We are officially less than a month before the start of the NFL season, so it's probably time to start previewing the monster. The key to the NFL's success — other than fantasy football and gambling, of course — is the rabid nature of its fans. That is to say: You don't see a lot of people painting their faces for their favorite golfer.
We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, even a TV guy or two, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, why My Team Is Better Than Your Team. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever. We will be running two a day until the beginning of the NFL season.
Right now: the New England Patriots. Your author is Aaron Schatz.
I'm a New England Patriots fan, so it's not hard for me to tell you why my team is better than yours. No, what's tough is figuring out how to tell you why my team is better than yours without being an insufferable jerk, like so many other Patriots fans. So I am not going to tell you that any writer who suggests that the Patriots might actually lose a game this year is biased against the Pats. I am not going to spend five paragraphs on Tedy Bruschi's comeback. I am not going to tell you that Bill Belichick is infallible, or that Monty Beisel doesn't suck, or that Tom Brady is without question the best quarterback who ever played the game (and ultra-dreamy besides).
What I will tell you is that anybody who believes that the Patriots lost their "swagger" with last year's playoff loss to Denver is an idiot, unless he also believes that the Pittsburgh Steelers lost their "swagger" when Oakland beat them in the 1976 AFC Championship. The Patriots are not a fading dynasty of aging players whose best days are behind them. In fact, just the opposite — the core of this team is just entering its prime. The 2004 Patriots started eight players in Super Bowl XXXIX who were chosen in the previous three drafts, the highest total for any Super Bowl champion in the past decade. In second place are the 2003 Patriots, with six. No other champion since 1996 started more than four such players.
Tom Brady and Richard Seymour are two of the five best players in the league and right in their primes. To all those young players you can add Logan Mankins, who started all 16 games on the offensive line as a rookie, and Ellis Hobbs, who was one of the top corners in the league over the second half of the season. Laurence Maroney was the best running back in the draft not named Bush, and Chad Jackson was the best receiver in the draft not named on a police report. Yes, there's no linebacker depth, and we have no idea when Rodney Harrison will be healthy, and there's going to be a rookie kicker. The Patriots will still win 10-12 games and the division, and maybe slip into the top two playoff seeds while the AFC West and AFC North beat each other up.
Mark it down: the Pats will have a fourth title by the end of the decade. They may even have it by the end of this season.