While they stand on top of the proverbial NFL mountain once again for the fifth time overall and second time in three seasons, the New England Patriots winning back-to-back Super Bowls is far from a sure thing.
Despite seemingly getting better in the off-season in re-signing linebacker Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Bolden and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler, trading for former New Orleans Saints speedster Brandin Cooks, DL Kony Ealy and tight end Dwayne Allen and signing former Bills running back Mike Gillislee and linebacker David Harris, New England lost veteran offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer and NFL rushing touchdown champion LeGarrette Blount.
While some may think that the loss of Vollmer is not a big issue, consider how well New England protects Brady in the pocket. In addition to the loss of Vollmer, the loss of Garrett, especially in short-yardage and goal line situations could be bigger than one realizes.
Yes, all of the moves mentioned above justifiably put the Patriots in another stratosphere among all NFL teams, but they are vulnerable.
The defending champions undoubtedly have one of the toughest schedules in recent memory in facing six playoff teams with a soon-to-be 40-year-old quarterback in Tom Brady, a highly motivated and upgraded league set on stopping them from raising their sixth Super Bowl banner and a tough stretch in November and December in which five of their last eight games are on the road, and the Pats bringing Title No.6 back to One Patriot Place may not be such an easy task.
Below are my five reasons why the Patriots will not repeat in 2017.
Tom Brady Getting Close to “The Cliff”: 40. That number is equal to my age, and also the age of a former Michigan-bred five-time Super Bowl winner in Tom Brady. To paraphrase ESPN’s Max Kellerman of “First Take’, but Brady is close—if not already on the edge of the proverbial cliff, thanks to age and defenses finally beginning to figure the Pats out.
With young guns such as Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garrapollo waiting in the wings if he has a bad game or suffers a n injury. Father Time is undefeated, no matter how many rings you have.
Loss of RB Legarrette Blount Will Hurt in Short-Yardage: Perhaps the most underrated biggest loss for the offensive juggernaut that is the Patriots offense, is that of the NFL’s leading touchdown leader in Blount. Blount, who had 18 touchdowns on the ground, kept defenses honest in giving new England a viable threat.
While the fore mentioned Gillisee and Bolden will now work in a timeshare, neither one will be able to replace the physical hard-running element that Blount brought for New England.
Health of TE Rob Gronkowski: The proverbial fun-loving, party-animal 260-pound gorilla in the Pats locker room is Rob Gronkowski and his inability to stay healthy.
When on the field, Gronkowski makes the Pats trademark two-tight end offense virtually unstoppable in the middle of the field on seam routes, thanks to his strength, size, power and leaping and catching ability. A matchup nightmare at 6’6 and 260 pounds, Gronk cannot be guarded by a linebacker, safety or cornerback in the open field.
Sadly, thanks to a unfortunately slew of injuries to his MCL/ACL, hamstring, concussion, ankle, back, knee, chest and forearm, have caused him to miss 24 games in his seven NFL seasons. Sadly, if he suffers another injury, New England becomes more vulnerable, as he is a vital bog in their tight-end heavy offense.
Loss Of Jamie Collins At LB: Another under-the-radar loss for the Super Bowl champions is that of current Cleveland Browns linebacker Jamie Collins. Despite re-signing the forementioned Hightower to a new contract extension and signing David Harris from the rival New York Jets, Collins ability to cover inside and outside will be missed by New England.
Brutal Post-Bye Schedule In Nov and Dec: To burrow from William Shakespeare, but uneasy lies the head, that wears a crown. In the case of the New England Patriots, this is the one drawback of being defending champs.
With an opening schedule that features AFC West champion Kansas City on Banner Night, and the AFC South champion Houston Texans on Week 3, the pats get no breaks from the schedule makers, and boy is their back end loaded. With five of their last eight games away from Foxboro following their Week 8 home game vs. the visiting Los Angeles Chargers—still weird to actually type that—the Pats face the Denver Broncos—and perhaps their toughest AFC rival—out in the East Bay vs. the Oakland—nee Las Vegas—Raiders in Weeks 10 and 11 before a brutal three game road stretch vs. the always-tough Buffalo Bills.
New England will also face the pesky and always-stout Miami Dolphins and their longtime playoff foil in the Pittsburgh Steelers in what will be a loud and raucous Heinz Field in weeks 13,14 and 15, with one home game vs. the Bills squeezed in between during Week 12.
If the Patriots come out of this meat grinder of a gauntlet at or above .500, look for them to bring home that sixth Lombardi with utter ease.