The current year is unlike any other in recent memory, and will likely be the same for some time to come. It's difficult to know if or when free agency will occur, and as such, how a team's roster will take shape from now until the start of the season. However, with the roster as it currently stands and with the recent draft class, I will look at 5 reasons why the Patriots might win the Super Bowl in 2011 and 5 reasons why the Patriots might not win the Super Bowl in 2011. This article explores the former.
•1. Patriots are not losing any major free agents
It is likely that the Patriots may not lose any key free agents at all given the noise coming out of the front office. Robert Kraft has expressed his wish to keep Matt Light a Patriot for the next few years, likely to give newcomer Nate Solder the chance to develop his game before trusting him to protect Tom Brady's blind side. Additionally, Kraft has also addressed the contentious issue with Logan Mankins' contract, by stating he wants Mankins to retire a Patriot. The only free agent we don't know about will be rotational defensive lineman Gerard Warren, who the Patriots may bring in for training camp, where he would likely compete against Marcus Stroud for a roster spot. With such continuity, both with players and coaching staff, this bodes extremely well for a young team that went a league best 14-2 in 2010.
•2. Strength in Depth
While many Patriot fans have expressed concern about the Patriot's draft strategy of trading down to acquire more picks and squad players, what the Patriots have quietly done over the past three drafts is build arguably the deepest roster in the league, where there will be not just competition, but excellent competition for both starting and backup jobs at almost every position. You could argue the Patriots have the best depth in the league at Quarterback, Offensive Line, Tight End, Defensive Line, Cornerback and Safety. Yes we still have needs in some of those areas, but the depth created by excellent drafting will produce awesome competition for jobs and some very good players will not have a spot on this team come opening day - something which overall can only be good for this team. In a long gruelling season, the team with the greatest depth will stand a great chance at ultimately being crowned champion - the Green Bay Packers can attest to that.
•3. A young defense gaining experience
In 2010, the Patriots fielded the youngest defense in the NFL, with rookies and second year players having to make very significant contributions. Their leading tackler (Jerrod Mayo) was in his 3rd year, their leading interceptor and no.1 cornerback (Devin McCourty) was a rookie and their best safety (Patrick Chung) was a 2nd year pro. Not to mention contributions from Kyle Arrington, Brandon Spikes, Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love. Is it any wonder the Patriots were last in 3rd down defense? Oddly enough however, one thing this defense turned out to be was clutch. Defending leads, they stepped up against the Bills and Colts with game sealing INTs, they held the powerful Charger offense to a long FG to tie the game, which was missed, they stopped the Raven offense numerous times in overtime, they held Adrian Peterson at the goal line at the end of the 2nd quarter, they stopped the prolific Packer offense (albeit led by a backup) when they were driving to win the game. They even played well in the playoff loss to the Jets on a short field for much of the day. By only selecting three defensive players in the 2011 NFL Draft (one who has a realistic chance to make the opening day roster), the Patriots will allow a young defensive the time to grow before adding another influx of youth. This young team stepped up in the clutch in 2010, and that is not something that can be taught, but is certainly something which brings a unit together and creates cohesiveness. They will be much better in 2011.
•4. Bill the Play-Caller
After the departure of Dean Pees in 2009, Bill Belichick took over the playcalling duties for this defense for the 2010 season, a role he will resume in 2011. Prior to 2010, Bill hadn't called all the defensive plays for a team on a weekly basis for quite some time, and despite Belichick's considerable defensive mind, there was bound to be some rust adjusting to the responsibility. Well he's had a year to acclimatise himself to the role and a year to get to know his defensive players up close and personal. As the unit will return the same players plus Ras-I Dowling, Belichick will have a much better understanding of how his players can be used within his playcalling. He can call plays with better confidence that they will play to the strengths of the players, whom with more experience, can now understand more of the complexity of Bill's defensive scheme. All this adds up to a more unpredictable but more effective and efficient playcaller in our defensive coordinator/head coach/GM/genius.
•5. A team stung by a missed opportunity
Perhaps the most underrated of all the factors for the coming season - the sense that the Patriots should have achieved something much greater in 2010 but fell short will drive this team in 2011. Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, Deion Branch, Jerrod Mayo and all the other leaders of this team will not allow the players to forget how 2010 ended - with so much promise unfulfilled. Let us not forget that of the four teams playing in the NFC and AFC Championship Games, the Patriots had blew three of those teams out, and beat the Packers in a close game. They really could and maybe should have won it all in 2010. The theme of unfinished business will be played out masterfully by Belichick to constantly motivate this team to realise its considerable potential.