EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 16, 2013

Same old story: Patriots are Super Bowl-ready

Five reasons a trip to the city in February could - and maybe should - be in works

On Pro Football
Hector Longo

---- — FOXBORO -- Ten weeks into the National Football League, just past the unofficial midpoint for your New England Patriots, and making a prediction for Super Bowl XLVIII remains as much of a mystery as it did in August.

There is no clear favorite on either side. Unbeaten Kansas City gets the dismissive chuckle.

Denver? I don’t know. Backing Peyton Manning is like betting one of those cheap nags at Suffolk Downs that has won 1 race in 40 tries, but stacks up the second and third-places by the dozen.

He’s forever a postseason heartbreaker. Manning is 9-11 in the playoffs with four first-round disappointments in five tries since 2007.

Seattle? Pete Carroll.

Cincinnati? Mr. .500 Marvin Lewis.

Green Bay? Scott Tolzien is your quarterback right now?

New Orleans? Not against any team that can run the football.

San Francisco? Curse of the previous runner-up.

Everyone has flaws, leaving the tattered, torn and still terribly dangerous Patriots, at 7-2, directly in the mix.

Here are five reasons why we should consider them a true, inside-track contender for a Super Bowl title.

1. ‘Sideswipe’

Seventh in the NFL with 8.5 sacks, Chandler Jones is primed for his first Pro Bowl selection. He is the lone blue-chipper left on the Pats defense and is playing like it.

He’s going to be near 20 sacks by the time this thing is done. And the second-year man out of Syracuse has been more than just numbers. Jones occupies blockers, moves all over the field and plays the run surprisingly well for a guy of his stature. He’s a game-changer, plain and simple.

Jones is something this defense hasn’t had since 2006. And he’ll be the No, 1 reason this team goes to Super Bowl XLVIII.

2. Tommy and the 30-somethings

By “30-somethings,” I mean no reference to age. We’re talking Brady and enough weapons to put up 30-plus every week in the points column.

Have we all forgotten how unique Rob Gronkowski is?

Receivers have suddenly been freed up with Gronk around. And he’s been force-fed the football, too. With all due respect to Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, Jason Witten et al., Gronkowski is on a whole different plane.

With him in the lineup and healthy, the Pats are good for 30-something every week. Can Andy Dalton handle that?

3. Best in the biz by far

Watching Mike Tomlin’s guys quit here last week, and the fact that Rex Ryan remains the best coach the Pats will face in the regular season, you have to respect the job Bill Belichick has done.

He’s rebuilt the defense and, even without key parts like Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Aqib Talib, they play winning, attacking football.

For the last dozen years, much of the credit for the Patriots’ success has centered around Tom Brady and Belichick. What we’re learning in 2013, they might not be even-Steven. Maybe Belichick deserves top billing.

4. Ridley ready to run

Watching former top pick and recent Indy acquisition Trent Richardson arm-tackled into near-submission by the Tennessee Titans Thursday, you get an appreciation for the last season and a half turned in by Ridley.

Ridley runs hard. If he doesn’t, it would be Brandon Bolden or Shane Vereen, a factor Ridley has come to accept and feed off of. I know he’s only at 514 yards so far.

Pencil Ridley in for 1,000 on the year.

This kid made the Steelers stop tackling. He’s done if before. Yes, he’s one fumble from the coach’s doghouse.

There’s just more to this guy than the run-of-the-mill halfback. I’d take Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller before him, but there’s not another better back in the AFC East than Ridley.

5. Sox and the beard

These championship seasons tend to travel in packs.

Look at what the Red Sox just accomplished. Much like the NFL, the AL was muddled with decent, not great, teams, and the Red Sox simply decided to be great.

Who’s to say the Patriots can’t locate that necessary character?

The previous two times the Red Sox won a World Series ... 2004 and 2007 ... the Patriots made the Super Bowl. I’d go to battle with Logan Mankins anytime. And not for anything, like a lot of other guys from Boston, he looks great in a beard.

Contact Hector Longo at hlongo@eagletribune.com