Tom Brady is 37 years old and has been the starting Quarterback for the New England Patriots for 12 seasons. In that time, he has collected three Super Bowl rings and numerous MVP and All-Pro awards, to name a few of his honors. But it has been a decade since he has climbed to the pinnacle of NFL achievement. Is it true that he has missed that window and will go out with a whimper, as early as 2014?
Let's look at where he, and his Patriots stand:
1. Brady is in as good of shape as ever in his career.
Remember when he was drafted? They had said he didn't have the body of an NFL QB. They said it looked like he hadn't seen a gym in years. They couldn't believe anyone would take a chance on him. Look at him now!
When he led the Patriots to victory over the Greatest Show On Turf, they began to believe. But Brady was just playing like he always had. They had forgotten what he did at Michigan despite being embroiled in a QB controversy there. You can't measure heart and determination. He's still got those. And he has experience. This guy knows how to win... even when the talent around him is thin (think 2006 and 2013).
And this kid takes teams, that no one gives a chance, to AFC Championship games.
2. The Patriots are returning the entirety of one of the best offensive lines in the league.
These guys know how to protect the most valuable asset on the team, as well as, open holes for their stable of talented running backs. Brady was sacked more than ever in his career, but much of that resulted from the confusion with his young receivers and no Gronkowski.
Logan Mankins may be aging, but he knows how to use what he has to make his blocks. Nate Solder is the top young blocker in the league, protecting Brady's blind side. And Belichick brought a few young studs to the fold through the draft to give a good line some competition and depth. There should be marked improvement up front for 2014.
3. Experience level in the receiving corps.
Don't listen to what the pundits say, Julian Edelman will have another great year as Brady's most trusted target. And when you add a healthy Danny Amendola, along with newly acquired Brandon LaFell (who needs to improve his consistency), the weapons look better than last season.
The true wild-card in the line-up is the second year guys. If he is ready, Aaron Dobson is primed to be the deep threat that the Patriots have lacked since you know who. But Kenbrell Thompkins is making a case to share that load. And if Josh Boyce can't complete his rehab in time, those will be the guys who stretch defenses for the Pats.
There is the possibility of a rookie making the cut, but it seems like a long-shot at this juncture. Jeremy Gallon has the best chance of getting enough looks and just might be as good as the rest of the young guys. Regardless, Brady will have no shortage of fast, reliable targets.
4. Tight Ends.
Rob Gronkowski is a lock... and ready. He makes Brady that much better. Michael Hoomanawanui is a solid back-up, but hardly the playmaker that is Gronkowski. Justin Jones and James Develin seem to be making waves in camp. Both could take a significant load off the Gronk and renew the two-tight-end game plan to the Patriots' plans. But even if Develin reverts to his fullback role, he has become a dangerous weapon in that right.
5. Another solid year in the backfield.
We'll all just cross our fingers that Stevan Ridley stops giving the ball away and that Shane Vereen can remain on the field for 16 games plus the playoffs. Ridley will surpass 1,000 yards again, and Vereen will play that dual-threat role to perfection. The real battle is between Brandon Bolden and James White. Bolden will be the odd man out if things continue the way they have been going in camp. Roy Finch could even carve a role for himself, despite getting more reps as a returner. He could be the wild-card in Bill Belichick's offense.
I've said it before and will keep on saying it: this is one of the scariest defenses in football. It's not just the addition of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner (after his four game suspension), but an attitude of hard work and determination that seems to permeate this group. Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo are back, and they are the heart and soul of this crew. And I wouldn't buy this "...linebacker is thin" garbage coming from the media. The Patriots have a good bunch backing up the front defensive line. This just might be the best defense the Pats have fielded since the heralded crews from their Super Bowl teams.
Injuries are always a concern, but before the season starts, the Patriots have done more than most teams to round-out their roster for a deep playoff run. Peyton Manning is actually a year older than Brady, but no one says that his hopes are lost.
When you look at all of the factors mentioned above, the Patriots, and Tom Brady, look like they have the best shot at that fourth trophy since their last victory a decade ago. What better way to celebrate than beating the odds and the naysayers and returning to Super Bowl glory?!