It’s officially Super Bowl week, meaning the end is extremely near for football season. Super Bowl LI will put a cap on the 2016 NFL season and 2017 playoff schedule, and before you know it, no matter if the Falcons or Patriots win, all talk will turn to the 2017 NFL Draft.
Happy Super Bowl week and welcome back to the Yardbarker roundtable. With the curtain about to drop on the NFL season, it got us contemplating the dynastic New England Patriots. While Tom Brady has been fantastic yet again, he’ll turn 40 this coming offseason, which means his career is closer to its finale than its start. Throw in the continued health issues of star tight end Rob Gronkowski and a slew of pending free agents, including Martellus Bennett, Sebastian Vollmer, Alan Branch, Dont’a Hightower, LeGarrette Blount and more, and it may be more difficult than ever for Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft to maintain the organization’s status an annual Super Bowl contender.
So we posed a very simple question to our panelists:
Are we seeing the end of the New England Patriots dynasty, or is the road through the AFC in 2017 easy enough for the Pats to repeat another title run?
Mike Tunison: Yeah, they’re not done yet unless Brady retires with another title, and even then it’s debatable given that Jimmy Garoppolo looks legit as well.
Sam Greszes: Nah, they should still be the odds-on favorite to win the AFC next year. They’ll have a healthy Gronk back, Chris Hogan will continue to improve and they’ll still have the benefit of the fact that much of the AFC is a tire fire.
Sure, the Raiders will improve as well and should challenge the Patriots for that top spot next year, but the road map that Belichick has been using to get the Patriots to the title game year after year won’t need to change much.
If tight end Rob Gronkowski is back healthy next season, Tom Brady should thrive yet again at age 40.
David Matthews: The Patriots will have a tougher go of things next year for sure. Le’Veon Bell probably won’t be suspended for four games next season and probably won’t be hurt in a potential rematch with the Patriots. Derek Carr should be back from his broken hand and ready to take on Touchdown Tom. If the Broncos figure out their quarterback situation, they’ll be ready to contend as well. The Colts are always a threat with Andrew Luck. Tom Brady will be a year older. The AFC is the Patriots’ to lose and that might not change until after Belichick retires, but 2017 will be anything but a cake walk for the Patriots.
Demetrius Bell: With maybe one or two “off years” where they somehow managed to miss the playoffs while still finishing over .500, the Patriots have been near or at the top of the league for a solid 16 years now. The two biggest cogs in this machine have been Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and until one or maybe both of those guys are out of town, New England will continue to be successful. 2017 probably won’t be any different. Win or lose Super Bowl LI, you’d be safe betting on the Patriots to be right back in the playoffs next year.
Shiloh Carder: If Brady can stay healthy — and with the limited amount of hits he takes, that could be a given — then they are at worst still the team to beat in the AFC East. It is a division in flux that the Pats should dominate again. However, if you look at their 2017 schedule, it is much tougher than this season. They get the Falcons, Chiefs, Texans and Panthers at home and travel to Oakland, Denver, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. Daunting, but when you are a Super Bowl team it comes with the territory.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft should expect continued success as long as he has Bill Belichick and Tom Brady under contract. s
Jamie Neal: The Patriots aren’t going anywhere until Belichick and Brady are gone. Those two have such a ridiculous amount of knowledge and ability, and until they choose to ride off into the sunset with their legacies intact, they aren’t losing to the Jets, Bills or Dolphins.
Daniel Tran: Are Bill Belichick and Tom Brady still under contract? Yeah, this dynasty isn’t going anywhere. Barring an act of God, the Patriots will be a contender next year. Even with the team potentially losing some of its starters on defense via free agency, it just means Belichick has nearly $69 million in cap space to play with this summer. With Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Nate Solder under contract next year, the Patriots still have the foundation to make another deep run in the playoffs.