Can New England Patriots Get Back to Super Bowl after 2018 Defeat?
Five hundred and five freaking passing yards. No turnovers. And yet the New England Patriots somehow lost the Super Bowl. It seems odd now, and the further away we get from the game the more unbelievable it will be. We can't focus on their place in history, though. Right now we have to figure out what to expect from this team next year. The oddsmakers love this team - they are strong Super Bowl favorites yet again at +550 at BetOnline in ridiculously early Super Bowl odds. If we have learned anything by now it's that we can't count this team out no matter what. At this point, though, I find it tough to get excited about their role as Super Bowl favorites. There are just too many reasons to be skeptical.
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I'm not for a second suggesting that this team can't win - I'm not that dumb. But before I can get behind them they have to answer these seven questions:
Tom Brady: Brady was freakish in the Super Bowl, and he was MVP in the regular season, so there is no obvious reason to panic. And he's obsessive about his health - maybe obsessive in a freaky way, but still obsessive. But there are two things that loom. First, we don't know with certainty that he is coming back. I fully expect him to, and he said in a radio interview before the game on Sunday that he was planning to, but until he confirms it we can't be sure. And second, Brady will be 41 entering next season. The list of top-level quarterbacks - of NFLers of any kind, really - who have been 41 or older is exceptionally short. He has given no indication that he can't play forever, but age will catch up at some point, and the team has mismanaged their backup situation so when things do catch up with him they are in trouble.
Bill Belichick: Again, we don't know whether one of the two crucial figures on this team is going to be back. Nothing has been confirmed either way, so all we have to deal with are rumors. I really can't imagine him not coming back - not after how it ended - but he has some decisions to make and some relationships to work on. If he's not back then there is no possible way you could get behind this team.
Josh McDaniels: The offensive coordinator has officially been named the new head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. McDaniels was part of the staff for all five Super Bowl wins, and he has had magical chemistry with Tom Brady in recent years. He made a heck of a statement with the record-setting offensive performance in his swan song - even if it wasn't enough. McDaniels is going to be very tough to replace, and as of this writing we have no real indication of who will take over. Brady isn't an easy guy to work with, so this hire will be an important one.
Matt Patricia: Not exactly the note the longtime defensive coordinator wanted to start his head coaching career off with. That was really, really ugly, and it came at the end of a defensive season that had a whole lot of issues. Patricia and Belichick had a whole lot of chemistry and comfort with each other despite the issues, so they will not only have to find a replacement who fits in - not easy in New England - but also one who can fix some of the many problems the team has had.
Other staff: McDaniels and Patricia aren't the only two guys leaving. Reports are that two other coaches are poised to leave, and that number will surely grow as new coordinators are put in place. The more staff changes there are, the more chances there are for problems or disappointments.
Defense: As we talked about earlier, this is a defense with some real issues. The talent isn't all it could be, depth is an issue in the backfield, and on and on. The offense was great this year, but the defense too often left them with too much to do. It wasn't a total lost cause - they were often effective in the second half, for example - but there is a whole lot of work to be done here on both the coaching and the personnel fronts.
Butler: This is a team that is allergic to drama, but this Malcolm Butler situation has all sorts of drama around it. Butler was benched for the Super Bowl and never played even though he could have been used in a secondary that was just a disaster. Rumors flew that he skipped curfew. He made a statement that he didn't. Former teammates piped up with theories. Belichick isn't saying anything. Butler is probably done with the team, but we don't know for sure, and we can't yet know if this situation will have any lingering impact on the team. A situation like this could easily fester and distract for too long.
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