Sep 22, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (right) speaks to quarterback Tom Brady (12) during the first half of a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Before this 2013 season kicked off, I predicted that the Patriots would make a return to the Super Bowl. There were a number of reasons why I made this decision, chief among them was the fact that they had gotten younger and more explosive on offense, and the defensive group now had some experience under their belt and therefore would be a much improved unit. Through the first four games of the season, only one of these has held true, and that is the improved defense. Despite showing flashes of that youth movement last Sunday versus the Falcons, the Patriots passing attack has been stagnant largely due to the young receivers not being on the same page with their quarterback. When you combine this with the dominating Denver Broncos, it looks like my prediction will fall woefully short come January. But I believe that the Pats will be just fine, and here are three reasons why they are on the right track to make a return to the big game.
1. Gronk And Amendola Will Return
If superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski and ultra talented wide-out Danny Amendola had been healthy through the first four weeks, this article would probably never have been written. Both of these players have an incredible ability to dominate one on one coverage, and as a result of this, open up opportunities for their teammates. But Gronk has yet to fully recover from some offseason surgeries on his back and forearm, and he still hasn’t made his 2013 debut. Amendola showed up in week one and put forth an amazing (and courageous) performance against the Bills, but he re-injured a groin injury that had been nagging him, and he has been out the last three weeks. While these two have been absent, Brady has had to work with two rookies, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, as well as veteran Julian Edelman. As I mentioned before, it hasn’t been the smoothest sailing, but you can see the talent that both Dobson and Thompkins have, and slowly but surely they have showcased it on the field. Brady’s connection with these two is improving week by week, and despite being without his top two weapons, he has led the Patriots to a 4-0 start. Once Gronkowski and Amendola return, the rookies will have a lot more room to operate, thanks to the double teams that Gronk and Amendola will demand. By this time, the highly touted Dobson and the slightly less highly touted Thompkins will have found their groove with Brady, and this offense could be even better than last year’s unit. Defenses will have to pick their poison when Brady’s bunch gets 100% healthy. If they double Gronk or Amendola, they will be beat on the outside by Thompkins or Dobson. If they shade a safety to the perimeter to help on the rookies, Amendola and Gronkowski will eat them alive between the hash-marks. Once November and December roll around, you better watch out for this offensive attack, Brady will be hungry to dominate and his healthy troops will allow him to finally do it.
2. The Broncos Are The New Patriots
In my opinion, the AFC has two legit contenders, along with two teams that have the capability to surprise some people. The Broncos and the Patriots are the only two teams that I see standing at the end of January, while the Chiefs and Texans could possibly pull off an upset. But more likely than not, the Pats and Broncos will be battling it out all season long.
Aside from the putrid defense, the one main thing that seems to have plagued New England over the last couple of years, has been that they peak way too early in the season. All too often they would seem unbeatable from September to November, but they would then slip up and eventually get knocked out of the playoffs. This year’s Broncos are following this exact pattern. Currently, it appears that nobody will ever beat them, as they are demolishing opponents like it’s nobody’s business. But all great teams slow down eventually (even the 07 Pats), and the same thing will happen to this year’s Broncos. Peyton is playing out of his mind right now, and his loaded receiving core is piling up tremendous statistics. However come November and December, they will cool off from their sizzling hot start, and stumble into the playoffs rather than sprint into them. The Patriots on the other hand, are in the exact opposite boat. Despite their 4-0 start, they look very beatable here in the early portion of the season, and do not look like a Super Bowl team by any stretch of the imagination. As they start to get guys healthy again, they will adjust and begin to round into form. Instead of their usual peak in September and October, they will be at their best in December and January, much like the Ravens and the Giants have done in their recent Super Bowl victories. While the Broncos struggle into the playoffs, the Pats will be steamrolling their way in, and that will be a very scary sight for the Denver Broncos.
3. Brady Over Manning
When everything is all said and done, this year’s AFC representative in the Super Bowl will probably be led by either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, and this doesn’t just have to do with the AFC being extremely weak this year. The NFL playoffs always seem to have a flair for the dramatic (see Ray Lewis) and witnessing another Brady versus Manning AFC Championship game would be absolute gold.
When it comes to playoff football, Mr. Brady trumps Mr. Papa Johns every time. Now I am not taking anything away from Peyton, I believe that he is one of the greatest to ever do it, and in the regular season, he is the guy I would want leading my squad. But time and time again, Brady has proven that there is no one better at getting it done in the biggest moments, and if these two meet again this January (please?!?) Brady will be the guy heading to Super Bowl 48.