The 60's Packers, the 70's Steelers, the 80's Niners, the 90's Cowboys, the 00's Patriots. Their times have come and gone. A new decade has dawned, waiting for that one team to leave their indellible stamp upon it. As the 2010 season kicks off for the New England Patriots on Sunday, the 53 men in uniform will look almost nothing like the legends who carved their name in history books during the team's storied run. Sure, Bill Belichick will still be wearing the headset, and Tom Brady will still be throwing the football. Kevin Faulk, Matt Light, Randy Moss, Vince Wilfork, and Wes Welker will be there as well. But by and large, the majority of this Patriots' squad knows nothing of the franchise's three Super Bowls, let alone the 18-1 season of three years ago.
When the Patriots were racking up titles and winning game after game, I kept reminding myself that those days wouldn't last forever. I made sure to "enjoy it now", because tomorrow was coming all too soon. Well, today is "tomorrow". For the fist time since Drew Bledsoe was our starting quarterback, I'm entering a Patriots season with zero expectations of a Super Bowl run. That isn't to say that I expected the Patriots to win every single year, but I always liked our chances. This year, I don't know what to expect. Gone are the wiley veterans like Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Troy Brown, Willie McGinnest, and Mike Vrabel. In their place stands veritable unknowns like Brandon Spikes, Patrick Chung, Brandon Tate, Rob Gronkowski, and Devin McCourty. I trust Belichick and Brady inherently, but part of me feels like I'm about to take a swan dive off a bridge with this team, unsure if my bungee cord is actually tied onto something.
In some ways, the unknown is a bit refreshing. For the first time in a long time, I think I'll be able to watch games without my stomach tied up in knots. After all, the massive Super Bowl pressures have been somewhat alleviated. On the flip side, after coming so close in 2006 and 2007 and losing Brady in 2008 when the Patriots were primed to make another run at the title, I've still got a deep hunger to see this team succeed. The thought that the window may be shut this season, is also bit depressing.
Yet in spite off all the uncertainty and the questions, I do know this: Bill Belichick is re-creating something special in Foxboro. The Patriots have drafted 12 players in each of the last two drafts. They have a raw, but talented young nucleus. They hold two more 1st round picks, and two more 2nd rounders in 2011. The have the league's best coach. The have an unquestionable Top 3 quarterback with a tremendous fire in his belly. No matter what happens this season, the Patriots are in serious position to be the first team to place a second stamp on a decade. They are renewing. The are reloading. They are regenerating.
It may take two or three years. It may take one. And maybe, just maybe, this new team will grow like a wild fire and claim the title this year, sooner than anyone could have expected. Regardless, the fact remains that Patriots football has once again returned. Our decade is over, and a new one has begun. I, for one, can't wait to what's in store as we turn the page to this next chapter.
Click "Read More" Below to view my 2010 Predictions
NFC Championship: Patriots over Texans, Chargers over Jets AFC Championship: Ugh.
Once again it's time for my annual playoff predictions where I try to achieve the ever-elusive goal of correctly prognosticating the twelve playoff teams. In today's unpredictable NFL, it's a nearly impossible task. In the eight years that I've been attempting this, the best I've ever done is get eight of twelve correct. Most years, the results are laughable. Last season I managed to churn out a respectable .500 performance for the second year in a row. Still, when three of those six are perrenials like the Colts, Pats, and Chargers, it's hardly an amazing feat.
Just in case you've been keeping track, here's the results from past years...
Overall: 47/96 - one shy of 50%
I hate buying into the trendy Green Bay hype, but I don't think the Vikings will repeat their magical season of last year. I expect the Lions to surprise everyone a bit by winning a handful of games this year.
Year in and year out, the Panthers screw me up. If that holds true again, you can expect to see the black cats in the playoffs. More likely though, the Saints and Falcons will be battling it out for NFC South supremacy. I'll give the defending champs the edge.
I don't see the Cowboys imploding... Until the playoffs. The rest of the usually tough NFC East looks a bit lackluster this season. I could see New York rebounding from a rough finish in 2009 to make a playoff push this year.
The 49ers are the tallest midget in the circus that is the NFC West.
I really like this playoff lineup, which probably makes it completely wrong. Usually I'm hemming and hawing about the wild cards, but this was easy. Too easy...
The Ravens could be Super Bowl contenders. I'd go with the Bengals over the Steelers, but I think the schedule will put Pittsburgh ahead of them. Cincy has to play Indy and San Diego, where Pittsburgh gets to rough up Tennessee and Oakland.
If there was one "lock" this season, I'm saying its the Colts taking the AFC South. The Texans got a bit frisky last season. Could this finally be the year we see some playoffs for them?
It's going to be tight, very tight, in the AFC East. I'm backing the Pats, but it's going to be a triple-threat brawl to the finish between them, Miami, and New York.
What is up with the trend of putrid West Coast football? The Chargers, like the Niners, should almost win this one by default. It pains me to say this since the Patriots have their 2011 pick, but I can see Oakland being better than expected.
Again, I really like this combination. The 6th seed seems a bit of a toss-up. I could've gone with Pittsburgh/Cincy here or Miami. I think four games against Tennessee and Jacksonville should put Houston over those other teams with a much tougher schedule.
Returning playoff teams from last season - 9: Cowboys, Packers, Saints, Vikings, Patriots, Colts, Chargers, Ravens Jets
Non-returning playoff teams from last season - 3: Cardinals, Eagles, Bengals
New playoff teams - 3: Falcons, Niners, Texans
I am breaking my rule of "no more than seven teams will return to the post-season", and I'm breaking it badly. However, I'm sticking to my guns. I might not go 12 for 12 with this bunch, but I have to think I'll do better than 6 of 12.
Packers over Vikings, Falcons over Niners
Falcons over Cowboys, Saints over Packers
Falcons over Saints
Colts over Chargers, Ravens over Patriots
Colts over Ravens
Colts over Falcons
Patriots over Texans, Chargers over Jets