Change is a good thing
Well, here's something that's different: The Patriots should have the greatest player in franchise history on the field next Thursday against the Steelers. Tom Bradywon his Deflategate appeal, wiping out his four-game suspension -- for the time being, anyway. That Garoppolo kid must be so pissed.
The division around the Patriots has changed as well, with the Jets, Dolphins and Bills all making offseason splashes in an attempt to stop the Patriots from claiming a seventh straight AFC East title. And yet, can you honestly imagine a scenario where any of these teams finish ahead of the Brady-fortified Patriots?
Yeah, but what about ...
We always give Bill Belichick the benefit of the doubt (and rightly so). But it's going to take more than expert scheming and the sprinkling of some Patriot Way pixie dust on Malcolm Butler to make up for the loss of Darrelle Revis. The cornerback was the very definition of The Missing Piece in his one-year Foxborough engagement, stabilizing a shaky secondary and allowing the Patriots to attack offenses in a way you only can when you have a true shutdown corner.
Speaking of PWPD (Patriot Way pixie dust), how will New England's backfield perform this year? LeGarrette Blount is suspended for Week 1 and could easily be off the team by Halloween (NFL teams have been playing Pass The Blount for years now). Brady remains at or near his prime, but 38-year-old quarterbacks -- no matter how legendary -- usually need a strong running game to thrive. The Pats might have to count on Brady to be an outlier.
One guy to watch
Reggie Wayne isn't going to be another Ochocinco. The veteran receiver might not be the same player he was in his Colts heyday -- last year's game tape made that clear -- but he's a total pro who will know this offense and likely find a way to make an impact. Wayne feels like a spare part now, but don't be surprised if he's playing a larger role than expected by December.
What we'll be saying in February
The Patriots will make all the offseason buzz surrounding the rest of the AFC East look silly. Twelve more wins and another deep playoff run.
Predicted finish: No. 1 in AFC East, No. 4 in the AFC, No. 7 overall in Around the NFL's Power Poll