|Will the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick Era end sooner if the Patriots win another title? (Getty Images)|
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The eyes lit up slightly and the smile came next. What will it be like next season, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was asked, to play on the Patriots with
"He's one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time," Lloyd said. "What do you think it will be like?"
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Good answer, dude.
But in the end Brady just might be as impressed with Lloyd as Lloyd already is with him. For the first time since Randy Moss, the Patriots offense has a threat that can stretch the field. In fact, it may not be crazy to say that Lloyd is Brady's next Moss.
For the reading impaired, this isn't to say that Lloyd is Moss, but Lloyd could be the mini-version of the player that was once paired with Brady, that once intimidated the NFL and crushed record books.
That's because of one glaring statistic that attracted the Patriots to Lloyd: 18.8 yards per catch last season.
The Patriots last season, in the post-Moss era, had everything on offense. A Hall of Fame quarterback. A Hall of Fame receiver in Wes Welker. A running game -- a weak one, but it was there. Tight ends that wrecked defenses. They had everything ... except that one player that could stretch the field the way Moss did. Now, they do.
Imagine this offense. The Patriots can go to the tight ends on third down for 25 yards. Welker then for 12 yards. A good run. Then on second, go deep to Lloyd. This offense could be better than last year's that went to the Super Bowl.
What could it be like, to answer Lloyd's question?
Solidify a running game. The thinking is that Shane Vareen will win the job. In the second preseason game against Philadelphia, it looked as if he might have taken command of the position with some nice runs and four catches.
Solidify a pass defense. The Patriots, remarkably, still went to the Super Bowl despite what was a horrid secondary. But that caught up to them as the New York Giants made some big pass plays that exposed a group in dire need of a talent upgrade. The team addressed those needs in the draft. Time to see if they pay off.
Continue to dominate the division. The Patriots have used the AFC East as a launching pad for their seasons individually and their dynasty overall. Looking back, it's been one of the most remarkable division runs in league history. In the modern AFC East, the Patriots haven't had a losing season. No other division rival has been able to touch them.
Position battlesAgain, the running back spot remains one of the biggest. Danny Woodhead and Jeff Demps are set at the backup spot. The key part to watch here is how Bill Belichick signals that he'll handle the starting rotation.
Breaking: Tom Brady isn't in a position battle ... but who will back him up is one of the more interesting battles on the team. Brian Hoyer will likely win the job but Ryan Mallett is making things interesting. His head isn't always on straight but his athleticism and raw ability are highly intriguing. Once Mallett shakes the rookie blues he's going to be a good player.
Somebody to Watch
Bill Belichick. I've said this before and caught massive hell but Belichick is the best coach in NFL history. Story. Sticking to it. I also wonder if that great career will come to an end soon. Let's just say I wouldn't be stunned if Belichick walked away from coaching if the team won a Super Bowl this coming season (a definite possibility). Not walk away from football entirely, mind you. But coaching.
I've been wrong before about Belichick's retirement plans and this could be off base as well but I wouldn't be stunned if Belichick ran a front office somewhere several years from now since he's a solid personnel man. The Brady/Belichick Era is in its twilight and it's only a matter of time before it ends as the two have established themselves as one of the best coaching-quarterback tandems in NFL history. One more title and I wouldn't be stunned if that historic combination ended sooner than later.
Visanthe Schiancoe was one of the better tight ends in football in Minnesota, now he's likely on his way out of New England. It's been a remarkable turnaround as Schiancoe has been hurt much of his brief time in New England.
The Last Word
The Patriots last season went to the Super Bowl without a serious deep threat and one of the worst ranked pass defenses in football. Think about what they can do with Lloyd and just a modest increase in defensive play. All signs point to another New England juggernaut.