Every single overwhelming favorite throughout the history of sports has come with a built-in exception so obvious that it barely needs to be stated: if everyone stays healthy. Every single favorite until now, that is. With the Cavs in disarray in the East, the Warriors should still be the favorites next year regardless of any single loss (Durant, Curry, Kerr, etc.), and the vaunted Patriots are in even better position, rolling out a viable replacement at every single important position, from cornerback to ownership.
Has there ever been an NFL team less vulnerable to freak occurrence? For that matter, has any NFL team been better set up to keep their dynasty going another decade with an entirely new set of principal characters? The franchise has short- and long-term replacements key positions whom more than half the teams in the league would kill to have as their first option.
If Robert Kraft died tomorrow, the Patriots would lose something when it comes to big-picture decision-making, but in terms of day-to-day operations, his capable lieutenant (and son) Jonathan wouldn’t miss a beat. And fortunately for Jonathan, most of the big decisions have already been made. Most fanbases would kill to have Jonathan as their primary owner; the Patriots have him as Plan B.
Outside of paying someone like Jim Harbaugh ten million dollars a year to sit on the bench as HC-in-waiting – something that would never happen – it’s impossible for the Patriots to be better prepared for the loss of their architect. At this point, with the time they’ve spent together, if Belichick had to pick his own successor, and his life depended on the results, it is hard to imagine him tapping anyone but McDaniels.
More relevant to the 2017 season, Jimmy Garoppolo is the QB version of McDaniels: other than having a veteran like Russell Wilson sitting on the bench making $20 million just in case, he’s the best possible option to replace an irreplaceable player. Jimmy G has game experience, high-end talent, knows his teammates, knows the playbook, and is extremely confident in his own abilities within the offense. The Patriots turned down a heavy ransom for him this offseason because they refuse to put themselves in position to be one Tom Brady twisted ankle away from being out of contention, especially after doing so much to strengthen the overall roster.
After quarterback, cornerback is the most important position on the field. Malcolm Butler was more or less irreplaceable last year as the clear number one, but this year they have expensive free agent Stephon Gilmore to play alongside him and replace him if necessary. As for Gronk, they won the Super Bowl without him last year, so they probably aren’t too worried about losing him again. The receivers and running backs balance themselves out with superior depth, and Donta Hightower now has David Harris as a replacement.
The New England Patriots are nearing two consecutive decades of sustained excellence. They should be slowing down as the finish line approaches, trying their best to battle through one more healthy season so they can play for one final ring. Instead, they appear a lock to win at least one more ring, no matter what happens to any of their key personnel. Even more worrisome for the rest of the league, they are uniquely positioned to flip their entire core over to a new generation, just in time to dominate for another decade.