Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Questions abound

Hey Peeps and anyone else checking in. A special "Hey" goes out to Hazel Mae if she is checking in.

“Now what?”

99% of New England Patriots fans must be asking that question today - the remaining 1% haven’t let go of the memories of Sunday’s Super Bowl game. The statement is not meant to be facetious; but rather, more of an acknowledgement that your pain is justified and has been felt by sports fans all over - and on a number of occasions by yours truly (remember, Leaf Nation and witness to The Catch I by Dwight Clark of the 49ers).
The knee-jerk response is likely to be “We’ll be back in 2008 to reaffirm our status as a dynasty.”

With this team that was less than three minutes away from football immortality respond with another dominating season in 2008 resulting in their fourth championship in eight years? Or is the more likely result that the loss will be looked at a crushing blow, a watershed moment in the franchise’s history that marks the beginning of a decline?

As much as professional athletes claim that they don’t read or listen to what was said about them by the media, do you think this edition of the Patriots can honestly say they haven’t heard or been stung by the criticism? Over the next six months, they will have to listen to people referring to their game as one of the biggest in sports history; it is hard to think of a Super Bowl game in recent memory that has garnered so much interest based on a healthy dislike (hatred is a strong word) for one of the participants - the Patriots will hear about that game wherever they go this off-season, they won’t be able to get away from it. Will this wear on them?

If the New England Patriots do come back and win it all next year - you would have to think that a team that finished the season 18-1 would be the odds on favourite going into the 2008 season - it likely won’t be with the same group that finished the season with an devastating loss. Bill Belichick, while roundly criticized by the media for a perceived lack of sportsmanship and arrogance, has always been lauded for implementing a system where players are interchangeable - where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. He made some very tough decisions for the good of the team - decisions that meant saying goodbye to fan favourites like Lawyer Milloy and Willie McGinest.

Three minutes away from football immortality to an off-season filled with questions and doubts - that is how fine the line is between returning as a championship team or declining into the ranks of “a very good team”. Belichick will have some very tough decisions to make this off-season - decisions that will likely result in changing the face of the team if the Patriots are to win their fourth Super Bowl in eight years.

On offense, the only question is Randy Moss. Will he be back? Will he take a hometown discount to try and win the championship ring he wants - the ring he thought was his when he scored the touchdown to make it 14-10? The Patriots will survive on offense without him if he decides to part ways - having Tom Brady at the helm softens the blow of the league’s best receiver leaving. Moss’ departure would sting - but it wouldn’t be devastating.

The defense is another matter. The Patriots came into the season with questions about their defense - were they big enough? Tough enough? Young enough? While you can’t put too much emphasis on one drive to start evaluating a defense - you also can’t point to a season where the played the likes of the Dolphins, the Bills, and the Jets twice - with likes of the Redskins, the Ravens and even the Eagles in there as a measure that all is well on that side of the ball.

Belichick will have to look long and hard as to whether or not Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel can still be physical leaders on defense - or are they more emotional leaders? Both are over 30 and have lost a step. What about the secondary? Has Rodney Harrison played his last game? Can he still do it physically at 37? Will Asante Samuel re-sign with the Patriots or will he look to get paid? Ellis Hobbs anyone?

The Patriots could quite likely go into the 2008 season with four or five new faces on defense - will they be as dominant as Pats teams from previous years? Hard to think so…but what do I know, I’m just a Cowboys fan who wants to see Moss in Big D with T.O and Romo.

The Maple Leafs, fresh off a 4-2 win over the hated SenaTards, host the Florida Panthers tonight - eight points back of the Bruins for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. While everyone is writing them off - and waiting for Mats Sundin to be traded, some diehard members of Leaf Nation aren’t ready to write them off yet…just ask Hazel.

Speaking of Hazel, likely back from a week in Arizona, here’s what she missed on Saturday night:

Leafs call up Robbie Earl looks like he might be a player - he showed good speed, lots of smarts, and a willingness to compete. The former “Frozen Four” MVP should get a look for the rest of the season.

Leafs D Anton Stralman (who some think could evolve into a Nick Lidstrom type) is getting better with every game. His defensive zone coverage needs work - but there is no denying the kid can get the puck out of his own end, either skating it out or passing it out.
It may not be much in terms of this year - but these two look like they are going to be around for a while. The future isn’t as dismal as the media wants to portray.

Tonight’s suggestions:

Montreal over Ottawa - the Tards are reeling right now: injuries, bad goaltending, dissention; its all good from Leaf Nation’s perspective. The Habs will be looking to rebound from a brutal loss to the Rangers on Super Bowl Sunday. Lay $100 on the Habs - $130.

Anaheim over NY Islanders - the Isles get by on grit and taking advantage on the counter-attack. The Ducks can play that way too - and score. Lay $100 on the Ducks - $145.

NY Rangers over Los Angeles - the Rangers seem to be getting their act together - much to the chagrin of Leaf Nation - they’ll be pumped after coming back on the Habs on Sunday. Lay $100 on the Rangers - $220.

That’s it for today gang - thanks for taking the time to check in. Have a great one peeps.

Hazel, here’s hoping things are groovy in your world.

I’m Out.


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