Tom Brady and the New England Patriots look to achieve the ultimate goal this season: another Super Bowl championship. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)
After an offseason dominated by courtroom drama, destroyed cell phones and the loss of key players, many were curious as to how the defending Super Bowl champions would perform to start the season. Three games in and your New England Patriots look dominant. However, as they go through their bye week, it’s a good time to take a step back and start putting this year’s team into perspective.
Many people have made comparisons between 2007’s Spygate and the resulting 16-0 “revenge tour” with this season and Deflategate. However, a critical variable people are missing between those two teams is the talent. The 2007 Patriots were arguable the greatest team in pro football history and were one of the flukiest catches of all time away from being unanimously considered so. This Patriots team is simply not as good as the ‘07 team was, nor are they even as good as last year’s model. One of the biggest differences between last year’s team and the teams from the previous years that fell short were the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, premier players in the secondary. The loss of them in this offseason has left the Patriots from having one of the top secondaries in the league to having one of the worst.
A more apt comparison to make to this team would be with the 2010 Patriots. Brady was on a mission, putting up one of his best seasons ever and earning his second MVP award. The team dominated the regular season with a 14-2 record and a record breaking offense, averaging 32.4 points per game and committing only 10 turnovers (Football Outsiders actually has them as having the best statistical offensive season in NFL history). They had a young defense that would give up yards and the big play, but were seemingly able to make stops when they needed to and force key turnovers. That team ended up one-and-done in the playoffs, with a home loss to the New York Jets.
Or maybe this team compares to the 2011 version, which took advantage of a weak conference to make it back to the Super Bowl, only to lose to the New York Giants again. I’m not saying this team will suffer the same fates, I’m just saying we have seen the Patriots play like this before and it hasn’t always lead to a Lombardi Trophy. The defense and depth on this team is still a big question mark. Yes, their chief rivals have all started the season very poorly (Ravens, Colts and Seahawks particularly), but as we all remember from last year, how a team looks in September isn’t always a good indication of how they will look at the end of the year.
Should you feel good about how the Patriots have started the season? Absolutely. Like almost every year, they will at least be hosting games in the playoffs and contending for a Super Bowl title. But let’s calm down with the 16-0 talk and booking our tickets for Santa Clara. Since 2004, the Patriots have only ever had two offseasons where they have been aggressive. Those resulted in being a fluke play away from an historic 19-0 season in 2007 and last year’s Super Bowl championship. The other years they have all come up short and simply weren’t a complete enough team. Let’s hope this year breaks that trend.