Optimism exists in the heart of every fan regardless of what team they root for at the start of each and every NFL season. In some cases it would be ludicrous to think your team wasn’t a front-runner, such as the case with the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, or Green Bay Packers. For a Minnesota Vikings fan, Jacksonville Jaguar fan and especially a New York Jets fan, the beginning of the season is really the only time that you are allowed to be so assured of your team’s potential abilities.
The New England Patriots are used to being heavy favorites to compete for a Super Bowl title and this year in theory should be no different. Oddly enough, coming off a Lombardi Trophy win, the Patriots are a bit more of a wild card than one would typically expect. In the shadow of Deflategate many things have changed since the beginning of February. Under center we have a scenario like no other in Patriot’s history. Backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo probably pictured that he would gain the starting position job a bit differently than by a trumped up suspension of Tom Brady over a loss of air pressure. Garoppolo for better or for worse is currently the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots for the first four games of the 2015 season. If the suspension holds up this could either be a chance to shine or an unmitigated disaster.
During free agency the Patriots lost several key components to last year’s winning formula. The secondary was stripped clean with the losses of superstar cornerback Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington. Vince Wilfork, the veteran run stopper on defense, now plays for the Houston Texans. Shane Vereen, a dynamic third down back, is now the New York Giants’ shiny new toy. Dan Connolly, stablizing offensive lineman, retired. Like with any team these are parts that can and have been replaced but the current mix of players lacks the former’s track record.
The injury bug has crept its way into the New England Patriots locker room as well. Popular slot receiver Julian Edelman and wide receiver Brandon LaFell have both been battling nagging injuries which have kept them off the field. Newly acquired wide receiver Brandon Gibson and dynamic receiver Brian Tyms Have both suffered season-ending injuries. Offensive line Center Bryan Stork has missed quite a bit of action due to injury, which has been hindering the offensive line during much of the preseason. As recent as Saturday night, the Patriots lost fullback James Devlin for an extended length of time. Granted, these are the more notable injuries but they do play a large part in the New England Patriots’ chances to repeat as champions.
Still there is room for plenty of optimism. The preseason football games are hardly a barometer for how well a squad will perform during the actual season. That being said, the Patriots defense has shown that the absences of top cornerbacks doesn’t mean they won’t go down fighting. Super Bowl hero, cornerback Malcolm Butler has looked exceptionally strong. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard looks as though he may have been the perfect free-agent pickup for this defense. Sheard’s fight and tenacity help make the defensive front seven a force to be reckoned with. The offense, once healthy and stable, has the potential to be world class. An angry and focused Tom Brady throwing to the likes of Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski, slot receiver Danny Amendola, tight end Scott Chandler and future Hall of Famer, Reggie Wayne could make an awful bit of trouble for most NFL defenses.
Do the 2015 New England Patriots have their share of doubters, when it comes to the burgeoning success of back to back championship seasons? Of course, but like the other 31 clubs you can’t tell their rabid fan base that this season doesn’t belong to them. Lest we forget, the month of September 2014 which at the time did not look so promising for the Patriots either. How did that season end again? So, let’s all just agree to be cautiously optimistic.