FOXBOROUGH – It has been a long off-season for the New England Patriots, but at long last football is back! Fortunately, for fans up north, a Super Bowl championship has made the off-season much more entertaining than it has been for any other team’s fan base.

But, like everyone, we still missed football just as much. We just got to party a little longer, that’s all.

But the celebration has to come to an end at some point. After a pre-game ceremony this Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots will put the 2018-19 season behind them for good and look ahead to their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the season in store for them. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are patently uninterested in ending their dynasty now. And it’s a long road to get back to the Super Bowl. And I think the Patriots have a good shot at winning again.

Over the off-season, I have profiled every position the Patriots have and I want to reiterate quickly that, aside from Brady, I believe the New England running game, linebackers, secondary, and special teams are going to be the standouts of the year.

Without Rob Gronkowski, New England will lack in major receiving targets and extra blocking help, but this receiving corps is definitely not the worst the Patriots have ever trotted out there.

With a solid roster and very few glaring weaknesses, the Patriots are poised to be the favorites of the AFC once again. Ahead of the season, I believed the Indianapolis Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs were the toughest competitors New England would have to make it back to and out of the AFC Championship Game again.

With the surprise retirement of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, I really only see the Chiefs as legitimate threats to the Patriots. And New England went 2-0 against Kansas City last season, including in the conference title match.

Patrick Mahomes has been painted as the heir apparent to Brady’s dominance, but you can only inherit something when the latter gives it up. And I don’t think Brady is even close to being done.

The real challenge will come from the NFC, which is stacked with legitimate contenders, including the Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints, among others. The Patriots stack up well against any of the NFC’s best, but they definitely might look better comparatively thanks to a weaker conference and a weak division they can beat up on.

I am going to be bold and predict a 13-3 record for the Patriots (remind you of the Super Bowl score from last year at all?) and another trip to the Super Bowl, where I foresee them facing off against the Cowboys.

And, obviously, I would never dare bet against Tom Brady. Pencil in a seventh Super Bowl victory for now.

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