By Michael Felger
No longer are they just an overachieving collection of youngsters and spare parts.
No longer have they simply put the lie to the embarrassing conventional wisdom that said Randy Moss was the key to their offense.
No longer would making another Super Bowl be considered a big surprise.
It's now expected.
We'll now be disappointed if they don't make it.
Maybe that's unfair, but that's what happens when you beat all comers in the regular season -- Baltimore, Indianapolis, the Jets and Pittsburgh -- and then sit at home on wild-card weekend. That's what happens when you play near-perfect football games, like the one the Pats played on Monday night.
I don't know if you can call this a great Patriots team yet. That distinction should really be reserved for champions -- and even then it might be hard to call a team with this much youth, inexperience and holes on defense as truly great.
But do you know how much more interesting I find these Patriots than their last supposedly "great" squad, their 2007 edition? That team was just a collection of talent. And their run through a 16-0 regular season was joyless by comparison to this. That team was typified by Moss, the ultimate front-runner. That team sold it's soul for the record book and paid the price when it mattered the most. In the end, they became the exact kind of team we used to hate around here -- soft, finesse, choke artists. They became the Colts.
This team is also very much dependant on its offense, and maybe because of that they'll meet the same fate at some point in the postseason. But that doesn't take away the fact that they are much easier to root for.
I don't know about you, but former first-round pick Laurence Maroney never did anything for me. But I respect the hell out of undrafted backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. I simply love the fact that Wes Welker is embarrassing all those who said his production was merely a result of the room Moss created. (And remember, Welker is still doing this on a bad knee.) Watching Tom Brady and Deion Branch work together is pure joy. I like the fact the Pats actually have young tight ends who can catch and young defensive players who can take the ball away and are improving. I no longer have to root for turds like Adalius Thomas, Derrick Burgess, Maroney and Moss.
And, last but not least, Brady has always been more interesting to me when he uses his head more than his arm. That's when he's at his best, anyway. That's what he did when he was winning championships.
That's right. We're talking championships again. The Pats have left us with no other choice.
Read Felger's report card on Wednesday. E-Mail him HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.