By David J. Cohen
The Patriots were the hands down favorites to win the Super Bowl this season. Just about everyone anointed them champions before the season kicked off. Certain ESPN analysts even said they could go undefeated. They were the biggest favorites in week one against one of the worst teams in the league. Then everything changed.
Tom Brady tore his ACL and MCL on a hit by Chiefs Safety Bernard Pollard. The hit was perfectly legal as Pollard tried to make a play after being knocked down mid play. Now the hopes of Darth Belichick and the dark side rest on the arm of Matt Cassel. Game over.
There’s a myth going around NFL circles that the Patriots will somehow not miss a beat and win 11 or 12 games without Tom Brady. This notion is absurd.
The argument for the Patriots is that they have too much talent to just fall apart. They have Randy Moss and Wes Welker. They have a cavalry of running backs, led by Laurence Maroney. The defense is stacked, with veterans like Mike Vrabel, Teddy Bruschi, and Rodney Harrison. The front line is also outstanding with Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour. And Belichick has his versatile playmaker in Adalius Thomas.
Despite the immense talent pool, it won’t matter in the end.
First of all, a lot of these talented players are either or both of the following: aging and injury prone. Nearly the entire Patriots starting defense has suffered a serious injury of some kind in the last two years. It is unrealistic for the defense to expect to stay healthy throughout the season.
Second, the secondary is a weak point. When the Patriots play against better receiving cores, they will get picked apart. The Patriots lost all of their depth at corner in the offseason and against actual offenses, it’s going to show.
Third, it has been historically proven that the production of Randy Moss is directly tied to the quality of his quarterback. When he was with Culpepper in their prime, the numbers were off the charts. Moss was happy. When Moss came to the Patriots and had Tom Brady throwing it to him, the numbers were insane. Moss was happy.
When Moss was in Oakland, where there was no proven quarterback, he checked out at the door. When the team he was on wasn’t a playoff contender, he was a no show.
He is in New England to play with Brady and get a ring. Realistically, both of those goals are gone. Don’t be surprised if he mentally checks out later in the season. He is also injury prone. And he’s already inked the contract.
Fourth, the running game that was abandoned at points last year can’t resurrect the offense. They have the talent to do it, but opposing defenses also know that the new lifeline of the offense is the running game. While they will account for Randy Moss, they will force Matt Cassel to beat them. Since the Patriots didn’t use the run consistently last season, they will have some growing pains against good teams in reestablishing it as the base of their offense.
And finally, the Patriots hate spending money. They only spend money on players they feel are not irreplaceable. Just ask Adam Vinatieri.
If the Patriots seriously thought they could go 12-4 with the likes of Matt Cassel, they would’ve done so. They wouldn’t have paid Brady close to $90 million.
Matt Cassel is not a good quarterback by starting NFL standards. He hasn’t played well against second and third string players in the preseason for two straight years. How is he gong to deliver against first string defenses?
If you think Cassel is going to lead 99 yard drives all season long, I have a can’t fail, get rich quick scheme that just takes 20 minutes of your time…
He had a nice game against the Chiefs because they stink. They can barely cover anyone and have very young players playing major roles in their secondary.
The same Patriots team that everyone says will go 12-4 or 11-5 post-Brady needed a Dwayne Bowe drop from Damon Huard to hold on to a 17-10 victory. Expect more of the same.
Cassel will find out that timing and rhythm are the necessary components for the Patriots passing machine to operate at its finest. That’s what made Wes Welker unstoppable last season. Cassel doesn’t have that kind of chemistry with the receiving core.
Another argument about the salvaging of the Patriots is the strength of schedule. They have the weakest schedule in the NFL, and as a result, their sheer talent can overpower the schedule and get them into the playoffs. They can essentially pick off the easiest schedule in the league. This is another myth.
Last season, the teams with the five weakest schedules, from weakest to strongest, were the Cardinals, Bears, 49ers, Falcons, and the Rams. None of them made the playoffs. In the last five years, only one team with the weakest schedule has made the playoffs. That was the 06 Bears. They lost the Super Bowl that year.
As a matter of fact, in three of the last four years, the top three teams with the weakest schedules didn’t make the playoffs. If that holds up this year, the Chargers are also in for a rude awakening.
The other logic “saving” the Patriots is that an unheralded quarterback has saved a team before. In 1999 Kurt Warner went from the grocery store to the greatest show on turf. Then a couple of years later, Drew Bledsoe gets hurt and the Brady era is born. On the surface, this is a similar situation. But think again.
Both the 99 Rams and 01 Patriots had one very important thing in common: expectations. Neither team was considered to be a serious Super Bowl contender with their starting quarterbacks. Both Trent Green in St. Louis and Bledsoe in New England were not considered the best in the game at the time of their injuries. The expectations of those teams with the backup QBs were relatively small.
The 2008 Patriots are a completely different story.
They are the Super Bowl favorites. They have huge expectations after losing an undefeated season. They have a legacy waiting for them to cement. And now that team, their fans, and that locker room are relying on Matt Cassel to step in and fulfill what they feel is their only purpose. That’s a ton of pressure on someone who didn’t start a game in college.
I’m not saying the Patriots can’t finish 9-7 and win the AFC East. But their hopes of the Super Bowl are over.
That’s the only thing that matters to New England. They’re done.