St. Patrick’s Day is an occasion when we’re all Irish and therefore all believe we have a little extra luck in our system, arriving via some green beer or corned beef and cabbage.
And though actual football games are still six months away, it feels like the Patriots are going to need that extra luck this season if they’re to compete in the AFC East, never mind any grand dreams beyond that.
No, this St. Patrick’s Day in Patriot Nation isn’t nearly as bleak as the one a mere three years ago when Thomas Edward Patrick Brady decided to take his luck and more importantly his talents to a new NFL home, the Lombardi Trophy soon to follow him. That’s a day that Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Patriots fans everywhere are still trying to recover from, a years-long St. Patrick’s Day hangover like never before.
But this latest St. Patrick’s Day, with the first wave of free agency and a few major trades in the rearview mirror there is a simple not-so-festive reality that’s taken hold in New England.
On paper this March 17 – yes, the perceived talent on paper depth charts is the only way to analyze and assess teams in mid-March – the Patriots are clearly and objectively established as the fourth-best team in the AFC East.
Josh Allen is still atop the division, the Bills looking for their fourth straight division crown while trying to find a way to get past the Chiefs and Bengals in the pursuit of a Super Bowl. Buffalo is working through the salary cap maneuverings that come with a big-talent, big-contract franchise QB, but they still have more than enough talent and are the team to beat in the East until they are indeed dethroned.
The race for spring second-fiddle is now seemingly a tighter one, with Aaron Rodgers having arrived in spirit in New York if not yet in tangible trade form. Now, the Jets and the Dolphins appear very much poised to battle it out for second place at the very least, each with an optimistic upside of much more than that.
Then, then we get to the Patriots, the fourth horse in four-horse division race. At this point New England’s little more than an offseason also-ran, a team continuing to struggle to find much footing in the post-Brady football world.
Proof of the Patriots current perceived status in the AFC East is no further away than DraftKings’ odds to win the division with half a year between now and the kickoff to the regular season. The odds makers have the Bills (+135) as the favorite followed by the Jets (+200), Dolphins (+360) and then well behind the pack the Patriots (+800). New England’s odds to win the Super Bowl are much more alarming and almost hard to fathom, tied for the 24th best chance to win the big game at +6000, trailing such squads as a Bears team that formerly owned the No. 1 pick in April’s draft as well as the QB-less team it traded that pick to in Carolina.
Heck, it’s very much debatable whether the Patriots are a better team today than the one that saw its season end at the hands of the Bills yet again early last January. Sure the team that missed the playoffs for the second time in three years thanks to an 8-9 record has stabilized its offense by hiring Bill O’Brien and added a potential playmakers in JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Robinson and reportedly Mike Gesicki. But it’s also a team that let its top receiver Jakobi Meyers walk in free agency and saw its only defensive player to log 1,000 snaps last season, Devin McCourty, retire.
This isn’t just about any one move. Not regarding a single signing or trade that did or didn’t happen. This is about a roster that until proven otherwise fields the fourth-best QB in the division, unlike the other three teams lacks a proven No. 1 playmaker in the passing game and has not proven in recent years to have nearly a good-enough defense when big games were on the line.
Sure you can hope that Rodgers is more toast than toast of the town and doesn’t work out in New York, that he’s more Russell Wilson than Tom Brady.
Sure you can cross your fingers that Tua Tagovailoa’s concussion issues derail the Dolphins.
Maybe "luck" will run out on the Bills and Allen.
But hope and luck aren’t exactly actual plans for success.
This is the NFL. This is where players and talent win games, a message Belichick himself has hammered home oh-so-often over his successful years in New England. Where the battle is won and lost long before it is ever fought.
And regardless of how much green beer you drink today, it’s hard to argue that the Patriots’ talent measures up to competition in the AFC East, forget about the rest of the NFL.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!