Law: The Patriots Still Rule the NFL, Like it or Not
Charlie Law | Thursday, September 12, 2019
On February 3, 2002, a 24-year old quarterback returned from a knee injury for the most important game in football. Staring down a tie game in which his team had been vastly outgained in yards, the young quarterback drove his team the length of the field, and the kicker did the rest.
Tom Brady became the youngest player ever to win Super Bowl MVP, surpassing Joe Namath and Joe Montana, as he led the Patriots to their first world championship. Some 17 years later, Brady and his infamous coach, Bill Belichick — or Darth Belichick, depending on one’s football allegiances and opinion on the ever-constant hood of darkness hanging around the head coach’s scowling face — have earned a total of six championships. The Patriots have dominated football in a manner the salary cap system and the NFL draft were meant to make impossible. And, regardless of whether you love or hate the Pats, no one can deny Belichick’s strategic brilliance — both on and off the field.
For years now, the same cry has echoed about the NFL landscape each offseason: Brady’s too old; the rest of the team doesn’t have enough talent; the Patriots’ dynasty is ending. The rabble reaches its apex when the Pats lose a game or two early on, like when they started 1-2 last year, and dies out soon thereafter, as it did last season when the Pats won six straight games to reach 7-2.
Every year, Brady defies the laws of aging and Belichick refreshes the roster with both young and veteran talents that fit perfectly into specific roles like Cinderella’s foot into her slipper. But this is no Cinderella story; this is Goliath crushing David year after year.
This year, though, the Patriots loom even larger, towering higher over the rest of the league than usual. Because this offseason, the Pats took a Super Bowl-winning roster, and they improved it.
That’s not to say they didn’t lose out on some key pieces, like soon-to-be Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski at tight end (retired), gifted edge defender Trey Flowers (signed with the Lions), top-tier offensive linemen Trent Brown (signed with the Raiders) and center David Andrews (out for the season). But they brought in an impressive haul of new talent to reinvigorate both the offense and the defense, while still building for the future.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots added Michael Bennett at defensive end, a longtime stalwart for the Philadelphia Eagles whom the Patriots snagged by exchanging a fifth for a seventh-round draft pick. They then drafted Joejuan Williams at cornerback in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and added defensive end Chase Winovich in the third, which is yet another example of Belichick’s brilliance. Winovich’s elite production and athleticism at Michigan prompted Pro Football Focus — a group that seeks to use more data in the evaluation of players — to rank Winovich as a first-round talent, suggesting Belichick snatched him up two rounds later than he should’ve been picked.
And he didn’t stop there. For the offense, Belichick selected the 6-foot-4, 225-pound N’Keal Harry out of Arizona State to replace some of Gronkowski’s jump ball ability. Though Harry adds another element, dazzling after the catch in a way the 265-pound Gronk never could. The Pats signed Demaryius Thomas, an aging superstar receiver, and picked up Benjamin Watson for depth at tight end. And then the unthinkable happened: the Antonio Brown saga ended with his release from the Oakland Raiders — and he signed with the Patriots.
The Pats now own a solid defense that should improve from last year, and an offense with the potential to be one of the best in the league. Harry is injured to start the year, but Brown, Thomas, Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, deep-ball threat Phillip Dorsett and Josh Gordon — one of the best receivers in the league when he’s on the field — could comprise the best receiving corps in the NFL. Belichick has won Super Bowls with average receivers; his offense will be frightening with elite ones.
Oh, right, and we’re forgetting one last thing: The Patriots return Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time. He may be 42, but he’s showed very few signs of slowing down. And with the improved, 2019 Patriots roster at his command, it seems borderline crazy to bet against him.
And so, though I can hear the collective groan of 31 NFL fanbases as I write this, I have no choice but to predict that the Patriots will win Super Bowl LIV in Miami this spring and Brady will add a seventh ring to his collection.