By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by Comdoctor.net
July 11, 2006

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It always happens around this time of the year.

Perhaps like me you've become enthralled with "Three's Company" marathons, Dunkin' Donuts smoothies, Zinedane Zidane, the new season of "Reno 911," dialing in your golf game, the newest "Baby Einstein" DVD release or thinking that you could do Rudy Seanez' job.

Whatever your vocation during the summer months, it invariably hits when you least expect it. For me, it was at a cookout the other day when someone volleyed "So, how do you think the Pats are gonna do this year?"

"Well, knock me down silly. Training camp does indeed start in a few weeks," I said to myself as I took a bite into a cheeseburger and washed it down with a cold beverage.

In my case, I panicked. Because of this silly little website we have here, everyone around the grill looked in my direction. I managed to mutter a few things out of my cheeseburger-filled mouth about Adam Vinatieri, Laurence Maroney and "In Bill We Trust." But really, I was caught with my figurative Bermuda shorts down around my ankles.

As I dove towards a fifth helping of chicken wings, I resolved that it was indeed time to take a fresh look at the 2006 Patriots and report back to you, my faithful readers, with some thoughts.

After dutifully flipping through one of those $6.99 NFL preview magazines with Tom Brady on the cover, I am here to proclaim that I am now even more confused on just where I think the Patriots will end up this season.

First, let's take a look back. The five-turnover playoff loss in Denver still grinds my crank because the Patriots were the better team seven times out of ten. I'm not saying the Pats would have beaten the Steelers at home the following week in the AFC Championship game but it sure would have been a barnburner worth tuning in for.

Next we had the defections of Eric Mangini, David Givens, Willie McGinest and Mr. Vinatieri. You know it wasn't a stellar free-agent signing period for the club when the first name mentioned under "Key Veteran Arrivals" in this $6.99 magazine is the immortal WR Reche Caldwell. Doesn't exactly make you warm and fuzzy, now does it?

Around the League, everyone wants to throw dirt on the Patriots casket. "They're too old. The window of opportunity is going to slam shut. They've been the luckiest team in the history of pro football over the last five years (That one always cracks me up)." You get the drift.

And if you're honest with yourself Mr. or Mrs. Patsfan, self-doubt has certainly crept into your head about your beloved Patriots. Think I'm full of it? How does the thought of rookie place kicker Steve Gostkowski lining up for a game-winner against Indianapolis grab you?

Exactly.

The draft came and went in late April and by most accounts the Pats did okay, picking up Maroney, WR Chad Jackson and some other guys that we have never heard of before.

Through the beginning of baseball season only one question crossed Patriots fans minds: Namely, if you had $15 million worth of cap space just what in the world would you do with it?

If it's used to lock up Deion Branch, Dan Koppen or Daniel Graham to long-term contracts later this season, that would be a good thing. And if it could somehow entice one Mr. Ty Law to regain his old #24 in Foxborough, that would be out of sight.

I don't think it would be an understatement to say that the signing of Ty Law would be the difference between a rough off season and a half-decent one. Law shuts down one side of the field and gives his pass rushers an extra second or two. It would also allow Asante Samuel to move into the nickel slot position where he can cover receivers closer to his size.

Moving to the middle of the defense, it was surprising that the team did not go out and get any linebacking help during the free agent period. We're going to find out real quick whether the Monty Beisel that improved in the second half of last season carries over into this season because it's pretty thin after him. One of these years, the Patriots linebacking corps is suddenly going to look old. Let's hope it's not this year.

And just who this side of Hugh Millen is going to back up Tom Brady? Sure, Matt Cassel did a nice job driving down the field and throwing the two-point conversion all the way to Walpole in last year's season finale against the Fins. But wouldn't it be a good idea to bring in someone with a little experience in case the unthinkable happens? At this point in the offseason, the Patriots' choices appear to be Don Strock, Earl Morrall or Vinny Testaverde. Yikes!

On the plus side, the Patriots finally get a decent schedule this year. They'll open the season with a fifth pre-season game against the Buffalo Bills and continue the following week with a light scrimmage against the Jets. The bye comes in the middle of October and will be followed by games against Buffalo and Minnesota. The end of the season looks promising with games against Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Tennessee. If you do the math (2 wins against the Bills and Jets and the four late season gimmes), it adds up to at least a wildcard slot for the playoffs.

Are the Patriots done? Hardly. As history has proven, as soon as someone "disrespects" this team the fun really begins. There are too many smart, veteran players on this team - even if they will lose a step - not to be a contender. Will they have enough to beat out the Colts, Steelers or Bengals for another AFC crown? Perhaps. Injuries, fate and surprises will decide the playoff Darwinism at the end of the day.

Being a good New England Calvinist, I have to believe that the Patriots' day of reckoning will soon be upon us. Now, I'll admit that a few Super Bowl victories and a reversed curse has tempered an "end is near" mindset for this column's owner.

When it ends, it will certainly be a buzzkill.

But I'm going to guess that there are a few more adult beverages left in the Patriots cooler for this season's cookout.


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