The Patriots are down but not out in the AFC

Have you noticed people on the streets lately with more spring in their step, exchanging high-fives with one another, or smiling in your direction? No, they’re not trying to flirt with you. They’re probably a fan of an AFC team that doesn’t play in New England.

A story came out this week that George Lampman was taking advantage of the season-ending injury suffered by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to earn some money. He owns a silk-screening printing company in Pittsburgh and decided to unveil a t-shirt lauding Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard’s hit on Brady that knocked him out for the year. For $19.99, you can become an honorary member of the Pollard fan club with a commemorative t-shirt.

Not so fast football fans. Do not plan a traditional Irish funeral just yet for the Patriots. No need to sprinkle dirt over the casket and raise your glass in honor to of the end of their legacy. It’s too early to count the Pats out of the hunt for the Super Bowl.

We have talked ad nauseam about the impact of Brady’s injury on the balance of power in the AFC, but I can give three reasons not to give up on the Patriots just yet: Bill Belichick, the offense, and their schedule.

Coach Belichick is masterful in managing games on both sides of the ball and should be able to create a game plan to minimize Matt Cassel’s inexperience at the quarterback position. He will shorten the game by using the Patriots’ depth in the backfield (Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan) to run the football. The Patriots coaching staff will never ask Cassel to try to win the game on his own. Instead, they will ask him not to lose games by making costly mistakes.

In-game adjustments are critical for any team to have success in the NFL, and Belichick has a knack for devising schemes to either fix problems on the field immediately or attack weaknesses he has noticed in the first few series of a game. No NFL coach can adjust better to the flow of a game than Belichick.

And let’s not forget Cassel is taking over the reins of one of the top offenses in NFL history. They gave the impression last season that they could score points at will without breaking a sweat. The passing game will be revised to exploit Cassel’s strengths, and it doesn’t hurt to have Randy Moss and Wes Welker lining up at the wideout positions.

Plus, on paper, the Patriots have one of the easiest schedules in the league. The Pats will face the Niners, Rams, Raiders, and meet the Dolphins twice during the course of the season. Ten wins and a playoff berth are still within reach.

By Sunday night, we should have a better idea about the state of the AFC. We will see how the Patriots react to life in A.B. (After Brady) and also have a better understanding of how Cassel will adjust to his new reality. If they can get good play from their new quarterback, the Patriots will still be a factor in the AFC.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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