Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski may very well be sick and tired of coach Bill Belichick's grim ways. Who wouldn't be?
But boohoo, the Patriots' unmatched quarterback and tight end can certainly grin and bear their misery for one more rewarding season of bottom-line dealings with the Bills, Dolphins and Jets -- the Moe, Larry and Curly of NFL rebuilding programs, who figure to again be woefully outclassed during New England's metronomic march to what will be its 10th straight AFC East title (and 16th in 17 years).
The soap-operatic whispers leaking out of Foxboro since late last season are immaterial to jobs that need to be done come kickoff. Let's get through another run for the Super Bowl, then reassess the future based on the TB12 Method. There is still plenty of life left in the Belichick-Brady Patriots in 2018.
First off, we know the Patriots will be in the playoffs. The accommodating division over which their team reigns still affords New England fans that luxury of confidently marking their calendars for January football, no matter if New England might slip a bit this season. Even measured against the rest of the AFC East's traditionally lackluster standards, 2018 projects as a holding pattern for the Bills, Dolphins and Jets, who all seem to be building toward that day not so far off when presumably there will be no more Brady.
The Bills last season made the playoffs for the first time since 1999, but remain on their frustrating quest for long-term dependability at quarterback, no doubt tempted to throw rookie Josh Allen to the wolves.
That was four more Super Bowl appearances by New England and two more Belichick-Brady titles ago. The Jets have had one winning season since. They will likely start rookie Sam Darnold at quarterback this season. The Patriots' three divisional rivals have combined for 24 different head coaches and 46 different quarterbacks to start at least one game since Belichick became New England's head coach in 2000.
The Patriots of Belichick and Brady at some point no doubt will collapse amid acrimony and fade into the record book. (Brady's father Tom Sr. is reportedly quoted in Mark Leibovich's forthcoming book, "Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times", as saying he expects his son's career in New England to "end badly.")
But there is nothing really yet to go on to expect that bad ending in 2018.
While owner Bob Kraft supposedly sided with Brady over Belichick in wanting New England's franchise QB-in-waiting Jimmy Garoppolo gone last season, there is no outward sign of the Patriots being anything but the Patriots heading into this season. With the sum of their parts always better than foes who are ranked more talented individually, the Patriots remain one of the NFL's better teams.
Sure, their defense is sketchy, and with so few hands at wide receiver Brady might wind up throwing the ball 350 times to Gronkowski and his array of pass-catching running backs. But Belichick still runs the best organization in football, joyless as it may be.
He is still the dour coach to trust in all football matters, 19 seasons into his historic reign in New England. Brady is still the quarterback, having just turned 41, but only seven months removed from passing for 505 yards in a Super Bowl he looked determined to win on his own, before fate -- usually a reliable ally of No. 12 -- dealt up a strip sack.
Heading into this new season -- as has been the case heading into almost every new season since Brady became New England's starting quarterback in 2001 -- the Patriots' anticipated might assumes Brady will not get hurt.
Even as it has ticked into envelope-pushing time, worries about Brady's age were cushioned the past few years by the presence of Garoppolo, who in a strange move that might someday be seen as the beginning of the end, was traded to San Francisco last Nov. 1 as he approached a big payday in the offseason. If Brady stays healthy and continues to play like Brady this season (and Brian Hoyer stays put on the sideline), the Garoppolo trade will be meaningless so far as this 2018 season is concerned.
Within the increasingly leaky walls of Fortress Foxboro, the 2018 season should still be pretty much business as usual. Anxious to be rid of the perpetual Patriots, the rest of Football America hypes trendy obstacles to throw in New England's path to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta next Feb. 3, be they Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans or Los Angeles Chargers.
See if we can understand this. The Patriots seven months ago reached the Super Bowl for the third time in four years, lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 41-33 in one of the most entertaining sporting events ever (with starting cornerback Malcolm Butler, now a Tennessee Titan, mysteriously benched), and the end is imminent? Not so fast.
Wiseguys who value their money in Vegas have calculated that reigning Super Bowl runner-up New England will hoist the next Lombardi Trophy. Projecting stoutness in possible AFC challengers to the Patriots comes easy in August. Staring down Brady and Belichick in the cold-cash reality of January in Foxboro is still a highly speculative venture.
Even with all the veteran look-sees jettisoned from the wide-receiver ranks (New England fans suffered whiplash braking their excitement over Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews and Eric Decker), the Patriots are in one major respect much better off at that thin position than they were at this point last season.
Julian Edelman, the wide receiver most needed by Brady, tore the ACL in his right knee in a preseason game last August and was lost for the 2017 season. This time around Edelman, who averaged nearly seven receptions per game over the previous four seasons, will be unavailable for only the first four games while serving his suspension for PED use.
Hey, what is a Patriots Super Bowl-winning season without a high-profile four-game suspension at the start, right?
The return of linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who was lost for for the season last October with a torn pectoral muscle, has to significantly improve the defense.
Winning five Super Bowl titles isn't everything, it's just a Belichick thing. In the delirious aftermath of the Eagles edging New England for their first-ever Super Bowl title seven months ago, Philly offensive tackle Lane Johnson said he would much rather have fun and win just one Super Bowl title than be miserable like the fear-based Patriots and win five.
The Patriots should remain sturdy enough in 2018 to miserably add a sixth ring to the Brady-Belichick collection. After that, things may start to fall apart.