By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by
August 01, 2004

No Brady or Gronk, but plenty of storylines at Patriots OTAs
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski not at the start of the team's OTA's today
NFL notes: Don't be surprised if Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers rise up for Patriots
New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill
Patriots center David Andrews excited with his new Georgia Bulldog teammates

The thing about being the defending Super Bowl champion while getting stronger in the subsequent offseason is that you are now the number one target on everybody's list. You will be the biggest game of the season for many of these teams.

Have the Patriots turned into the New York Yankees of baseball?

Doesn't everybody want to knock off the kingpin?

Just where do the 2004 New England Patriots stand as they embark on their second title defense? Are they poised to be the first team since the Dallas Cowboys in 1996 to win three titles in four years and in the process solidify themselves in the League's history in the same breath as the Cowboys of the 90's, the 49ers of the 80's, and the Steelers of the 70's? Or are they ready to deliver a Red Sox-like mediocre season like the one we are forcing ourselves to sit through?

Let me backup for a second and say this: As a rule of thumb, I enjoy reading columns that are bold and make me think about an issue.

Therefore, I suppose it is now my duty to climb atop the nearest rooftop and boldly tell anyone who is foolish enough to pay any attention to me these definitive words:

"The 2004 Patriots will probably make the playoffs. I can't say for sure if they'll win the Super Bowl again but I think they'll be pretty good.”

Hey, my fellow political science majors in college didn't call me a kneejerk moderate for nothing.

There are just too many factors out of the team's control to guarantee a trip to Jacksonville in early February. What happens if Tom Brady, heaven forbid, tears his ACL in the first pre-season game against Philadelphia? How about if they come across a defense that figures out how to stop the Patriots' short passing game and Corey Dillon (Remember the Chiefs game in 2002?)? What about if Romeo Crennel comes down with a bad case of pneumonia? Or if Richard Seymour walks out of practice one afternoon due to a contract dispute?

Go ahead and laugh all you want. But if you've spent a good part of your life in these parts following professional sports, you come to expect the unexpected.

Putting aside all of these "what if” scenarios, you should indeed believe that the Patriots are the best team in the NFL going into the season. The optimist in me sees one of the five best running backs (Dillon) in the League now on this team. I also see deeper talent at wide receiver, defensive line, and on special teams. And I am convinced that this team learned from its title defense in 2002 and will not be as phased when a target replaces a uniform number on the backs of their jerseys. And when you've got the NFL all-time win streak hanging out there for the taking in October, you've have all the early season inspiration that you need.

So if you don't believe the poison pill will be dropped from inside the organization, the Patriots' downfall this year will have to come from someone in the AFC.

As much as Peyton Manning says he's a team guy, he held the Colts hostage this offseason with his record-breaking contract that hamstrung the team from signing any significant free agents. And their already questionable defense lost linebacker Marcus Washington and lineman Chad Bratzke to free agency. This alone has a recipe for a Patriots rout on the opening night of the season written all over it.

Turning our attention elsewhere, the Titans also have been decimated in the offseason; losing Eddie George, and defensive linemen Robaire Smith and Jevon Kearse. The Chiefs did add Gunther Cunningham as their Defensive Coordinator but lost tackle John Tait to Chicago and really have no real go-to wide receiver in case Priest Holmes goes down with an injury and can't carry the load.

Looking inside the AFC East, the Jets could be a train wreck this season (Bonus early prediction: Coach Herm Edwards will be fired by Week 10), the Bills will go as far as Drew will take them, and the Dolphins will keep waiting around for the next disaster to hit Pro Player Stadium.

The Jaguars, Texans, Broncos, and Bengals all could be decent this year but do they keep me up at night? No, they don't.

I suppose if I think about it, there is no team in the AFC that has significantly upgraded to the point that it has changed the dynamics of the conference heading into the pre-season.

Let me change my proclamation.

Let me climb back on the rooftop.

Please forgive me, for I have sinned to all you true believers out there in Patriots Nation.

For my penance, let me say this:

The 2004 Patriots are the toast of the AFC and are heading to Super Bowl XXIX for their shot at immortality.

Idle Zinger thoughts while finally realizing the profound effect the Go-Go's music has had on my life:

A few loose ends on the Ricky Williams soap opera:

In the Palm Beach Post last Friday, Williams' attorney said that he became despondent after the Dolphins 12-0 loss in a snowy Foxboro last season. A few days later, he failed a drug test for a second time and was fined $650,000. "He was so deflated emotionally…That loss was the beginning of the end, in my opinion,” said Fort Lauderdale attorney Gary Ostrow.

Williams did make an interesting point when questioned about his marijuana use by Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald. "What about the drugs we need just to make it through practice in pain,” Williams said. "You have guys all over the field panicking if they've forgotten to take all their pills before practice. I never have and never will use hard drugs. I made it through Week 10 last season without using any pain medication at all. You know how hard that is?” The shear amount of painkillers that have to be taken by NFL players during the season is yet another hidden little secret of the image-concious NFL.

Tight end Daniel Graham spent this offseason catching a couple hundred passes per day from a machine to help cure his case of the dropsies according to USA Today's Sports Weekly

Not only do the New York Giants not charge you $75 to join their season ticket waiting list (like the Patriots do), they also send you a nice full color magazine about their team at no cost.

Veteran cornerback Jeff Burris won the annual Joe Panos Award this season as the veteran free agent who retires just before the beginning of Patriots' training camp. By my count, this is the fourth year in a row that this has happened.

The Arizona Cardinals will honor Pat Tillman during halftime of their home opener against the Patriots on September 19th.

One guy who doesn't think the Patriots will repeat is Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans' Times-Picayune who said in his Sunday column: "Success has a way of corrupting attitudes in today's culture. There's a reason only seven teams have repeated as Super Bowl champs.”

And even if you didn't have a crush on Go-Go's lead singer Belinda Carlisle in high school, I would still like to hear from you. I can be reached at [email protected].