Patriots

Ten most important Pats heading into 2015: Tom Brady

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Ten most important Pats heading into 2015: Tom Brady

Today, we reach the top of my 10 most important Patriots heading into the season. As Francis Albert Sinatra belted out (and many wannabes have since), “Top of the list, king of the hill, A-number-1 . . . ” There was no doubt. Not even in my twisted brain. It’s the quarterback . . . who can take solace after his last 24 hours, that he’s still the man up in here (said in my best Denzel Washington “Training Day” voice).

NO. 1: TOM BRADY

Why? Oh, I don’t know, let me think. Six trips to the Super Bowl.  Four Lombardi Trophies. A perennial top-3 signal caller dating back to, ah hell, a long time ago. And still able to author fourth-quarter performances like he did in the most recent Super Bowl, a showing that even Jimmy Garoppolo’s personal QB coach said is one we likely won’t see for a long, long time.

Previous Performance: He looked old and unsteady and indecisive during the first four weeks of last season, during which the Pats scuffled to a 2-2 mark. But the team finally solved its interior line issues, Rob Gronkowski became Gronk again and Brady hoisted that big chip back on his shoulder and played with an edge. It wasn’t always perfect. Heck, even in that season-changing win over the Bengals in Week 5, Brady made a couple of coulda-killed-'em throws, but eventually, that consistency we’ve come to know, expect and love from that player shined though. Oh, and don’t forget about the increased mobility. Maybe Brady isn’t the same assassin in the pocket every single week, but that much analyzed, much dissected, much talked about fancy footwork really showed that the man never stops working at his craft, even as he heads for his 38th birthday.

Questions surrounding the player: Father time. Brady wants to play into his 40s and his people think it’s possible. The new rules protecting the QB may make it easier, as well. But 38 is 38. Then there’s Deflategate. It’s dragging on. The suspension has been upheld at the league level and you just wonder how that may weigh on Brady’s mind. He’s as mentally tough as they come, but this is different. Far different. And will bear watching, whenever Brady settles under center.

Overall Outlook: Until he can’t do it, I’m going to continue to think he can do it. He’s surrounded by a fleet of good to elite skill players. If that line holds up, the numbers -- and the wins -- will be there.

Patriots win at same rate vs. rest of NFL as they do vs. AFC East

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Patriots win at same rate vs. rest of NFL as they do vs. AFC East

In his Football Morning in America column, Peter King shined a light on how much better the Patriots have been since 2003 compared to the rest of the AFC East. 

As King points out, the Patriots have gone 189-51 (.788 winning percentage) since 2003 while the Jets, Dolphins and Bills have won 109, 106 and 102 games, respectively, and have winning percentages of .454, .442 and .425.

King’s conclusion that the Patriots have been a crapton better than their divisional opponents for a 15 seasons is spot-on even if it isn’t a revelation.

But be careful of taking the next step and inferring that the Patriots have built that gaudy winning percentage because they’ve fattened up on the AFC East.

MORE TOM E. CURRAN

Because the Patriots have won at almost the exact same rate against the rest of the NFL as they have against their division.

The Patriots are 71-19 since 2003 in the AFC East. That’s a .788 winning percentage. Outside the division, they are 118-32 (.786).

King goes on to add that, when the league realigned in 2002, it would have been so much more competitive if the Colts remained in the AFC East instead of shipping to the AFC South.

He’s right but only to a point. Since 2001, the Patriots are 14-5 against the Colts (.736). Throwing out the last six games since 2011 that Peyton Manning wasn’t there for, the Patriots were 8-5 (.615) against Indy (8-4 if you throw out the 2008 game when Matt Cassel started for New England).

The reason it’s important to give the full context of the Patriots domination inside their division and out is because the past 20 years have been a historic run. Historic runs deserve accurate historic perspective.

And too often -- particularly around here -- you get inch-deep analysis branding the AFC East as a parade of Tomato Canzzzzz the Patriots knock down like ducks in a shooting gallery when the truth is, the whole damn league’s been ducks in a shooting gallery for them since 2003.

Anticipating the reaction of “Butbutbut . . . J.P. Losman! Cleo Lemon! Geno Smith!”, the reality is the league is loaded with bum quarterbacks and slow-twitch head coaches. It’s not an AFC East thing.

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Most intense position battle: Wideouts to go at it

Most intense position battle: Wideouts to go at it

Third in our series looking ahead to the opening of Patriots training camp July 26.

Figure the Patriots will keep five wideouts (not including special teams ace Matthew Slater) when they enter into Week 1 of the regular season. Even with Julian Edelman scheduled to serve a four-game suspension to start the year, even with that slot opening up the potential for a receiver on the bubble to make the club, this figures to be one of the most competitive positions in camp. 

 

 

Chris Hogan will be relied upon thanks to his experience and versatility. And figure Cordarrelle Patterson has a place on the roster as the entire league ventures into a post-kickoff rules change world. 

 

After that? Hard to say. 

 

COUNTDOWN TO CAMP - Gimme s'more: New additions to keep an eye on

 

Jordan Matthews should have the inside track on a role for an offense that will likely be looking for some help on the inside. He's the most experienced slot receiver on the roster after Edelman, but Braxton Berrios and Riley McCarron could make a run themselves -- particularly if the punt-return work is up for grabs and they snatch it. 

 

On the outside, the competition is tougher. There may not be room for Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett and Malcolm Mitchell on the same roster even though their skill sets differ. Britt has the size and athleticism to make good on the potential he showed as a first-round pick in 2009. Will being paired with Tom Brady help him finally break through consistently? Dorsett's size and speed may make him the closest thing on the roster to Brandin Cooks. Do the Patriots feel there's room for him to grow now that he's back for Year 2? For Mitchell, the question is always the same: Will he be healthy?

 

 

How those three questions are answered could determine who has a place in New England and who doesn't. The way their contracts are structured, none of them are locks. It'll come down to how they look during what Bill Belichick annually refers to as a "competition camp." Spring practices were for learning. Now it's time to go.