Was 2011 a fluke, or a sign of future reward?
For all their success during the regular season, the New England Patriots were given a magic carpet to the Super Bowl earlier this year, having only to overtake the deflating Tebow Mania, and surviving Baltimore’s eternal Buckner moment. “Bend, don’t break” became the team’s unofficial motto even as Bill Belichick continued to preach, “Do your job.”
The defense improved down the stretch, but was it a matter of players maturing into their roles, or was it weather or competition-based? Nobody can really complain about how the unit played against the Giants in the Super Bowl, but the fact that Vince Wilfork is the eldest member on that side of the ball, at age 30, is both intriguing and frightening. Think of the glory days, and Vrabel, Harrison, Bruschi, and Law, veteran presences that led to the team’s success come to mind in a blink.
Is that here, matriculating into something that might make 2012 special for the Patriots? Remains to be seen.
For now, there’s Tennessee.
Spoiler alert. One person picks the Titans.
This week's prediction roundup:
Globe staff: Patriots across the board.
Tennessean staff: Three out of four pick the Patriots.
Peter King, Sports Illustrated: Patriots 27, Titans 16. "The Pats worked out tight end Kellen Winslow the other day, and signed tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, and placed tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on the injured-reserve-but-we-can-pull-him-back-late-in-the-season list. Before the game, Bill Belichick plans to host the Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Tennessee Tech and Carson Newman tight ends at a high school in Nashville for workouts. And, I am reporting exclusively, he will pull tight end Frank Wycheck out of the Titans' radio booth before the game and sign him to a three-hour contract. The Patriots like tight ends, don't you know."
ESPN.com staff: Patriots across the board.
CBS Sports.com staff: Patriots across the board.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports.com: Patriots 30, Titans 17. "The Titans will start Jake Locker, but at least he's at home. That will make it easier. The problem is he's facing a Bill Belichick defense. That can be tough on a young quarterback. Then there's the part of trying to keep up with Tom Brady. That can put pressure on a young passer, which I think it does here. New England gets a road victory."
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 34, Titans 17. "The Titans handed the quarterback keys to Jake Locker, and with the backfield threat of Chris Johnson as support, Locker will use his legs and connect with rookie Kendall Wright to make this game intriguing for a while. But Tom Brady and the Patriots' diverse passing attack will go into overdrive in the third quarter and put Bill Belichick's pass rush in better position to thwart Locker in the fourth quarter."
Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk.com: Patriots 35, Titans 26. "The last time these two teams got together, the Patriots scored 59, and the Titans scored nothing. While much has changed in Tennessee since 2009, enough players are still there to remind the teammates and the coaches of that day. And it would matter if the Titans had the horses of defense to keep up with New England's offense."
Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk.com: Patriots 31, Titans 17. "The consistency of the Patriots in the salary-cap era in the NFL is nothing short of remarkable. The Patriots look, once again, like one of the best teams in the NFL, and Bill Belichick's defense will give fits to Titans quarterback Jake Locker, making his first NFL start."
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 28, Titans 17. "Patriots won 59-0 when these teams last met in 2009. That should light a big home fire under Titans, but no amount of incentive makes up for the likelihood Tom Brady will have a day that makes his fantasy owners do handsprings while counterpart Jake Locker makes his first NFL start. So Pats win a ninth straight opener. Side note: It's the Twins Bowl, with cornerbacks Devin McCourty of NE and bro Jason of TEN."
Peter Schrager, Foxsports.com: Patriots 34, Titans 20. "I'm fascinated by Wes Welker's offseason. In February, he dropped a pass that could have put the Super Bowl on ice. In May, he lashed out about not getting a long-term deal from management. In June, he and his buddies got booted from a fancy restaurant while trying to crash a party in Aspen, Colorado. Oh, and he got married in July. That's a busy few months, no? In related news, I didn't take Welker in my fantasy football draft last weekend."
USA Today staff: Patriots across the board.
Yahoo! sports staff: Patriots across the board.
Vic Tafur, San Francisco Chronicle: Patriots (-5 ˝) "Sharpshooter Tom Brady could probably throw a football and hit a fan's drink out of his hands in the stands. Tennessee's Jake Locker, making his first career start, can do it without even trying."
It says here: Patriots 42, Titans 35. Brady and Co. will be fine, but who the heck knows what to expect out of the New England defense.