After the New England Patriots lost last Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks a lot of people were starting to wonder if the Patriots were no longer an elite team. They have now lost to the Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, and Seattle Seahawks this season.
That begs the question, are the New England Patriots on the decline? Are they still a Super Bowl contender?
I think this is a pretty easy answer, the Patriots are still an elite team in the NFL. They will be right in the thick of things when January comes around and nobody will want to play New England in the playoffs. Last year they started the season 5-3 and then reeled off eight straight wins to earn the top seed in the playoffs. I would not be surprised to see Tom Brady and crew pull off something similar this year.
The AFC is up for grabs, only two teams in the conference have a winning record. The Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans are both 5-1, but both squads suffered serious injuries to their defense. Brian Cushing is out for the year with a torn ACL for the Texans. Ray Lewis is most likely out for the year after shredding his triceps and Lardarius Webb is out for the year with a torn ACL for the Ravens.
Anytime you have Tom Brady as your quarterback, you have a really good chance to win. This is the 11th season Brady has been the Patriots' starting quarterback and he has got New England to the Super Bowl five times. Not bad when you are getting to the big game half the time.
He is a three-time Super Bowl champion, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, and if it wasn't for Asante Samuel's dropped interception and Wes Welker's dropped pass he would be the only quarterback to have five rings.
He is a seven-time Pro Bowler, two-time MVP, and has the fourth best passer rating in NFL history. He and Joe Montana are the only two players to win multiple regular season and Super Bowl MVP's. Brady and John Elway are the only two quarterbacks to ever lead their team to five Super Bowls. In 2010, he became the first player ever to win the regular season MVP unanimously.
Plain and simple the guy is still a top-three quarterback in the NFL, if not the best.
However, if the Patriots want to win their fourth Super Bowl in franchise history it will be crucial for their young defense and running game to keep improving on a weekly basis.
Call me crazy, but I strongly believe this team will be better than last years squad. They made the Super Bowl, but lost to the New York Giants for the second time in five years.
The main reason why this team is better is because they have a running game and a much better defense.
Stevan Ridley has been huge for New England. He is fifth in the NFL in rushing and rushing touchdowns. In the Patriots three wins he has rushed for at least 100 yards and had at least 20 carries. In the Patriots three losses he has rushed for under 100 yards and had under 20 carries.
The Patriots need to stay balanced to make Tom Brady's job that much easier. They are 3-0 when at least half of their offensive plays are rushes. New England is one of the most balanced teams in the NFL. They are third in passing, fourth in rushing, and first in total offense.
Also, one more issue with New England offensively is they need to get Rob Gronkowski on track. I know their offensive line hasn't been as good this year so Gronk has to help block, but you have to get this guy the rock. He is one of the best game changers in the league.
Last year, Gronkowski had a record setting season. He had 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 18 total touchdowns (17 receiving 1 rushing). No tight end in NFL history has ever had that many yards and touchdowns in a season.
Through six games he has 29 receptions for 356 yards and only three touchdowns.
No need to worry for Patriot fans though, because he had similar numbers through six games last year. He had 29 receptions for 401 yards and five touchdowns.
The main reason why I think the Patriots are serious contenders in the AFC is because their defense has improved from last year. They ranked second to last in the NFL in total defense. They made it to the Super Bowl with one of the worst defenses, so with an improved defense and an offense that is just as good, if not better, the Patriots are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
One of their 2012 first round selections, Chandler Jones, has been one of the best rookies in the NFL. Through six games he is fourth on the team with 27 tackles and leads the team with five sacks.
New England has a very young defense, but with Head Coach Bill Belichick being a defensive genius, they will be 10-times better towards the end of the year.
Their defense still has a long way to go, but the potential is there for New England. Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo are two of the better young linebackers in the NFL. Mayo is tied for second in the league with 61 tackles.
Vince Wilfork has been one of the best defensive lineman in the game since he was a first round selection out of Miami in the 2004 NFL Draft.
They have a very young secondary led by Patrick Chung. This is the weak spot on the defense, but with such a young group they should be way better by the time December rolls around. New England ranks 28th in passing defense and this could be the main reason why or why not they are playing in February. If their secondary improves this is going to be a scary team that no one wants to play.
Anytime you have Brady and Belichick you will be one of the best teams in the NFL. No Head Coach and quarterback have won as many games together as these two.
Some people are already writing off New England as serious Super Bowl contenders, which is not a smart move. This is still an elite team and expect the Patriots to be one of the top seeds in the AFC and contending for their fourth Super Bowl in franchise history.