Teams are measured almost solely based on playoff success, which is probably why it’s so easy to forget that the New England Patriots were the best team in the league throughout the 2010 regular season.
The Pats weren’t supposed to be dominant last year. They were supposed to start falling off. They were supposed to finally cede the AFC East crown to the chic New York Jets.
Instead, they went 14-2, scoring a league-high 518 points and committing a record low 10 turnovers in the process.
It’s gotta piss Bill Belichick off that such a talented team fell short of the Super Bowl. That’s so unPatriotic. But the good news is that, at least on paper, this team might be better than last year’s squad. The Pats didn’t lose anyone they cared to keep this summer, while improving a mediocre pass rush and bolstering an aging offensive line.
This year, we won’t overlook the Patriots.
2010 in a nutshell: They easily win the AFC East and finish with the best record in football. But the division rival Jets have the last laugh, defeating New England 28-21 in the divisional playoffs thanks to a fierce pass rush.
Three predictions for 2011:
1. Tom Brady will win his third MVP award: The guy still hasn’t thrown a regular-season interception since Oct. 17. He and his cohorts have adapted wonderfully to life without Randy Moss. This offense takes fewer risks and is significantly more efficient than it’s ever been. The underrated backfield duo of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead provides more than enough support to keep defenses guessing and Chad Ochocinco becomes another target, joining Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Tate. Up front, expect Brady to receive more support from his tackles. Sebastian Vollmer is becoming a star and rookie Nate Solder has already been impressive.
2. Ocho won’t fit in, but Haynesworth will: I don’t think Ochocinco’s personality suits the Pats, but I want to believe that he and Belichick can tolerate each other for one season. If so, Ocho could contribute as another safe option for Brady. Still, I’m not sure his presence is necessary and I don’t think he’s worth the gamble. Albert Haynesworth is a different story. He’s lazy and has a poor attitude, but he’s once again playing for a contract. That’ll light a fire under the 30-year-old, who’s unbelievably talented and borderline unstoppable when motivated.
3. The defense will take a step forward: Sacks were a big problem in New England last year. The offense gave up too many sacks in big situations (they’ve addressed that with the re-signing of Logan Mankins and the drafting of Solder), and the defense didn’t register enough of them when it was all said and done. As a result, they’ve added Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis, which has many thinking they’re going to use more 4-3 fronts. The revamped line should make things easier on a young and talented (yet shaky) secondary. With a healthy Leigh Bodden back in the starting lineup and the front seven making things tougher on opposing quarterbacks, I expect Devin McCourty to make more plays.
The final word(s): As you can see, I really believe the Patriots have the right formula in place. They’re head and shoulders above the rest of the division and they got better in the short offseason, giving me no reason to believe they won’t once again take the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They’ll win 13 games.