There is no question that the New England Patriots were the team of the 2000s. They captured 3 Super Bowls (XXXVI, XXXVIII, and XXXIX) with their brilliant coach Bill Belichick, star quarterback Tom Brady, and various other pieces. But they have not won a Super Bowl in 5 years despite going undefeated in 2007, a season that culminated in an excruciating loss to the Giants in what was arguable one of the best Super Bowls ever.
They have missed the playoffs only once since, and that was when Brady was injured, and they still won 11 games.
But there is a strong likelihood that the Pats miss the playoffs this year.
1. A Weakened Receiving Corps
Randy Moss is still an elite receiver but he is clearly aging. He never was a physical receiver and always relied on his speed. With his speed declining with age, it is now easier to shut down Moss for a whole game (or for 2, which is what Darrelle Revis did last year). Wes Welker also suffered a serious knee injury in the season ender against Houston last year and it is unclear if or when he will return. Even with Julian Edelman taking his spot for now, it is still a large blow to the offense and Brady.
The rest of the WRs are nothing special, with Torry Holt over the hill and a bunch of unproven youngsters rounding out the cast. Even with two impressive rookie tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, it might now be enough. And the Patriots' mediocre running game does not help the offense anymore either.
2. A Much Stronger Division
Last year, the New York Jets clearly passed the Pats as the premier team in the AFC East. With their smothering defense and improving offense, the Jets are a serious Super Bowl contender for the first time in years.
And the Miami Dolphins added some new toys as well, referring to Brandon Marshall and Karlos Dansby. With a young and talented quarterback in Chad Henne, a still strong rushing attack, and an underrated defense, the 'Phins are another serious threat to New England.
At least the Bills are still a fail though.
3. Very Difficult Conference
There are a bunch of teams that will be in contention for a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. The Dolphins will be there. The Texans are much improved and could finally burst through with an awesome passing game if the running game and defense step up. The Titans were a different team with Vince Young at quarterback last year. The Steelers will be in the fight if they don't blow up with Big Ben suspended. The Bengals have made some nice moves this offseason.
So it appears to be that the Patriots' dominance might have ended once Plaxico Burress made that catch in the corner of the end zone for the Giants' historic victory in that Super Bowl.
Team logos courtesy Chris Creamer's SportsLogos.net