What else is there to say about the New England
Patriots that hasn't already been said? They've won the Super Bowl two of the past three years, including last year's thriller over the Carolina
Panthers, and with a big-name acquisition this off-season, they're definitely hungry for more. Corey Dillon, the once-lone superstar of a once-crummy
Cincinnati Bengals team, saw his health and stats diminish as the team improved last season. The solution? Ask for a trade, and ultimately, end up
with the defending World Champions.
This second-chance comes well-deserved, however. Before the 2003 season, Dillon had attained six straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons to begin his
career, and should definitely improve New England's 27th-ranked rushing attack. As for the defense, why fix something that ain't broke? The Pats' 7th
ranked D' submitted only 14.9 PTS/G, a stat that ranked first in the NFL. With an already championship-caliber team, highlighted by various superstars
such as QB Tom Brady, K Adam Vinatieri, and one of the top defenses in all of football, there's no reason why the Pats shouldn't go far once again.
Tom Brady, QB, 5th , 6-4 225; Troy Brown, WR, 12th, 5-10 196; Ty Law, DB, 10th, 5-11 200; Adam Vinatieri, PK, 9th, 6-0 202; Tedy
Bruschi, LB, 9th, 6-1 247; Rodney Harrison, S, 11th, 6-1 220
Corey Dillon, RB (Cincinnati), Josh Miller, P (Pittsburgh), Ben Watson, TE (1st round draft), Vince Wilfork, DL (1st round
draft), Keith Traylor, DL (Chicago)
Ted Washington, DL (Oakland), Damien Woody (Detroit), Terrell Buckley, DB (Cut), Chris Akins, S (Miami)
Rosevelt Colvin, LB (returns from IR); Russ Hochstein, OL
The Patriots have one of the best clutch
quarterbacks in the game today in Brady. He is very accurate in the short to intermediate range, and his deep ball has improved considerably. He has
good arm strength and athletic ability, but the thing that really makes him great is his understanding of head coach Bill Belichick's offense. And
with two Super Bowl wins under his belt at this early stage of his career, he's incredibly experienced for a guy that's only been in the league for
four years. After an MVP performance in NFL Europe this year, second-year QB Rohan Davey appears to have the inside track on the backup job, with
developmental prospect Kliff Kingsbury filling the No. 3 role. Davey, who has an excellent arm and tremendous size, tossed a couple touchdown passes
in the Pats first preseason game, probably solidifying his hold on the No. 2 job.
Dillon is a big back with the potential to
dominate games, but he is inconsistent. However, Belichick has a way of getting the best out of his players, which may keep Dillon from disappearing
at times like he did in Cincinnati.. He's a punishing runner between the tackles, and he has the speed to get to the outside, which gives New England
a dimension their offense has not had recently. I don't expect the Patriots to go away from the passing attack that has been so successful, but now
they have a back that can grind things out in the fourth quarter after that short passing attack has the Patriots in the lead. Kevin Faulk, who will
backup Dillon, should provide a nice change of pace and is likely to see a lot of action on third-down situations. He has good receiving skills and is
elusive in the open field, but he has durability concerns. Fourth-round rookie Cedric Cobbs, who has excellent size, strength, and speed, will likely
fill the No. 3 role.
New England has a glut of talented wideouts, including Troy Brown (40 receptions, 4 TD), Deion Branch (57 receptions, 3 TD), and David Givens (34
receptions, 6 TD), who will all get touches in the Patriots' diverse attack. Former starter David Patten (9 receptions) missed most of last season
with injury, and will battle for a place in the offense along with one-time 49ers starter J.J. Stokes (15 receptions with Patriots and Jaguars).
Bethel Johnson (16 receptions, 2 TD) would get a lot of chances on most clubs, but on the deep Patriots he will mainly be featured on special teams.
Belichick's squad is also stacked at tight end, where Daniel Graham (38 receptions, 4 TD) and Christian Fauria (28 receptions, 2 TD) could be
challenged by first-round draft choice Ben Watson (Georgia).
Since everyone will be gunning for the defending Super Bowl champs, the talk of the Patriots becoming the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to finish
the season undefeated is pretty absurd. Someone will knock off New England, but anything less than 13 wins will be a big surprise. The Patriots are
talented, but more importantly, they're deep, which will minimize the effect of the inevitable injuries the team will suffer. Belichick's team can't
afford too many hurts on the defensive line, and the loss of Brady would certainly cast doubts on their chances. But barring any of the above, the
Patriots have a terrific chance to become the first back-to-back Super Bowl winners since the 1997-98 Broncos.
[Edited on 13/9/04 by TRD]