GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 02: Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth #92 of the Washington Redskins stands on the sidelines during preseason NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 2, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Redskins 20-10. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
NFL Training camp season is always a time for irrational exuberance. Every team thinks it can win the Super Bowl, even though 31 of those teams will end being horribly wrong. And so, to preview the upcoming NFL season, which could be the most unpredictable ever, we now give you five reasons why your favorite team could win the Super Bowl. Today, it's the New England Patriots.
1. Bring us your malcontents. After rehabilitating (at least temporarily) the likes of Corey Dillon and Randy Moss, the Patriots have become something of a halfway home for notorious NFL turds. And Bill Belichick really upped the ante this season by bringing in Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco, two men with a history of sporadically brilliant play and consistently idiotic behavior. And before you think that Belichick will magically turn both of these men into the superstars once again, you have to consider some of the warning signs from the preseason. Haynesworth finally made his preseason debut against the Giants after struggling with nagging injuries (or laziness, you never know which) during camp. Ocho has dropped more than his fair share of passes and, frankly, he's a whole lot older and slower these days, regardless of how good of a soldier he's been. It's not a given that both men end up playing like All Pros this season (though Haynesworth's return to a 4-3 defense won't hurt his chances). If they do, expect Belichick to be anointed the Master Savior Of All Wayward Souls by every insufferable NFL analyst who hasn't done so already.
2. Tom Brady is a bit cheesed off. After winning the MVP last season with a ridiculous TD-to-INT ratio (36-4), Brady was oddly passive in the Pats' playoff loss to the Jets. Something tells me that performance was an anomaly. The Pats haven't won a playoff game since 2007, but it's certainly not because Brady stopped being an effective playoff quarterback. He had arguably his best season in 2010, and with two emerging tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, plus a running game bolstered by the drafting of Stevan Ridley, Brady will again bring New England into the playoffs and give them as good a chance to win it all as he always has.
3. Did we mention Peyton Manning might be badly hurt? I don't know if Manning's cryptic neck injury is a good sign for Brady or not. On the one hand, it could rid the Patriots of critical roadblock on their way to a fourth title. On the other hand, Manning and Brady are so existentially linked that perhaps one needs the other to flourish. Maybe Manning's decline also signals the decline of his historical counterpart. Maybe they feel each other's pain! Maybe they're linked by MAGIC! IF JON GRUDEN BELIEVES IT I DO TOO.
4. The defense will be better. Haynesworth aside, the Patriots also brought in Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter, and Mark Anderson to reinforce a d-line that was lacking in 2010. Though they cut safety Brandon Meriweather, the secondary still boasts an emerging star in CB Devin McCourty and a high profile draft pick in Ras-I Dowling. Hard not to like someone with the first name Ras-I. Sounds like a Batman villain. This is a pass defense that gave up a ton of yardage last season (a misleading stat somewhat since teams were playing from behind against New England often). There's little doubt that the moves they made will improve that going into 2011.
5. No more fake punts in the playoffs. Belichick learned his lesson the hard way last time around.