Why the Road to Super Bowl 44 Should Run through Foxborough: Expect To See the Rise of the Patriots in 2009
For the New England Patriots, 2009 can't start soon enough. Their last campaign ended with bitter suddenness, with the Patriots narrowly missing the playoffs in 2008 despite losing multiple key contributors to season-ending injuries including their quarterback Tom Brady.
After an offseason of reloading and recuperating, there is no reason to expect that the Patriots won't be among the top teams in the NFL.
Not many teams in the NFL can realistically expect to compete for a conference championship yearly. Patriots fans have several good reasons to believe their team belongs on that short list, and No. 1 is the return of Tom Brady.
While Matt Cassel performed admirably well in relief, Brady is one of the NFL's most accurate and intelligent signal-callers, and his presence will allow the Patriots' offense to perform at a high level consistently.
Brady's return comes with an undeniable risk, however. If his knee isn't at 100 percent after reconstructive surgery and the resulting infections, it could be several weeks before he regains his 2007 form. If the Patriots' pass-friendly offense isn't balanced enough, there might be some growing pains as Brady shakes off the rust.
Another reason to believe the Patriots will be back on top is their retooled defense. After finishing near the bottom of the league in pass defense and third down efficiency, New England will have at least three new starters in the defensive backfield.
Gone are Ellis Hobbs, Deltha O'Neil, and Rodney Harrison. They have been replaced with free agents Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs, and draft picks Patrick Chung and Darius Butler. Chung and Butler provide the pure athleticism to contribute right away, while Springs is a crafty veteran who can line up at either corner or safety.
Bodden enjoyed his best season under former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, and if he can approach the success of his 2007 statistics the New England backfield will make quarterbacks think twice before throwing a pass.
If the Patriots are to compete with the NFL's best in 2009, they must remain healthy.
Besides Brady, the team lost its best linebacker, Adalius Thomas, to a broken arm midway through the 2008 season. Linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Pierre Woods, and defensive ends Richard Seymour and Ty Warren also missed time due to injuries, forcing the Patriots to sign Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin off the street.
Without any consistency in their front seven, New England was unable to rush the passer or stop the run effectively for any stretch. If the team is hit with another devastating rash of injuries, as it was in 2008, it will be almost impossible for them to beat Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Baltimore, and San Diego in the playoffs.
Realistically, the Patriots have all the ingredients for a deep run into the postseason. For the team and its fans, anything less will be another year ending in disappointment.