still have the best franchise in the league, and are a good bet to go all the way next year. Will it be an undefeated Super Bowl season? Unlikely; that would be some feat after what they went through this year. But I wouldn't bet against it, or put anything past these New England Patriots.

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