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5. Season in Review: The New England Patriots

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Last fall Bill Simmons wrote that the Colts were overrated and done. At 6-4 the Colts' incredible 8 year playoff run was over. We were no longer a championship team. Well, after a nerve-wracking 4 game win streak to close the regular season, we clinched our 9th straight playoff appearance and with Peyton Manning still going strong, its pretty clear the Colts aren't quite done just yet Bill.

With all due respect Mr. Simmons, which is considerable given that I own your book and very much enjoy your articles as an avid Colts' fan, you shouldn't throw stones from glass houses. By your own admission, championships define great teams. By that distinction the Patriots, who haven't won since 2004, currently rank as the 3rd best team in Boston behind the Celtics and Red Sox. 4th actually if you count Ivy League titles. The Pats are living on their legacy and their regular season records not their playoff mastery, because of late it hasn't been masterful at all.

It's no fun is it? We Colts' fans have been there before. We know the pain of 14-2 seasons left unfulfilled and watching our team squander virtuoso MVP performances from our quarterback (who is still better than your's btw). It hurts, but you might as well get used to it because right now, the greatness of your beloved Pats is defined by the teams and players of past. The Rodney Harrisons, Willie McGinests and Teddy Bruschi who now roam the TV studios not the sidelines.

(Btw, while Bruschi may be a rather lousy TV personality, he is an outstanding person and has done a lot of good community service work). 

Worst of all, if you want to compare your Pats to their arch enemy Colts, the last seven years, which as you know is an eternity in sports, the Colts hold the upper hand. A super bowl title and another trip back trumps a 16-0 but not-perfect record any day. 

We may be nearing the end of our great run and may be close to 'washed up' (although extremely debatably) but the tides of playoff fortune haven't exactly been kind to you either.

Nice 14-2 season. 

Season in Review: It actually was a great season

In fairness, the Patriots are still very much a title contender. As long as Tom 'Bieber Brady' (I guess the reference doesn't work now that Justin has grown up and cut his boy band locks) is still quarterback, the Pats will continually be a top 5 team.

It was also too bad that the Jets had to spoil both our seasons because as a fan of football there is nothing better than the Colts-Pats rivalry. It's been the best American sports rivalry in the past decade. 

What was truly remarkable to watch this season though, was how well Brady played with such meager talent. It's amazing how smart his supporting cast is. They may not be the fastest, or the the best athletes but there isn't a better and more underrated group in the league than Wes Welker and co. 

The frightening part for everyone else around the league, is that the Pats have sneakily hoarded 384532 picks for the upcoming draft, so an already elite team will probably only be better next year and that 'meagerly talented' roster might soon be loaded with pro-bowlers. Crap.

Looking back, the Patriots dominated a difficult schedule chalking up wins against quality teams as they went. New England claimed wins over 5 playoff teams, including the Colts and both the Packers and the Steelers, and beat another two dangerous teams with winning records in San Diego and the Giants.

Obviously from that body of work and their 14-2 record, it is clear that New England not only belonged among the top teams, but that they were the top team.

They just couldn't figure out the pesky Jets.

Offseason Momentum: As a Pats fan you've got to be feeling good

For all the trash I talked above (a compulsory feature of being a Colts fan writing a season in review about New England), the Pats have to be feeling great about this next season as are by no means over-the-hill.

In fact with 2 first, 2 second and 2 third round picks, they may be better than ever. Ughh.

Even Randy Moss said yesterday that the only place he felt happy was in New England. Can you imagine the steal that would be if the Pats traded Moss for a 3rd round pick, went 14-2 without him anyway and then managed to get him back at a fraction of the cost the following year? Ughhhhhhhh...

To top that all off, Brady was simply marvelous this year throwing for 3900 yards and 36 touchdowns while only tossing 4 picks - a clear indication that Brady is no longer distracted by Gisele. If only he could convince her that the flowing locks have to go (sound of Gisele cracking a whip). 

Speaking of which, I am curious as to which picture ESPN uses on his stats page. Does he allow them to post one sporting his dew or does he secretly convince them to use his current picture here to avoid universal condemnation. Its one thing to have that look with Gisele draped on your arm or after you've just come from throwing for 350 and 4 touchdowns. Its quite another to have that as your prime profile picture. 

As Bill Simmons highlighted shortly after the epic and awesome 2006 Colts-Pats AFC Championship game ""Hey, it's really, really, REALLY hard to get a dynasty going." You need to keep replenishing the talent base, you need to replace character guys with more character guys, you need your core stars to stay healthy, and you need a ton of luck in close games."

Character guys aside, the Patriots - who have also seen their luck diminish slightly the past 5 years - find a way to somehow always satisfy the other requirements. Its almost sickening.

Offseason Anxiety: The Jets

The Pats have to figure out a way to beat the Jets. They, along with the Colts (thank you very much), are the only team that has figured out how to beat New England. It doesn't make any sense. New England is so far superior to NYJ yet somehow, even when the Jets were coach by the decrepit Eric Mangini, the Jets always manage to beat or at least scare the Pats. 

I guess every team has one. The Colts have the Chargers, the Pats have the Jets. Until New England can figure them out though, they may face another one or two early playoff exits. 

Draft Desires: Secondary help! Please! Now? Before Manning hangs another 42000 yards on us?

For a team long defined by its defensive toughness, especially in the secondary, it is almost shocking to see how they have tumbled to the league's defensive cellar. More baffling, is how with a 30th ranked passing defense, they continue to dominant in such a pass-happy league. 

Considering the Pats will have a plethora of picks in the early rounds, its likely the unit will be in for a major upgrade.

One of the first areas the Pats need to focus on is replacing Brandon Meriweather. With the recent allegations of his involvement in a two-person shooting you figure the Patriots just give up on him. Regardless if its true or not (which for his sake and that of the NFL's you hope its not) the guy is a thug. Its not the first time either. He was involved in a shooting and was suspended for his role in a brawl as well during his time at the University of Miami.

The shot at 'characters guys'  on the Pats I took earlier was mainly directed at him. Good riddance, although then again it is the Pats so he just as well could be out there on day 1.

If not, here are some possible replacements: 

I wouldn't be surprised here if Belichick traded down, stockpiled more picks and grabbed FS Rahim Moore from UCLA in the second round. If not, Aaron Williams from Texas would also step in nicely right away as well.

Aside from safety (pending), New England is in desperate need of corners. Devin McCourtey was good enough that nobody challenged him. The reason was because quarterbacks could pick on everyone else. The best available corner at this spot would probably be Colorado's Jimmy Smith. 

Other areas of need are a pass rush and help along the offensive line. One of the reasons the secondary was so bad was because the Patriots couldn't get pressure on anybody. Even in a loss, Peyton Manning must have been grateful for having all day to throw - it almost allowed the Colts to storm back and steal that game.

Cameron Jordan from Cal or Akeem Ayers from UCLA could provide speed and a pash rush along the defensive line and many people see the Pats using one of their first 2 picks on guard Mike Pouncey from Florida.

Free Agency Farewells: None really

Its unfair really. The Patriots have hoards of draft picks and don't have to worry about losing more than a few critical players to free agency. One player they will probably work to resign is Matt Light. Kevin Faulk is a nice utility back who seems to have played for New England forever, so they might just keep him around for sentimental reasons. The trouble that New England's other free agents who hope to resign with the team might run into, is that the Patriots are tight on roster space. What a luxury for a 14-2 team to have...

Threat to the Stampede: Have you watched the last decade of heart-stopping Colts, Pats action?

6 draft picks in the first 3 rounds, a 14-2 record and Tom Brady. Enough said.

Sometimes, when I need a pick-me-up, I pop in the AFC championship DVD. Just listening to Jim Nance getting all giddy about the comeback and "Peyton's Moment" makes me happy. 

As I am sure football fans everywhere will agree, I can't wait for the 2011 installment of Colts-Pats