Tonight, they will scare all those who dare to doubt their chances of winning a third straight Super Bowl.
The New England Patriots will kick off the 2005 NFL season the same way they ended last season -- with a tour-de-system victory on a national stage. This time, the Rolling Stones will provide the sound track.
Hey, hey, you, you, get off of their case.
Coach Bill Belichick will do what he has always done best -- figure out some hard-to-figure way to disarm the opponent's most dangerous weapon. A rolling coverage gathers nothing but Moss. In his Oakland Raiders debut, Randy Moss will experience a long, frustrating, leave-the-field-early kind of night.
The Patriots will plug in Chad Brown and Monty Beisel to replace two of the toughest, smartest linebackers in the business -- Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson -- and will look just as suffocating as ever. The Raiders' potentially explosive offense will look 49ers-like, making you say, "Belichick's system is so good that he could have replaced Bruschi and Johnson with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and kept Moss out of the end zone."
Moss will have a monster season. After tonight.
And for three-plus hours, all the Doubting Tom Bradys like me will watch Brady pick apart the Raiders' defense -- as slice-and-dice-able as it will prove to be all season -- and we'll say, "What was I thinking to pick against these guys?"
I've spent a month trying to argue myself out of the Patriots. At times, straddling the fence has been nearly as uncomfortable as accidentally slipping forward off my bike seat as a kid. I definitely felt a little queasy the night of the Patriots' all-important third preseason game, at Green Bay.
Brett Favre, who has whipped himself into the best shape he's been in since he was traded to the Packers, was having his best camp in 10 years. But Belichick's defense turned the Great New Brett into the Bad Old Brett. He looked lost as he threw two interceptions -- and a third was nullified by a penalty -- into the smoke and mirrors that comprise New England's secondary.
Maybe I should forget about trying to talk myself into the Colts, or -- you heard it here first -- the Bengals, and just pick the Patriots the way I did when so many tiptoed off their bandwagon a year ago.
|Before tonight's game, check out Jeff Merron's list of the best NFL openers.|
But I have to keep remembering that:
• The Patriots will miss Bruschi's leadership and gamesmanship in January. The man can make himself invisible in pass coverage, and his nose for the ball is right there with Ed Reed's. No, Bruschi is one cog that cannot be replaced with some Monty Beisel.
• The Patriots will not miss coordinator Romeo Crennel on defense -- Belichick's domain -- but they'll eventually long for coordinator Charlie Weis on offense. The last time Belichick was this involved in play calling was in Cleveland, where he and quarterback Bernie Kosar became a match made in playoff-missing hell. In big games, Brady will battle doubt without Weis' support and instincts.