5. They’re still mentally tough.
Will the Patriots experience a Super Bowl hangover? No way, not here. Not with Belichick’s philosophy of “today, not yesterday or tomorrow,” and especially not with Tom Brady’s competitiveness and demeanor.
At training camp, the competitive juices are already flowing; there is yelling and clashing. The motto going around camp is “finish” and that alone signifies that the team is already in focus.
The hunger is there, just as always, and should that fail there’s always BSPN to light another fire under their feet.
One other good thing is that incoming players have already picked up Patriotspeak, which is to say they’ve picked up on the mindsets and attitude of what it means to be a Patriot. One only needs to listen to Fernando Bryant and his excellent imitation of a broken answering machine:
“I just want to go out there and make plays whether it’s at safety or linebacker, whatever you want to call it, I’m fine with it.”
As any coach will tell you, half the work of their job is selling the player on the system and the philosophy. This is not the case in New England, despite the Super Bowl meltdown and the overblown spygate issue.
Bryant’s auto-recital is a great sign: The Patriots’ system and philosophy have survived everything.
4. The offense is the same, and possibly even better.
Can someone explain to me just how Donte Stallworth’s departure is going to stall the offensive machine?
Not only did he start the year as the No. 3 option, but in the second half of ’07, his productivity on the charts sank so fast, it made the Titanic’s nose dive look lame.
In his spot, the Patriots have two good receivers competing: Chad Jackson, who is poised for a breakout year, and Jabar Gaffney, who has caught some big-pressure passes (’07 vs. Ravens and ’08 vs. Chargers, amongst others).
But this is beside the point, because we should expect the focus of the offense not to rely on WR sets so much this year, but rather develop more balance. This should bring more rushing and more TE sets.
This definitely will not be the same offense as last year, and that should set a few teams back on their heels.
3. The defense is younger.
Most pundits out there seem to harp on Asante Samuel’s departure, along with his 16 interceptions. One writer has even gone as far as to call it a “cavernous void.”
Samuel’s legendary reads and gambles will be missed, but he covers just one part of the field.
The biggest change to the defense has been youth and speed. I would be surprised if Mayo doesn’t prove to be an immediate impact on the field with his triple threat (power, speed, and smarts).
What people don’t seem to realize is that Mayo got picked at No. 10 because he was largely under the radar as a semi-declared junior. His college numbers are similar to most draftees at that position, and don’t forget that he was in the highly-competitive SEC.
His insertion into ILB moves Thomas outside to where he is at his best as a pass rusher. When you add recently-hired Dom Caper’s excellent skills at creating innovative pass-rushing schematics to the mix, you get a really different approach, and definitely different looks.
Wheatley has been a nice surprise, as he has been holding his own against first string in the absence of Webster, who has been held out of recent practices. He’s looked especially strong against Moss, where he appears unintimidated and extremely competitive.
Don’t forget Merriweather, who is poised to have a breakout year. He has demonstrated that he is serious by taking steps to address his butterfinger problems.
Another great acquisition is Tank Williams, who is yet another hybrid (ILB/CB) who could rush or drop back, causing confusion for opposing offenses.
My guarantee here is to expect an exciting, dynamic, and attacking defense with potent sub packages.
2. Every game is a Super Bowl, but they know how to deal with it.
Last year, as an undefeated season became more and more probable, other teams were gearing up to play the Patriots as if it were their Super Bowl. This was especially true for the teams that were not going to end up in the playoffs.
Of course, the Patriots anticipated it, but it is one thing to anticipate it and another to experience it. This time around, however, they have that experience under their belt and have already started adjusting and anticipating it.
Their PUP list is larger than usual, with people going on and off of it. Harrison has come off it, and expect Vrabel and Welker to come off it just in the nick of time.
Players are also sitting out practices (except for walkthroughs). This makes for a well-rested squad for the regular season, ready to take on those “Super Bowls” with experience and confidence.
1. They’ve already evolved; other teams are going to have to adjust again to keep up.
For a lot of people, last year’s Super Bowl spelled the death of the Patriots dynasty, including Mr. Gap-Tooth himself (he claims that “The Win” hasn’t gone to his head, so we must conclude it got there through his tooth-gap).
Why? It was the perfect blueprint for how the potent offense can be derailed with a smart defensive game plan. What many people mistook for an aggressive rushing Giants defense was actually disguised to cover what eventually and frequently ended up as one-on-one matchups overpowering on the edges to create collapses up the middle.
However, you can trust that the Patriots know that opponents will study that strategy to death, and consequently they will depart from last season’s offense.
I would be surprised to see the three wide set used more than a handful of times in the entire year.
People are wondering who is going to get cut as far as the deep RB corps goes, but don’t be surprised to see them stick with five RBs and multiple backfield looks (with a smaller TE group).
One thing people overlook about LaMont Jordan is his ball-catching ability, so don’t be surprised to see him used in a Faulk-like capacity, or as a TE hybrid. Imagine them both being used on the field!
Also, expect to see Moss work out of the slot more. I don’t anticipate another undefeated season, but as they say “never say never.”
I expect at least a 15-1 or a 14-2 season. Regardless of what happens, the NFL is a quarterback’s league, and as long as the Patriots have Brady, anything can happen.
One way or another, I am happy to predict another season of suffering for the Hatriots.