In one of the great understatements of our time, many things must go right for a team to win the Super Bowl. Whether that team looks like a preseason bottom feeder (2001 Patriots) or a squad ready to call itself a dynasty (2004 Patriots), things have to play out to near perfection for about six months.
Let's try to narrow down that list. If these 25 things go right, the Patriots will win Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on Feb. 6, 2011.
1. Stay healthy. This is No. 1 on everyone's list. Some injuries are fluky, and others are the result of a lack of training. None, however, are predictable. Get wide receiver Wes Welker back to form, and hope to stay lucky in that department.
2. Tom Brady has to be himself in the fourth quarter. He was abysmal in this area last season, and maybe he'll be better in 2010 since he's even further removed from the knee injury.
3. Disrupt opposing quarterbacks. The front-seven hasn’t generated any heat since 2007. Quarterbacks had enough time to put on a blindfold and do their own taxes before coolly delivering passes last season. Hit someone. Make them at least sweat a little bit.
4. Mix up the offensive play-calling. It was too bland last year in so many ways.
5. Brady has to connect with someone else. Randy Moss and Welker are two of the best wide receivers in the league, no doubt. Welker's injury notwithstanding, Brady has to get it going with his third and fourth options. If defenses could bottle up Moss and Welker in 2009, the offense had no chance. The Pats were successful in 2007 because Brady also had some symmetry with Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney. It's on Brady, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Torry Holt and/or David Patten to improve that area in 2010.
6. The second-year guys must keep progressing. Cornerback Darius Butler, offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer, safety Pat Chung, Julian Edelman and Myron Pryor each had a good rookie year. The Patriots will rely heavily on their young players to carry a significant load, so they can't afford any sophomore slumps.
7. The rookies must impress, too. It's fair to expect some solid contributions out of cornerback Devin McCourty, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, inside linebacker Brandon Spikes and wide receiver Taylor Price. If the Patriots expect to win the Super Bowl, they've got to get at least three or four of those guys to play over their heads.
8. Jerod Mayo has to be the unquestioned defensive leader. His sophomore year was hindered by a knee injury in the season opener, but he was still on pace to record the same number of tackles. Without anything holding Mayo back, he should have a dynamite season in 2010.
9. Throw the ball to the tight ends. The unit was completely overhauled for a reason this offseason, and there's a lot of potential in the new group that features Alge Crumpler, Gronkowski and Hernandez. Now the Patriots have to do something they've rarely done under Bill Belichick: Throw it to them.
10. Brandon Meriweather needs to put that film study to use. The fourth-year safety is on track to have a really sound career, but he's got to be better in coverage this season. He put in a lot of offseason film study with mentor Ed Reed, and Meriweather said he has already learned quite a bit from defensive assistant Corwin Brown. If he proves that, he'll be one of the team's best playmakers.
11. Stay sturdy on the offensive line. The Patriots are fortunate to have a deep group of offensive linemen, but that depth took a hit with the Logan Mankins situation. They’ve got to plug in a new left guard — either Dan Connolly or Nick Kaczur — and move forward in a businesslike manner. The unit was the third best in the league last year with just 18 sacks allowed.
12. Get Randy Moss to be the real Randy Moss. The future Hall of Famer had 83 catches for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, which was his second-most productive season since 2004. That’s good, but it's not Randy Moss good. New England doesn’t need him to simulate his record-setting 2007 campaign (98 receptions, 1,493 yards, 23 touchdowns), but if he could find something in between — say, 95 receptions, 1,450 yards and 15 touchdowns — the Patriots will be guaranteed to have one of the two or three most productive offenses in the NFL.
13. Help Vince. Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren are far and away the Patriots' two best defensive linemen, but they need some assistance. Someone in the form of Mike Wright, Gerard Warren, Damione Lewis, Derrick Burgess, Myron Pryor or Ron Brace needs to be a dangerous third member of the three-man line.
14. Leigh Bodden must back it up. There's no question that Bodden was New England's most consistent cornerback in 2009, but the team should want him to be even better in 2010. He's got a nice contract and a guaranteed starting job on the right side, and Bodden has to show he can continue to develop within the system.
15. Tully Banta-Cain has to be more consistent. The outside linebacker led the team with 9.5 sacks last season, but seven of them came over the course of three games — in Weeks 1, 11 and 15. There's a lot of space in there. Plus, five of his sacks came against the Bills. Banta-Cain can't have 10 sackless games next season.
16. Commit to the running game. The Patriots ranked 12th in the NFL last season with 1,921 rushing yards, and they were sixth with 19 rushing touchdowns. Yet, there were times when they treated the running game like the plague. Stick with it when it's working, and let the stable of backs do their thing.
17. Get close. In March, Patten said the Patriots were so successful from 2001-04 because they were so tightly knit away from the field. They hung out in the locker room for hours after practice and genuinely enjoyed each other's company. Patten was signed this offseason for a reason. Even if he doesn’t earn a spot on the roster, it would be sinful if the younger Patriots didn’t learn from him.
18. Show some life on kickoff returns. The Patriots were a blah team in this area in 2009. Tate should be an awesome upgrade to a unit that averaged a pedestrian 22.7 yards per kickoff return a season ago.
19. Get the same old production out of Stephen Gostkowski. The always-reliable kicker has converted 103-of-121 kicks (85.1 percent) during his four seasons in Foxborough, and he was 26 of 31 (83.9 percent) last season. Since New England selected him with a fourth-round pick in 2006, Gostkowski is tied for sixth in the NFL with 103 made field goals and fifth in field-goal percentage (85.3) among kickers with at least 120 attempts. He is also second with 513 points scored over that span, and one of just six players in the league with at least 450 points in the last four seasons. Kickers, as you well know, are important for playoff runs.
20. Don’t sweat the high-profile losses. The Patriots' schedule includes the Bengals, Ravens, Chargers, Vikings, Steelers, Colts and Packers, plus their divisional games. There's no chance the Pats stay perfect through that gauntlet. Use those games as measuring sticks for that point in the season, but not for down the road. After all, the Patriots lost to the heavily-favored Rams in the 2001 regular season before knocking them off in the Super Bowl.
21. Don’t let the easy games get away. Sweep the Bills and take down the Browns and Lions, and they've got four victories right off the bat.
22. Win in prime-time. The league's other 31 teams aren’t as scared of the Patriots anymore, and the Ravens shouted things like, "End of an era!" after their Jan. 10 playoff victory in Foxborough. The Patriots have four games scheduled for prime-time this season — two on Sunday night and two on Monday night — and another on Thanksgiving in Detroit. The whole league watches those games, and if the Patriots can display dominance, they'll put that fear back in their opponents' eyes.
23. Don’t lose six games on the road. The 2009 Patriots were far too unstable on the road, and the 2010 schedule is far too difficult to simply assume another 8-0 home record.
24. Get a first-round bye. The Patriots have never won the Super Bowl without getting a break during the first weekend of the playoffs.
25. Hate the spotlight. Prior to Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots were way too comfortable in front of the camera, a trait that went against everything their dynasty was built on. If the Pats earn a trip to Super Bowl XLV, they've got to stay humble, hardworking and dedicated to complete the task.