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Patriots vs. The Field
Patriots Might Be Better Than Last Season’s Champions

The NFL is a league of parity. Just about every season since 1990, four new teams make the playoffs each year that didn’t the season before. No team has repeated as the Super Bowl champion since the New England Patriots in the 2003-04 seasons.

Of course, the Pats staged the greatest Super Bowl comeback ever in beating the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime back on Feb. 5 in Houston.

Neither quarterback Tom Brady nor Coach Bill Belichick retired immediately after, so the Patriots were installed as favorites for Super Bowl LII next February in Minneapolis. However, the Pats’ odd have dropped because they have had an amazing offseason. In an almost unprecedented prop at BetOnline this far ahead of a season, you can get one team – the Patriots at +360 – against the entire rest of the NFL (-450) to win the Super Bowl.

New England usually isn’t a huge spender in free agency but signed one of the top two cornerbacks on the market in Buffalo’s Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million deal. Gilmore is a bit inconsistent, a Pro Bowler one game and toast the next, but at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, he’s a big corner who can match up with some of the NFL’s bigger receivers. As an added bonus, the Patriots don’t have to face him twice a year.

The Gilmore signing was fine, and it might lead to the Patriots trading their own star cornerback, Malcolm Butler. As of this writing it hasn’t happened, but New England doesn’t have a first- or second-round pick in the 2017 draft and might deal Butler for one.

The bigger free-agent signing was bringing back the team’s best linebacker, Donta’ Hightower, on a four-year deal. Most teams, when one of their stars hits the market he leaves. The New York Jets offered him a lot more money, but Hightower opted to stay put on a $43.5 million deal with $19 million guaranteed. He had 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks and eight quarterback hits during the 2016 regular-season and a momentum-changing strip-sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl comeback. Hightower is the Brady of the defense as he calls the signals on that unit. Hightower was also a first-year captain in 2016.

The Pats have added to what was the league’s No. 1 defense last season in trading for Carolina defensive end Kony Ealy. This is a classic buy-low trade by Belichick, believing he can get the most out of talented but underachieving player.

Ealy likely would have been the MVP of Super Bowl 50 had the favored Panthers beaten the Denver Broncos. Ealy sacked Broncos QB Peyton Manning three times and added an interception and a forced fumble on 23 snaps.

Ealy didn’t quite build off that in 2016 with five sacks and two forced fumbles largely as a backup, but the talent is unquestionably there. All it cost the Patriots was sliding down eight spots in the draft -- going from No. 64 to No. 72 -- to acquire Ealy and his cheap rookie-deal contract.

However, the best deal the Patriots made is trading for Saints receiver Brandin Cooks, who gives Brady his best deep threat since Randy Moss.  Cooks is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons and has a total of 17 TD catches over the past two years.

Cooks, a burner, had two of the four longest receptions in the NFL last year at 98 and 87 yards. The Pats gave up their first-round pick (No. 32 overall) and third-round pick (No. 103) and also got back the Saints' fourth-round pick (No. 118).

Add in New England’s trade for Colts tight end Dwayne Allen to replace the departed Martellus Bennett and the addition of Bengals running back Rex Burkhead, and it’s clear the team is going all-in to repeat with Brady approaching 40. The window could slam shut soon. All this is reminiscent of early 2007 when the Patriots were very busy as well, including trading for Moss and Wes Welker. That team finished 16-0 in the regular season.

As for 2017, no other team currently has NFL odds under +1000 to win Super Bowl LII.

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