What does it take for an empire to fall? Caesar ruled over the Romans until he was taken down by betrayal. The Persians ruled through military might before being dominated by Alexander the Great. The Mongols conquered most of Asia until eventually, the vast size was their very downfall. Every empire throughout history has had a fatal flaw. Every empire except one. Their leader and its people have persevered through injury, scandal, and heartbreak. Whom is this mysterious force that, quite frankly, seems to be truly immortal?
None other than Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.The New England Patriots, headed by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, have dominated the AFC for the past decade and a half. The
The New England Patriots, headed by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, have dominated the AFC for the past decade and a half. The Patriots have missed the playoffs just once in the past 10 years, posting an 11-5 record with Matt Cassel under center. To take it a little further, the last time a Patriot fan has had to witness a losing season was the year 2000. For a little perspective, Bill Clinton was still our president, and DMX’s “Party Up” was the new song of the summer. Since that year, they have been to the playoffs a staggering 14 times, and have won 5 Super Bowls.
Their latest Super Bowl Victory, an electric 34-28 comeback over the Atlanta Falcons, was their most recent flexing of their almighty NFL muscles. Tom Brady threw for nearly 500 yards, and running back James White caught 14 balls for 110 yards. Before that game, the vast majority of fans do not know who James White even is. Tom Brady’s top 2 targets are a 31-year-old former quarterback (who is actually a great receiver, no offense Julian Edelman) and a Buffalo Bills castoff. The Patriots have been remarkably active this offseason, trading for tight Dwayne Allen, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, and defensive end Kony Ealy. Each one is either equal or greater than the player they are replacing. But they were not done there. They also signed Stephon Gilmore, pairing him with
The Patriots have been remarkably active this offseason, trading for tight Dwayne Allen, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, and defensive end Kony Ealy. Each one is either equal or greater than the player they are replacing. But they were not done there. They also signed Stephon Gilmore, pairing him with Malcolm Butler to give opposing quarterbacks nightmares. It is scary to say, but the Patriots have gotten better since winning the Super Bowl.
But history tells us nothing truly lasts forever. Someone will eventually come and dethrone the New England Patriots. The only question is: who can accomplish this feat? In the upcoming 2017 season, the Patriots truthfully look poised for a repeat appearance to the Super Bowl. However, there are a few teams out there that have a legitimate chance to take them down. The following three teams are who I feel best has a chance to KO the champs
The Oakland Raiders are finally coming back into form as the terrors of the Bay Area. For the past 10-15 years, they’ve been cursed by poor coaching and even worse drafting. Three notable first round picks, Jamarcus Russell, Darius Heyward-Bey, Rolando McClain, were top 10 picks who are no longer on the team. Hell, two of those three are no longer in the league due to off the field issues. However, the future is looking bright in Oakland-soon-to-be-Las Vegas. Derek Carr looks to be the real deal. Khalil Mack is the defensive franchise cornerstone any team would love to have. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are two top tier receivers. Gareon Conley dropped into their hands at 24 to offer them a young, starting corner for years to come. They also added Super Bowl winning running back Marshawn Lynch to run behind a top 3 offensive line unit. Last year they looked ready for a deep playoff run before Carr went out with a broken fibula which understandably ended both his and the team’s season. However, as long as health remains a non-issue, and they give Marshawn Lynch the ball at the 2-yard line, the Raiders should be equipped to march into New England ready for battle.
I feel like every time we think the Steelers are about to topple the Patriots, something happens. Someone gets injured or suspended. The Steelers should be 1A and 1B with the Raiders, but the problem with them is reliability. They have a top 10 quarterback in Big Ben Roethlisberger. At running back they have Le’Veon Bell, who is arguably the best running back in the league, and could probably be a pretty great wide receiver if he wanted to be. Speaking of wide receiver, they have the electric Antonio Brown (also arguably the best at his position), the talented Martavis Bryant, and new rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster. Their defense is consistently good, but their offense has more than enough talent to carry them to the Promised Land. But, as I said, there is that problem called reliability. Big Ben is, with a lack of better words, falling apart. Le’Veon Bell has had knee issues in the league and has been suspended for smoking. Martavis Bryant was suspended all of the last year due to testing positive for an illegal substance (weed). If the Steelers can stay on the field, they have the players and the coaching to contend to represent the AFC come February.
Look, the curse has to end at some point, right? Marvin Lewis has consistently led the Bengals to sub-par records or early round exits. But he also has not had a team as talented as the one he is about to coach in 2017. His offense, on paper, looks next-level. Andy Dalton is firmly entrenched as the franchise quarterback. He may not be elite, but he is on that Flacco-level of quarterback play, which means he can win a championship for an organization. At running back they have Jeremy Hill, Gio Bernard, and Joe Mixon. I would assume that Jeremy Hill will end up being the odd man out in this trio, but for now, that is an impressive stable of running backs. Joe Mixon, a second round pick who has a troubled past with off the field incidents, is a first round talent. He is the second best running back in this draft class, and I expect him to play as such come September. Do not be surprised if his name is in that Rookie of the Year conversation. Then you have AJ Green, who is a top 5 receiver, leading the receiving corps. AJ Green commands constant attention, which will open it up for the rookie, and Mr. 4.22, John Ross, as well as tight end Tyler Eifert. Combine this with an improving defense, and you have a recipe for a dangerous squad. Let’s just hope Marvin Lewis can break his curse and control his team long enough to get past the first round.
These teams have some of the best chances to take down the Patriots, but it will not be an easy feat. Tom Brady ages like fine wine, and I am pretty sure Belichick is the Dark Lord himself. This team is always two steps and a deflated ball away from the competition, so it remains to be seen if this is the year of the downfall. September cannot come soon enough.
Honorable mentions: Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins