Looking in the crystal ball, taking stock of the competition and the lay of the land going into next year... I don't see anyone in better shape to compete than the Pats. The coaching staff is intact and has its sea legs under it after a couple successful but ultimately disappointing years. With a load of draft picks, responsible salary cap management, a Qb in his prime, and a bevy of young core players at every position but LB, the good ship Patriot is steering steadily toward a brilliant horizon under clear blue skies (except for a blurry cloud of acid rain known as "Borges"). The schedule, while superficially difficult, presents some advantageous matchups... The NYG will have lost Tiki Barber, changed GMs, and Coughlin is essentially a lame duck coach. In Baltimore, Billick is in a win or out scenario once again, with McNair another year older and deeper in debt... Cincinnati is being torn apart internally by self-inflicted wounds, with Palmer speaking out against the dissension caused by their collection of turds. Romeo has his finger on the pulse of a dying franchise in Cleveland, rife with disaffection and staph infections. Philadelphia has Qb issues to resolve, as well as a HC with some unfortunate family turmoil. Joe Gibbs is still putting the jigsaw puzzle together in Washington with misfit parts. Miami is a team without a Qb and with an aging defensive core. Dallas has an excellent nucleus of talent, but Norv Turner, among other HC candidates, will not inspire the Cowboy faithful or strike fear in the hearts of any opponent. SD is still loaded with talent, but the offensive staff has been gutted, Marty is a lame duck and the team is debating moving from San Diego. As for Pittsburgh... Mike Tomlin, the 34 year old HC, commanded the Viking D that couldn't adjust to the Pats spread for an entire game. His squad quit on him in the last game of the year vs. St Louis. He is a proponent of the 4-3 cover 2 D, and there will likely be some tactical friction with Lebeau. Whisenhunt and Whipple are gone. As Pats fans we know the turbulence coordinator changes can cause even in a franchise as well-oiled as our own. I suspect the Steeler coaching move may cost them in the short term. Elsewhere, we see Denver and Indy... Denver's fortunes rest on Cutler's progress. He has the benefit of working under the best play caller in the biz, Shanahan. As long as Shanahan is standing, they are a team to be reckoned with (despite winning only one playoff game in the last 8 years). However, the Denver offensive scheme and personnel are at a cross roads. Cutler is best as a drop back QB, but the Denver O-line is not ideally constructed to protect in that fashion. Rod Smith is declining. Tatum and Mike Bell are still question marks longterm... Indy- Key decisions will have to be made in free agency with Freeney, Harper, Doss, et. al., and the salary cap will be a challenge. A loss on SB Sunday may devastate the franchise as much as the win vs the Pats elevated it. The track record of SB losers is not one to be proud of. Even in victory their may be some let down after the road long traveled. One last note: Dungy has hinted at the possibility he may step away... In conclusion, if the Pats follow their well-beaten path of sound economic judgement, well-placed free agent signings and astute if unspectacular draft choices, there is every reason to believe the team can "climb the mountain" once again at the head of the pack... I only hope the negative chorus urging the Pats to deviate from their tried and true model has no influence on the organization's decision making this offseason. After this magnificent six year run, we are already seeing once stable franchises in the throes of decline, overwhelmed by the pressure of parity and change: Green Bay, Miami, Oakland, the Giants, Minnesota, Carolina, TB... even Pitt now forced to begin again... The most important thing for the Pats is to stay steady, consistent, strong and stable while the rest of the league breaks against us like water on rock. Not every year will yield riches, but every year we will be in the hunt. The foundation of this team is the strongest in the league thanks to Brady, BB and the Krafts. Here's to next year... can't wait!