New England Patriots Super Bowl Champs

Will the Patriots win the Super Bowl again with Brady and Belichick?

When the Patriots produced an astonishing comeback to win Super Bowl LI, they set 24 new NFL records, and had they won this year’s set piece, there would have been a bunch more firsts to add to the collection. Just by reaching the Super Bowl this time around, they extended their own record of appearances to ten – two more than their nearest rivals, the Steelers. Had they beaten the Eagles, they would also have equaled the Steelers for number of Super Bowl wins. As it is, they remain one behind on five.

However, as the dust has now settled on another dramatic Super Bowl, it’s worth remembering that the season was still a pretty good one. The Patriots won 11 of their last 12 games of the regular season, picked up an NFL record ninth-straight AFC East division title, were once again the number one seed, and earned a first-round bye for the eighth year in a row. Any suggestion that the Pats dynasty may be crumbling would be wide of the mark.

Anyone who doubts their durability should take a look at the betting markets. The Pats are the overwhelming favorites to recover their Super Bowl title, and the betting world is not given to sentimentality or wishful thinking.

Still, after a disappointment like Super Bowl LII, it’s natural for the franchise and for fans to take stock; indeed, it’s the mark of any successful sports team to continually seek improvement. What do the Pats need to do to return to the top?

The first thing that has to be resolved is the reported rift between the key triumvirate of Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady. The rift supposedly relates to a number of factors, including the role of Alex Guerrero, Brady’s business partner; the trade of Jimmy Garoppolo; and even Belichick’s coaching style. The rift has been denied repeatedly, but if there is any discord behind the scenes, it has to be resolved and swiftly as the team cannot afford to go into the new season with key personnel pulling in opposite directions.

Both Belichick and Brady have indicated that they will be back next year, and though neither can go on forever, to lose either of them at this stage would be a huge and potentially fatal blow to the team’s chances of winning another Super Bowl in 2019.

Of the two key men, Brady’s immediate future is open to slightly more doubt, if only because he is the wrong side of 40. It is staggering that a player of his age, who has been at the top of the game for years, is still capable of performing to such a high level – throwing for 500 yards during the Super Bowl – but history tells us that when an older quarterback declines, it can come quickly. The Pats need to have a back-up plan in place.

That’s why allowing Garoppolo to switch to the 49ers was particularly strange. Belichick was reportedly furious at the deal, and his mood won’t have been improved when Garoppolo started the season with a 5-0 streak. With no obvious heir to Brady in place, the Pats have to move to fill that gap. There’ll be a clutch of potential stars in the 2018 draft, but it’s likely that young players of the caliber of Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Baker Mayfield will all be gone by the time the Pats get to make their pick in 31st position.

It’s much more likely that they will make a move for a less obvious candidate who can later be offered as a good trade after being groomed by Belichick. Later-round picks Matt Cassel, Ryan Mallet, and Jacoby Brissett are prime examples of this approach. If necessary, the Pats can even look to the free agent market. However, a Brady replacement has to be found.

The other important playing issue revolves around Rob Gronkowski. It would be a huge blow to lose the charismatic tight-end, but after a spate of serious injuries, he may be ready to hang up his boots. Persuading him to stay on for at least one more tilt at the Super Bowl will be a crucial part of the Pats’ offseason strategy. They also need to find a replacement for cornerback Malcolm Butler, who was unceremoniously benched ahead of the Super Bowl.

Butler’s replacement should be part of a wider overhaul of a defense that has slipped to 30th in pass-stopping, 20th in run-stopping, and 29th in total allowed yards. The Pats will have a new defensive coordinator next season after the departure of Matt Patricia, and whoever fills that role has to revamp a defensive unit that has too often relied on Brady to bail them out.

However, anyone thinking of writing off the Patriots is getting way ahead of themselves. They remain the outstanding team in the NFL, and if they can patch up their differences behind the scenes, groom a new quarterback, and sort out their defensive issues, there is no reason why Belichick and Brady can’t be celebrating a sixth Super Bowl success in 2019.

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