Probably by falling off. But not much.
Nothing is more difficult in the NFL than sustaining excellence. So many factors work against it. But these Patriots are one of the best teams ever at fighting against that tide.
The first thing to understand about what will happen to the Patriots offense in 2008 is this: every team on their schedule has spent an inordinate amount of offseason time studying them. In particular, those opposing coaches have analyzed what worked well against New England.
That led all of them to a video taken in Glendale, Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XLII. The Giants held the Patriots to 14 points, 274 yards and 45 rushing yards. And most importantly, they pressured Tom Brady consistently, sacking him five times and hitting or hurrying him many more times.
The game plan of Steve Spagnuolo will be duplicated. But the results probably won't be, for a number of reasons. Few teams have the quality of pass rushers and number of pass rushers the Giants had. And very few teams are comfortable playing the Giants' style of defense.
What's more, Patriots coaches Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Dante Scarnecchia have seen that tape a few times, too. They will be ready for it this time, with adjustments that can turn their disadvantages into opponents' disadvantages. Belichick is nothing if not one of the game's best at adjusting to how opponents play his team.
In fact, the Patriots are sure to have a few new wrinkles in their offense that opponents aren't prepared for. They know well how to make opponents react to them, instead of being forced to react to others.
From that standpoint, not much should change this season. The Patriots will benefit from continuity as much as any team in the league. They have had the same offensive system in place since 2000. The same quarterback has started 110 straight regular season games. There are no newly acquired players who are expected to play major roles on offense.
While the Patriots' offense reached never-before-seen heights last season, it has been consistently outstanding. Brady never has completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in a season.
Brady, at 31, should be at the peak of his capabilities. There is some concern that he hasn't worked as hard as he has in the past. But that doesn't mean he hasn't worked as smart. Brady is one of the game's best at knowing how to prepare, and he's probably getting wiser about it.
So why should we expect a slight dropoff from the Patriots offense? Mostly because they can't expect for everything to go as right for them this year as it did last. The Patriots offense avoided significant injuries last season. That might not happen again. Already, injuries to Brady and Stephen Neal have been issues.
The Patriots also will have to find a way to replace the production of wide receiver Donte Stallworth, who had 46 catches for 697 yards last year. They don't have a player to take his place with his combination of talent and know-how.
The Patriots will find ways to compensate. But asking for the same kind of offensive production as last year is expecting too much.
CSN: The Super Bowl's golden anniversary will be held in the Golden State. The new stadium, which opens in 2014, in Santa Clara will host Super Bowl L two years later, the NFL announced Tuesday.
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