The Patriots dynasty is over. The Patriots dynasty is not over.
Which is it? Does it matter? Does this have anything to do with The Patriot Way?
So, wait, is it over? That’s the question people could probably argue until they’re blue in the face.
On one hand, the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since Feb. 6, 2005. The only players remaining from that team are Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork. That was seven and a half years ago now.
On the other hand, since the Patriots won their first Super Bowl during the 2001 season, the team has only missed the playoffs twice (2002 and 2008), which were also the two years they didn’t win the AFC East. They have been to the Super Bowl five times (as recently as 2011). And a surprising amount of staff remains from the 2004 Super Bowl team, including Bill Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio, current offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, current defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, football research director Ernie Adams, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, running backs coach Ivan Fears, linebackers coach Pepper Johnson and coaching assistant Brian Daboll, who is back this season after spending time with the Jets, Browns, Dolphins and Chiefs.
One group that may argue the latter, that the Patriots dynasty is still going strong, is the other three teams in the AFC East. And the Patriots’ reign over their division foes is not going to end this year, despite a volatile offseason in New England.
It would be tough to argue that the Patriots, at least on offense, have not become worse this season. But Wes Welker‘s departure and Aaron Hernandez‘s alleged crimes also didn’t make the Jets, Bills or Dolphins into juggernauts.
The Jets, if anything, got worse over the offseason. They lost Darrelle Revis to the Bucs, Yeremiah Bell to the Cardinals, Mike DeVito to the Chiefs, Dustin Keller to the Dolphins and LaRon Landry to the Colts (and Tim Tebow to the Patriots). In their place, they traded for Chris Ivory, and signed Mike Goodson, Willie Colon, Antonio Garay, Antwan Barnes, Dawan Landry and Kellen Winslow, among others.
They had a successful draft, selecting cornerback Dee Milliner, defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson and quarterback Geno Smith with their first three picks, but none of those players either traded for, signed or drafted could replace the impact of Revis, one of the best players in the entire league.
But the Jets knew what they were getting into this offseason with limited room on their salary cap, and it will be difficult to improve upon their 6-10 record from 2012, even with assumed improvements from second-year players Stephen Hill and Quinton Coples. The Jets’ future success heavily depends on the development of Smith. If the quarterback can prove to be an improvement over Mark Sanchez in the next few seasons, the Jets could get back in the playoffs. But that’s a big if.
The Bills’ big improvement was supposed to come last year with a revamped defense, but the team still finished a disappointing 6-10. It’s possible all the pieces will fall into place this year with Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Manny Lawson, Jairus Byrd, Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin, but most of the starters are coming back from the 22nd-ranked defense in 2012. One must assume that new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will be an improvement over Dave Wannstedt, but how far can the defense get the Bills?
On offense, the Bills have some nice pieces in place, but they’re probably still a couple of years of development from E.J. Manuel away from competing. Kevin Kolb, who may or may not be an improvement over Ryan Fitzpatrick, will likely be starting at quarterback this year, throwing to C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson and a bunch of young receivers.
Manuel was viewed as a raw prospect coming out of Florida State, so it would be unwise to assume he’ll have the impact of a Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in his first year. That kind of completely unpredictable (and unexpected) success is what the Bills would need to be able to pass the Patriots in 2013, though.
The Dolphins may be the biggest competition for New England in 2013. On top of some new-look uniforms, the Dolphins signed some big names in Mike Wallace, Dannell Elerbe, Phillip Wheeler and Brent Grimes but also lost out on Jake Long, Reggie Bush, Karlos Dansby, Sean Smith and Kevin Burnett.
An extra year of development out of Ryan Tannehill, Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon will help, as will rookies Dion Jordan and Jamar Taylor. But this is still a team heavily depending on free agent signings (which typically don’t equal success), a second-year quarterback and protection on the blind side from Jonathan Martin.
The Dolphins certainly improved this season and have many pieces that could show development from 2012 to 2013, but if Tannehill can’t mature into a franchise quarterback this season, it may not matter how quickly Cameron Wake and Jordan can get around to edge, how fast Wallace can run in a straight line or how well Reshad Jones can take the top off an offense.
The Dolphins have all the pieces in place on defense, but they still finished 21st in 2012. The offense will be better with Wallace across from Brian Hartline, but there was a reason they finished 27th overall last season, and replacing Long with Martin won’t help.
So fans of the other three teams in the AFC East will likely have to spend another year watching the Patriots in the playoffs, even after losing Welker, Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead, no matter how desperate the league is to get past the Patriots dynasty, if that even still exists.