John Tomase

Why we shouldn't write off Belichick's Patriots vs. Eagles

Does Bill Belichick have another trick up his sleeve in Week 1?

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If ever there was a team in danger of being entranced by the smell of its own leavings, the Eagles are it.

They just shocked everyone by reaching the Super Bowl, where they bowed to the Chiefs in a 38-35 classic. They feature one of the most exciting young players in the league in quarterback Jalen Hurts. They're everyone's preseason pick to contend for another Lombardi.

And yet...

Four of the last nine Super Bowl losers have opened the following season by going down in Week 1. Hurts proved he can run the ball, but he's by no means an established light-it-up downfield passer. And for a reminder of what can happen in an opener, look no further than Thursday night, when the Lions ruined the title celebration of the Chiefs to kick off the 2023 season.

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Call me drunk on Kool-Aid, but I'm not ready to write off Bill Belichick just yet. We've spent the entire summer speculating on the temperature beneath his buttocks while devoting CSI levels of attention to the club's floor without giving much consideration to its ceiling. We've harped on deficiencies along the offensive line and at wide receiver, mocked a continued overemphasis on special teams, and wondered if time has passed the Hoodie by while he tries to win with donkeys and mules in a league of thoroughbreds.

But let's at least entertain the possibility that he is not, in fact, done. That he has learned from the mistakes of last year, when he surrounded himself with overmatched and underqualified offensive coaches and wasted a year of Mac Jones. That he still knows how to game plan and motivate, even at age 71.

There was a time when the Eagles would've been welcomed to Foxboro as the perfectly unsuspecting visitor, especially to open a season, and we shouldn't dismiss the possibility that's still the case.

Maybe the Patriots are returning to their roots. Owner Robert Kraft noted that he likes being the underdog, which is an unfamiliar position after 20 years of dominance, but also a reminder that that's how this entire run began, back in 2001.

Tom Brady, the man who powered the greatest dynasty in NFL history, will be honored in his return to Foxboro, which should not only fire up the crowd, but the coach who wants to remind everyone he had something to do with all those wins, too, not to mention the young quarterback trying to establish himself as a worthy successor. As a bonus, the arrival of Bill O'Brien means the offense will resemble something from this century.

If Belichick still relies on the bulletin board or Slack channel or whatever to let his team know what They're Saying About Us, he has no shortage of material this week. The oddsmakers installed the Eagles as four-point favorites and give them a 70 percent chance of winning. Nine of ESPN's 10 experts picked Philly, the lone exception being Seth Wickersham of "It's Better to be Feared" fame. When other teams mention the Pats now, even obliquely, it's to mock their "Do your job" mantra, which definitely won't come back to bite clownish, hardo Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.

The Patriots are an afterthought, with three straight December primetime games that scream "placeholder!" just daring to be flexed to oblivion. No one thinks they're going to contend for the playoffs. They're the consensus last-place pick in the AFC East. The expectation is that they'll get tuned up pretty good on Sunday by a true Super Bowl contender as they embark on a season to nowhere.

There was once a time when this is exactly how Belichick would've wanted it. No one revels more in monotonically silencing doubters, especially within his own building. He's still the greatest coach in history and he knows what it's like to follow up Super Bowl losses.

This is all new for the Eagles, with their young quarterback and their young head coach. That makes them a potential mark. Perhaps the Patriots are planning, once more, to surprise us.

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