Is the Patriots defense too decimated to make a Super Bowl run?
Rick: You can never count the Patriots out of the Super Bowl as long as Brady and Belichick are at the helm. However, watching that game Monday night and the Patriots' inability to get off the field on third down, this team didn't have the feel of a champion. They lost veteran leaders in Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Tommy Kelly. The secondary is banged up with Alfonzo Dennard and Steve Gregory not due back anytime soon. Now, the hip is back to bothering Aqib Talib. The Talib injury ruined a Super Bowl run last year and it can ruin it this year too, considering he was one of the best corners in the NFL during the first half of the season. The Patriots could not get off the field on 3rd down when it mattered the most against the Panthers. As solid as Cam Newton has been over the last six games, if the Pats can't stop him on 3rd down, how are they going to stop Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, and even Alex Smith on 3rd downs? If I look at solely this week, if Talib doesn't play/100%, the Broncos are going to have a field day on the Patriots' secondary. Ed Reed wouldn't have made a difference as a starter for the team anyways, but the Pats' depth is now starting and that's not a good thing going into December and January.
Raj: I think so. But then again, even when the defense was playing exceptionally well, not many were counting the Patriots to go to the Super Bowl. Could they still defy odds even with the decimated defense they have right now? Of course! We can all look at things and make assumptions. It all comes down to how well they want to be united as a defense. That was not the case against Carolina and it hurt them. But even though I'd like to think they can come together as one, right now a Super Bowl run does not seem likely with this defense. I'd love to be proven wrong though
Jason: Right now, it's leaning that way. A healthy secondary of Talib, Dennard, McCourty and Gregory would go a long way toward a championship-caliber defense, but three of the four are gimpy at the moment. The front 7 is barely adequate, but a lot of young players do have room to grow. The problem really rears its ugly head when one more starter goes down, and that possibility is very likely with so many games remaining and so many nagging injuries for the guys who are still on the field.
Derek: The past few seasons, the Patriots had all the weapons that they needed to win the Super Bowl. The fact that they didn't came down to a bad decisions and missed plays. For the first time in a long time, the Patriots may just need a lucky break to end up victorious in the Meadowlands. The way this season has unfolded, luck doesn't appear to be on their side. Still, if they can just hold tight and not lose any more defensive players, they still have a puncher's chance. Talib and Dennard on the outside, with Arrington in the slot, is a pretty good secondary when backed up by McCourty and Gregory. Jones and Ninkovich have managed to provide some inkling of a pass rush that was absent for so long, and the Jones/Vellano/Sopoaga, while not dominant, have held down the fort. Throw in Hightower and Spikes at linebacker, and you've got a defense that can hold it's own. They won't be a shut-down unit, and I have big concerns going up against a high-octane team like Denver. But if the weather is cold and Brady can work his magic, this D may have just enough to get the Patriots to the promised land.