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The Patriots’ path to glory is littered with trash

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Thanks to a splendidly mediocre month of August by the Boston Red Sox, which has essentially ended any and all playoff hopes, all eyes in New England are now fixed squarely on the Patriots with the start of football season just five days away.

This would’ve been great news for Bob Kraft six years ago when other teams still feared the Patriots. As they face what could be a transition year, they’d be better off with someone else stealing the spotlight for a few weeks while they try to figure out what the hell they’re going to do with this underwhelming roster.

To be honest, I don’t know what to make of this year’s team. I see potential at several key positions, but potential often equals inexperience, which means there’s a chance this team gets worse before it gets better.

I wouldn’t be shocked if the Patriots finished 8-8, nor would I be surprised if they went 12-4. This is like the cable guy telling you he’ll show up sometime between noon and 6 p.m. The gap between glory and garbage is far too wide and I’m not sure any of us – regardless of our football backgrounds – can make a reasonable prediction for 2010 based off anything other than an educated guess.

I’m going against my better judgment here because I hate stat nerds and everything they represent, but perhaps modern science can solve our problems. The best solution is to come up with a list of likes and dislikes and see which one you have more of at the end. More likes probably means between 10 and 12 wins. More dislikes puts you somewhere in Mediocreville next door to the Giants and Texans.

Right off the top, I like a pissed-off Tom Brady in his second year removed from knee surgery playing for a new contract. The former Super Bowl MVP wants his money, and if takes an epic 2010 to convince the front office to meet his ludicrous demands, then so be it. This would be a win-win for everyone involved.

What I don’t like is the fact Brady just turned 33 with major question marks about his fading mobility and commitment to football, not to mention the fact his offensive line looks rather thin without Logan Mankins, who’s watching from the couch while waiting for a new contract. I don’t like Brady’s haircut, either; he looks like a Mickey Dolenz bobble-head doll.

I like the return of Kevin Faulk for his 12th season in New England. Even at 34, Faulk remains one of Brady’s most reliable weapons coming out of the backfield. If the Patriots need 11 yards on a third-down play, Faulk will get 12.

I don’t like the rest of the running backs, particularly the aging, injury-prone duo of Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor. The Patriots might as well lure Earl Campbell out of retirement. Laurence Maroney’s perpetual state of mediocrity speaks for itself, and the fact BenJarvus Green-Ellis made the final cut should tell you how lousy the rest of the competition must have been in camp. Other than being cleverly nicknamed “Law Firm” by the New England media, Green-Ellis has no redeeming qualities, unless you’re impressed by garbage-time yards in lopsided games.

I like the combination of Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes at inside linebacker. This has the potential to be one of the best run-stopping duos in the AFC East for years to come, provided that Mayo bounces back from a bland sophomore season and Spikes is as effective on the field as he is in between the sheets while filming sex tapes.

I don’t like – actually, I hate – New England’s outside linebackers. If Tully Banta-Cain is your most effective pass rusher, you might as well drop six defensive backs into coverage on every play and keep your fingers crossed. The Patriots already know what they’ll get out of Banta-Cain, and it won’t be much, so they better hope Rob Ninkovich, Marques Murrell or Jermaine Cunningham turns out to be the next Lawrence Taylor in order to supplement how poorly Banta-Cain is likely to play. At this point, finding the next Rosevelt Colvin would be grounds for a parade.

I like the assemblage of young talent in the secondary. I like Brandon Meriweather’s versatility, specifically his ability to play cornerback and safety, which is important considering veteran corner Leigh Bodden is out for the season. I like the acquisition of former Chiefs safety Jarrad Page, who’ll help soften the blow from Brandon McGowan’s season-ending chest injury. I also like what Bill Belichick has done through the draft by acquiring cornerbacks Devin McCourty and Darius Butler and safety Patrick Chung within the past two years, building what could be a strong foundation in the secondary. The oldest player in the defensive backfield is Meriweather, and he’s only 26.

I don’t like the fact this secondary has to play behind what might be the Patriots’ worst pass rush in more than a decade. The corners and safeties have no margin for error. The Patriots should just blitz on every play and pray their defensive backs can handle one-on-one coverage. A dangerous pass rush would take some pressure off the secondary, sort of like what the 2007 New York Giants had when defensive linemen Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora formed a dangerous pass-rushing duo in front of a secondary with five key players younger than 27. Instead, the Patriots are asking a young secondary to jell behind linebackers who can’t rush the passer.

Ultimately, I like any team with Brady at quarterback, but I don’t like the fact I used the word “mediocre” three times. The negatives outweigh the positives. This team could use some help – or at least a close pennant race.


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