Preseason football has started and it really couldn't have come soon enough for me. Thanks to the magic of NFL Sunday Ticket and the NFL Network, I've been able to see both of the Patriots preseason games. The Patriots did a lot in the offseason, acquiring Adalius Thomas, Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker (who's been one of my favorite non-Patriot players recently), Sammy Morris, Kelly Washington, and, of course, Randy Moss. Sadly, a lot of the new weapons, and a decent amount of the old ones, have been injured and haven't been able to play.
Moss has yet to play down. The starting running back Laurence Maroney hasn't either. Most of the tight ends have been injured and haven't practiced though Benjamin Watson did play briefly in the last preseason game. So what can you tell from preseason thus far?
The starting defense, which was at about 90% in this preseason game (notably missing Richard Seymour), looks terrifying. They were fast, hard-hitting, and smart, really giving Tennessee a fit and making Vince Young run for his life. There was an obvious dropoff as the second and third team defenses starting rotating in. It was nice to see Randall Gay, our starting cornerback in the last Super Bowl win, back to form. He's had a rough time with injuries since the big win, but he's looking sharp thusfar.
The starting offense, on the other hand, looked average-to-mediocre. Without our starting running back, the run game was so-so. The timing with the new wide receivers was off, with passes going wide or receivers not looking when they should have been. Tom Brady threw two interceptions which, while poor decisions, could also be blamed on his target, Stallworth, for not running the route correctly in one case and slipping in another. The offensive line looked horrible throughout, with all the Patriots' quarterbacks getting hit repeatedly.
For the wide receivers that did play, Wes Welker and Jabar Gaffney did the best. Reche Caldwell looked sloppy, dropping a ball and having a catch wrestled away from him by a cornerback; I think he's at risk for being cut. Stallworth looked a little bit out of it, as I said before. The guy I really like is Bam Childress, who's a small guy that's been on the practice team mostly for the past couple years. Every preseason game he's played in he does exactly what has to be done: he makes tough catches, he returns punts, and he's not afraid to take and give hits. I really thought he'd make the team last year due to the weak wide receivers we had (he was brought up for a handful of games but saw limited action). I really don't think he has a chance this season with all the talent at that position, but he's still fun to watch.
At this point, I still feel that the Patriots are the best team in the AFC East. If they can get (and stay) healthy at all positions, they have the potential to be one of the best in the league. The starting defense will be a terror this year (again, if they can stay health). I just hope that the starting offense gets their act together. If Brady keeps getting hit the way he was in this last game, it'll be a very short season for him.
It wasn't too long ago that I made my prediction about the Celtics. My editor Jim wondered in the comments if my tune had changed given the recent news that the Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett. The answer is yes, I don't think the Celtics will suck next year, but will they be good?
Given that the NBA's Eastern conference is about as pathetic as the NFC, the acquisition of Garnett virtually ensures that the Celtics will be a playoff team. That is, barring any injuries, which may not be a lock since the new big three (Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce) are all over 30 and two of them didn't play a whole season last year. I saw one "expert" on SportsCenter claiming that the Celtics could now contend with not only teams in the East, but also teams in the West. Okay, that's a bit of a stretch.
The Celtics have three good players and then...um...wait, there's no one left! They traded away most of the young talent that played well last year (Delonte West in the Allen deal, Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, and Gerald Green in the Garnett deal), so who else is going to play? The Celtics have no true point guard (2nd year player Rajon Rondo will have to start now) and no bench. You can't even begin to have a chance against the top-tier Western teams without someone coming off the bench to score in double figures. The Celtics have no answer to the Manu Ginobli, no one to cover Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, or Amare Stoudamire, no one to keep up with Tony Parker or Steve Nash. So if the Celtics got to the Finals we'd most likely be looking at another embarassing sweep.
Danny Ainge basically traded away the future to try to win now. The Celtics have three all-stars over thirty years old and basically have one or two seasons to try to win it all. If (and when) that fails, they'll be left in worse shape than before the Ainge era began because they'll have no good young talent. They won't have ended up in the lottery because they'll have improved enough not to qualify. Rick Pitino banked his Celtics career on getting Tim Duncan; Ainge banked it on getting either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, and when that didn't happen, he threw the rest away to try to win now.
This reminds me of when the Houston Rockets traded for Charles Barkley, who joined Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Three of the 50 greatest players in league history couldn't win the championship and the Rockets have been up and down ever since but never getting close to winning another championship. I fear this is exactly where the Celtics will end up. Time will tell, of course, and I bet season ticket sales are up. Will I be watching next year? Of course. Will I be surprised if they aren't challenging for the title? No way. But I'd really like a basketball team to cheer for again.