Now that the NFL draft is (finally) over it's time for football to take a little hiatus from our day-to-day lives until training camp rolls around in a couple of months.
But when the season previews begin get ready for something new.
For the first time since Adam Vinatieri put the finishing touches on The Silence of the Rams, the New England Patriots will not enter an NFL season as the clear favorites in the AFC East.
Be prepared for Sexy Rexy, Antonio Cromartie and Darelle Revis on the preseason SI cover with the headline "Masters of Defense."
If you have been craving a slew of "Mark Sanchez now has a year under his belt and a bunch of new weapons, hello breakout season!" stories, you are only a trimester away from paydirt.
And I can just hear Liev Schreiber at the beginning of the "Hard Knocks" season premiere ....
"Last year, Rex Ryan and his Jets talked the talk and nearly walked the walk. Now, armed with a returning group of rising stars and an influx of veterans craving a last chance at glory, the only way 2010 will be a success is if it ends with the Lombardi Trophy in the hands of Woody Johnson."
The worst part of all the hype?
I think it's justified.
On April 27, 2010, the best team in the AFC East is the New York Jets.
The Jets and the Patriots were about on even footing at the end of last season, though I don't think the Pats could have gone into San Diego and even offered a challenge to the Chargers, much less beat them.
The Jets have improved with a flurry of high-profile moves and have guys at skill positions (Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Dustin Keller, Santono Holmes) that are either in their prime or entering it, with room to improve.
The Patriots did nothing in free agency to suggest that they will be regaining a spot in the NFL penthouse and have some skill guys (Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Kevin Faulk) leaving their prime or out for the season (Wes Welker,) with a decline in production to be expected.
It's never a good sign when the off-season move that gives fans the most reason to cheer is when an underachieving malcontent is released (Adalius Thomas.)
But what about the draft?
The Patriots reloaded, no? Took care of needs, added depth, all that good stuff.
Maybe. But I'm pretty sure the following is one sentence that I know is true.
You and I have no idea how the Patriots did at the 2010 NFL draft.
Sorry, no report card here. No clue if Devin McCourty will turn out to be Ty Law or Chris Canty. Rob Gronkowski could be Ben Coates, I suppose, but he couldn't he just as easily be Lovett Purnell?
The dirty little secret that screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All The President's Men) once revealed about Hollywood is also true about the NFL Draft.
And it is this: Nobody knows anything.
Not me, not you. Not Mel Kiper, not Todd McShay, not Roger Goodell, not Charlie Casserly's toupee, not any sportswriter in America or any NFL GM or head coach.
Think about it. I'm pretty sure every mock draft I've ever read has had way more misses than hits when it came to accurately predicting who would go where and when. And as for the actual draft itself? No GM can boast even a 50/50 record of picking winners. And the post-draft second-guessers are the worst of the lot. When Kiper or McShay ever tell you a player is going to be great (or lousy, for that matter) do you ever give the opinion any weight? If you are a draft "expert," Mel, then why weren't you the ONE guy that was screaming every time a Tee Martin or Spergon Wynn was picked before Tom Brady in 2000?
Because you had no idea that Brady was going to be Brady. And neither did anyone else, including Bill Belichick (duh-- you think he would have let 198 picks go by if he had known there was a three-time Super Bowl winning QB kicking around?) And that gets right to the heart of the "nobody knows anything" argument. Happens every year. Unless I missed it I didn't hear McShay tell us that the 232nd pick of the '09 draft (Julian Edelman) would have 29 more catches than the seventh overall pick (Darrius Heyward-Bey.)
So that was a long way to get to this, which is that I can't factor in the 2010 draft when breaking down the Jets and the Pats. Sorry. We know zippo about these guys. Maybe maybe and maybe is the law firm representing the '10 draft at this point.
But here's what I think we do know, and why the Patriots enter the 2010 season as underdogs in the AFC East.
When the Patriots walked off the field at Gillette Stadium following a 33-14 wild-card whipping at the hands of the Ravens on January 10 it would have been impossible to make a case that this was a team that could win a Super Bowl.
No pass rush. A defense that simply could not stop a team with even a competent quarterback. One win on the road, and that was the Bills. No Wes Welker. Brady, while still one of the top five or six QB's in the league, wasn't the same guy that we saw pre-Bernard Pollard. Terrible chemistry and a ton of locker-room issues. And the worst year of Belichick's career both in terms of on-field coaching (fourth-and-2, Welker hurt in meaningless game, "defensive genius" label washed out after embarrassing prime-timers in Indy and New Orleans) and GM moves (Greg Lewis, Shawn Springs, Derrick Burgess, Joey Galloway, Chris Baker and Fred Taylor. Millen-esque.)
If there was ever an offseason that called for sweeping changes and a couple of blockbuster moves it was this one, for this team.
The Jets could have taken a victory lap in the offseason. We've seen it before. Up-and-coming team gets close, does nothing to improve and winds up 7-9 the next season. But they were aggressive, trading for Cromartie and signing LaDainian Tomlinson (who I think will have a good year as a third-down back as long as he understands that he is just a third-down back,) Jason Taylor and Santonio Holmes.
OK, are all these moves going to hit? Of course not. But give the Jets points for this: They knew that what they had at the end of the season wasn't enough. And they tried to fix that.
I have no doubt that Belichick felt the very same way about his team after the Ravens debacle.
And what did Patriots' fans get? Torry Holt and Gerald Warren.
I know, I know, Vince Wilfork. But he was already here (you last saw him getting destroyed by Matt Birk, which allowed Ray Rice to run for 494 yards.) I'll buy into the idea that the chemistry of this team will be a little better this year. And another season removed from the injury could mean a slightly improved Brady, I guess (but no Welker, remember.) Even allowing that, how much better is this team than the group that was humiliated by the Ravens three and a half months ago? Are we looking at another year with Tully Banta-Cain as the best pass rusher on the team?
I don't see it. And it's not like this was a 10-6 Pats team heading in the right direction last year. This team has seen its win total drop in each of the last three seasons and it wouldn't shock me if that trend continued in 2010.
The endless Jets preseason hype will be tough for Pats fans to swallow.
But what could happen in the regular season might be worse.