Is it too early to talk about next year?
I can do this, because I’m not employed by the New England Patriots. And let me be clear, by no way am I overlooking the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.
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If the Eagles stop chirping about how they’re going to “dethrone” Brady, and if they refuse to make any “guarantees” for the next week-and-a-half, then I believe they’ll be able to effectively use the underdog card and have a chance to escape with a win in Minnesota on Feb. 4.
Regardless of the outcome, nobody can deny that one of the biggest topics in the NFL this season has been the future of the Patriots organization.
For several years, Jimmy Garoppolo’s presence had been the elephant in the room. With free agency looming, the Patriots traded him in October. Speculation continued as to who made that decision. Throughout it all, drama surrounding Tom Brady’s personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, came to the forefront. Then, ESPN released a feature story that claimed everything in New England was falling apart behind the scenes.
When you tell me it’s falling apart, you’re telling me Bill Belichick is leaving. And for the sake of argument here, let’s just say the Patriots — a 5.5-point favorite — win the Super Bowl next week. That would mean back-to-back championships. It would also mean a chance to win three straight Super Bowls next year; a three-peat, if you will. Because the Patriots are already the favorite to win Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, at +500.
Would Belichick really walk away from that opportunity? Sure, he’s losing his offensive and defensive coordinators to head coaching jobs, but Julian Edelman’s return next season will improve the team more than losing Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia will hurt it.
It’s clear the Patriots are in “win as many Super Bowls as you can with Brady” mode. But you have to get there first. Even if they don’t beat the Eagles next Sunday, they’ll at least have multiple opportunities to get back to the big game.
So when I look ahead to next year, it shouldn’t be considered “disrespectful” anybody in Philadelphia. Because the question I’m about to ask is a real one.
What AFC team is ready to knock off the Patriots and prevent them from advancing to next year’s Super Bowl?
It’s certainly not anyone in the AFC East. If the Bills, Dolphins, or Jets make a play at a quarterback like Kirk Cousins in the offseason, perhaps they’ll make things within the division a little more interesting, but I still wouldn’t put money on Cousins to step right in and slay the beast.
You’ve got your obvious contender in the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have the second-best odds of winning next year’s Super Bowl, at +1000. But that might change if they lose Le’Veon Bell in free agency.
Then you have the ever-so-unpredictable AFC West that’ll most likely see the Kansas City Chiefs move on from Alex Smith. The Los Angeles Chargers are the Chargers. The Denver Broncos don’t know what they want to do at the quarterback position. And weren’t Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders supposed to be the next big thing in the AFC? They went 6-10 this year. So good luck with that, Jon Gruden.
I believe the biggest in-conference threat during the rest of the Brady era will be the Houston Texans, thanks to the emergence of Deshaun Watson. The rest of the AFC South will improve if Andrew Luck returns for the Indianapolis Colts and if the Jacksonville Jaguars can keep dominating on the defensive side of the ball. I just think Watson’s talents — when he returns from rehabbing his knee — make Houston the toughest opponent in the conference.
And I still can’t sit here and tell you that will be enough to prevent the Patriots from going to Atlanta next February.
So when they talk about the potential demise of New England’s dynasty, even before knowing the result of next Sunday’s game, don’t forget it’s more probable than not that the Patriots will be making their third straight Super Bowl appearance in 2019.
Which begs the question, is it too early to talk about Super Bowl LIV in Miami?
Listen to “The Danny Picard Show” at dannypicard.com. Follow him on Twitter @DannyPicard.