By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by
September 03, 2006

Why was Patriots LB Kyle Van Noy doing pushups at a bowling alley?
Patriots owner Robert Kraft owns no concerns that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are missing OTAs
New NFL policy lets players who don’t want to stand for anthem stay in locker room
Former Patriots rip NFL’s new anthem policy
Aaron Hernandez fiancée announces she's expecting a baby

Perhaps more so than in past years, the beginning of the NFL season has grabbed my attention and brought an elevated level of excitement to this address. We know that some teams will surprise us and some will shock us with dismal failure. New stars will be born while others will fade over the next five months.

The other competitor for our attention - the Red Sox - have fizzled out in a traditional August collapse. Our attention will be focused squarely on the Patriots from the beginning of the season. For the past few years, due to things like World Series wins and GMs dressing up in gorilla costumes, the Patriots didn't matter until November. Not this year.

Everyone is talking Patriots; whether it's the Deion Branch disaster, the new kicker or Laurence Maroney. I get the sense that most folks don't quite know what to make of the 2006 Patriots. I'll add myself to that list. We think we see a well-coached team, especially on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Plus anytime you have a quarterback like Tom Brady, your team has a chance.

But then I start to think about the Philadelphia Eagles from last season. After four straight trips to at least the NFC Championship Game, they finished the season with a 6-10 record thanks in large part to the distraction of a disgruntled wide receiver. Sound familiar?

The affaire d'Branch is a billboard-size distraction as the season begins. Plenty of blame can be handed out to both sides. Objectively, both sides have legitimate interests and arguments. Some fans will always side with the Patriots on any matter. Blind faith can look pretty good to the beholder. Others will side with the player because of the harsh reality of NFL life. As a columnist, it's my hope to give an opinion and make you think. The trouble is that on matters like this I'm nothing more than a weathervane twisting to and fro.

I suppose it boils down to this: Despite his big-game, big-play penchant, Branch is a 1,000 yard receiver. Maybe a little better, maybe a little worse. There's nothing wrong with that but the fact is 19 receivers last season had at least 1,000 yards. Branch is really good, but elite? I'm afraid not.

Like many others before him, he has been taken on a Stephen King-inspired ride by his agent. Suddenly, the brightest smile in the locker room has had its reputation tarnished. The bottom line is he is under contract for the 2006 season and should have reported in good faith. Or at the most, he could have taken a page out of Richard Seymour's tempered approach a year ago.

As for the on-field action, the NFL has finally handed the Patriots a break. Even if they don't go into the season in the best of shape, they should have no problem with their first two games against the Bills and Jets.

The Bills have some excellent skill position players. WR Lee Evans looks like the real deal and RB Willis McGahee has delivered as advertised. On the defensive side of the ball, Buffalo has arguably the League's best CB tandem in Nate Clements and Terrence McGee.

But that's about where the fun ends for Bills fans. QB J.P. Losman reportedly did not connect well with teammates in last year's 5-11 campaign. To this point, Losman has not shown enough to demonstrate that he was worth a 2004 1st round pick. Mix in a marginal offensive line and Losman will have his work cut out for him on Sunday.

Opening day matters. It begins the journey as the seasons change, the holidays come and go, and events take place in our lives. The season is a bookmark for my life. When a major event occurs between September and January - as silly as it sounds - the closest Patriots game will stick in my memory. The time my grandfather was airlifted to Boston? Easy: a 1997 blowout loss to Tampa Bay. My daughter was born shortly after Doug Flutie dropkicked his way into history. You get the point.

This stuff matters.

Idle Zinger thoughts while being mistaken for a member of A-Ha after you turned up my high school portrait:

Have you seen the new Vikings jerseys? Looks a lot like the Patriots design, guys.

Speaking of jerseys, we will once again be subjected to the Patriots silver third jersey this year. This annual annoyance will take place on December 17 against the Texans. What's the holdup on dusting off Pat Patriot once a year?

Anybody else had enough of these shots of 12 year-old Little Leaguers crying as their dream comes to an end? I don't enjoy it one bit. What if that was your kid?

One guy who has gone from cell-phone calling jerk to a guy worth rooting for is Saints' WR Joe Horn. If you haven't heard how Katrina has affected him and his play on the field, you've missed out.