Question: *Do you think the Pats can come back with another perfect regular season, or even make it to the Super Bowl next year? -- Mark B. *
Yes and yes.
Despite their crushing loss in Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots remain an excellent team. Tom Brady remains the best quarterback in the NFL and he should still be throwing to the league's foremost game-breaking target, Randy Moss, who is likely to conclude that remaining with New England is a better idea than signing with another team even if it does end up costing him big dollars. Opponents will continue to struggle to find answers for Moss, Wes Welker and the rest of the Patriots' phenomenal passing game. Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli will make the necessary repairs on defense.
Another perfect regular season will be incredibly difficult to achieve, just as it was in 2007, but the Pats have obviously shown that it is possible. Even if they end up losing a few games, I could easily see them being a strong Super Bowl contender again.
At this point, there isn't another AFC team that looks better.
Question: *What's your run-down of the 'Skins' new coach, Jim Zorn? Do you think he has a chance to excel in his first year, considering the loss of both coordinators? -- Chuck S., Long Beach, CA *
Frankly, I don't have a clue as to what sort of head coach Zorn will be. I wasn't even sure of what kind of offensive coordinator he would have been had he remained in the job for which the Redskins first hired him from Seattle, where he had been a quarterbacks coach.
We're all going to find out about Zorn's capabilities in both areas at the same time -- as the 2008 season unfolds. He seems bright and capable. He certainly looks and sounds the part of an NFL head coach.
Still, my initial thought is that it will be extremely difficult for Zorn to succeed in his first year. Rookie head coaches generally struggle, as we saw with two who did not make it past their opening season (Cam Cameron in Miami and Bobby Petrino in Atlanta). Petrino could have stuck around, but seeing an enormous task that already had gotten the better of him, he wisely opted to jump back to the collegiate ranks. Lane Kiffin's tenuous situation in Oakland is another example of how tough it is for a first-year head coach in the NFL.
The departure of offensive coordinator Al Saunders and his ultra-thick playbook had to happen in order for Zorn to be aboard, so that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The challenge, though, will be for quarterback Jason Campbell to learn yet another new offense, because Zorn's West Coast-style scheme is very different than Saunders' offense.
The departure of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams doesn't necessarily pose a major problem, either, even though he had been a strong candidate for the head-coaching job. That's because Williams' replacement, Greg Blache, had been Williams' right-hand man and plans no changes in the defense. In fact, the Redskins' defensive playbook included about 40 percent of Blache's ideas. When Blache ran Chicago's defense, he didn't blitz as much as Williams does, but he is not opposed to the tactic.
Question: *I know you used to cover the Bills, and I was wondering what your take was on the whole Toronto deal. Do you see it as a bad thing? And what do you think it will take to keep the Bills in Buffalo (where they belong) for good? -- Marc, Buffalo, N.Y. *
I think the Bills' agreement to play five regular-season games and three preseason games in Toronto over the next five years could prove to be a very good thing for the team's financial health in Buffalo. That assumes that those games, which will be priced considerably higher than those played at Ralph Wilson Stadium, can sell as well as the Bills and their Canadian partners believe they will.
I do not see the deal as a prelude to the Bills moving to Toronto. That is not something that the Bills or the NFL is actively seeking, nor was it the motivation behind the agreement. The Bills and the league see this as being similar to when the Packers once split regular-season games between Green Bay and Milwaukee. It is an attempt to maximize the Bills' regional footprint, which is necessary given their limitations as a small-market franchise.
Sadly, I am not sure there is anything that could be done to assure that the Bills will remain in Buffalo, where I, too, believe they belong. Their fan support is tremendous (and Canada is a significant part of that equation), but owner Ralph Wilson is absolutely correct in saying the economic realities of western New York do not paint an encouraging long-term picture when you compare the Bills with most other NFL teams.
The Bills will never come close to matching their competitors in New York, New England, Dallas, or Washington for the abundance of corporate dollars available for sponsorship and suite sales. A new, state-of-the-art stadium (which would figure to be extremely difficult for the Buffalo area to afford or justify) with all sorts of luxury boxes won't help because there aren't enough businesses to fill them, at least not to the degree that would put the Bills on the same competitive level as larger-market teams.
Contrary to popular opinion, there is no reason to presume that another owner willing to keep the team in Buffalo would be a "savior," because the new owner would face those same economic issues. And we will not know the identity of that new owner until after Wilson's passing, because then and only then will the team be up for sale.
Question: *Adrian Peterson is a special running back, as you wrote in your column from the Pro Bowl, but are the Vikings smart enough to give it to him more than 15-20 times a game? -- Joe G., Westborough, Mass. *
I certainly hope so, because Peterson is the primary reason to believe that the Vikings can get over the hump and into the playoffs next season.
Hearing some of his fellow Pro Bowlers gush about him after his MVP performance was revealing. Among the comments that stood out were these from NFC quarterback Jeff Garcia: "He's one of those guys who I think everyone out here on this field wishes was on their team during the regular season. …Already he's pretty much a man-child in this league. It's very rare that a player comes on the scene and dominates like he's capable of dominating."