New England Patriots 2010 Season Preview: Aging Bunch Still Top Dogs
It doesn't seem like this is the case, but the New England Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season, when they won their third in four years. Since then, they've had one great chance (a title-game loss to the New York Giants in 2007) and have been ousted in three other playoff seasons by three different teams. The 2008 season was the only one where New England missed the playoffs, but you still must ask yourself if the Patriots' dynasty has run its course.
Offense -- There is nothing wrong with this offense if you like video-game passing sessions and high scores on the JumboTron. In their 16 games last season, the Patriots scored 25 points or more 10 times. Tom Brady threw for 4,398 yards last year, and both Wes Welker and Randy Moss surpassed the 1,000-yard receiving mark. But the three-headed monster is aging and Welker is coming off of major reconstructive knee surgery. The offense could really use a change of pace, and that means a potent running game. The team has four veteran runners on the roster and one of them needs to step up in 2010. Heat Index: 8
Defense -- After the Patriots spent the offseason before 2009 focused on their secondary, they looked at fixing their run defense prior to the start of camp this year. Vince Wilfork is the best in the business at nose tackle, and the team used a second-round pick on Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes, who already seems to make Bill Belichick's eyes light up. If the Patriots can't find more ways to get to opposing quarterbacks, though -- their 31 sacks tied for 23rd-best in the league in 2009 -- it may be another long year for the secondary. Heat Index: 6
Special Teams -- It's been five years since Stephen Gostkowski replaced Adam Vinatieri, and while no one thought he could fill the shoes of a great clutch kicker like Vinatieri, Gostkowski has provided the Patriots with an able and accurate foot -- his field goal percentage is higher than any other New England kicker in franchise history. Gostkowski just signed a deserved contract extension that nets the 26-year-old kicker about $3.5 million per year through 2014.
It's too early to tell if Brandon Tate is the real deal as a kick returner, but on three returns in the preseason, he's averaged 54.7 yards and scored on a 97-yard kickoff return. There is a reason that Tate was the nation's best return man at North Carolina, and he now may be ready to show off his skills in the pros. Heat Index: 9
Coaching -- When you ask anyone around the National Football League who the best coach is, the answer is often quick and close to unanimous: Belichick. His record and success rate in the playoffs show that this man knows what he's doing. He also burns the candle at both ends, which isn't terribly unique for a head football coach, but Belichick's work ethic and desire to succeed are unparalleled. Heat Index: 10
Intangibles -- With names like Brady, Belichick and Bob Kraft, the Patriots have a triumvirate of unequaled proportions. From player to coach to owner you couldn't ask for a better leading man than the three assembled here for New England. Heat Index: 10
Total Heat Index: 43/50 -- The Patriots are on the wrong side of their dynasty years, but are still the early favorites in the division. It'll be a fight instead of a given to win the AFC East, but it's still hard to bet against their track record for making the playoffs.