That's certainly a matter of great debate, and likely the only people who know are Brady, Bill Belichick and the team doctors. I'm sure you're well aware that the New England Patriots tend to keep any and all information tightly held. Brady was slow to get up after the spear to his back by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Clint Ingram, but he was back in the game after the one play he was required to sit out. He missed a portion of practice Wednesday and Thursday, and backup Matt Cassel took all the snaps with the first team Wednesday, but you can't read too much into that. That's more an indication Cassel will play a lot this Sunday, but Brady will probably start. Brady is listed as "probable," as he has been all season, on New England's injury report. While the Patriots would like to conceal as much as possible, if he was really hurt from the spearing, I'm sure he'd be listed as "questionable."
2. Can the current Patriots roster win a Super Bowl?
Absolutely. There are two relative weak points on this team: the receiving corps and the defensive secondary. The secondary received a boost with the return of Rodney Harrison, but poor tackling has dogged them all season. The receivers have been a disappointment. Rookie Chad Jackson has been beset by injuries all season and hasn't developed as the team hoped. But last week's emergence of tight end David Thomas is indicative of the true situation: Brady has connected with 15 different receivers this season, and he's thrown touchdowns to 11. Of course, Brady himself is now a "wily veteran" with experience in nearly a dozen playoff games and three Super Bowls. He, most certainly, knows how to win. The tandem of Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney is daunting, when healthy. The defense is among the best in the league -- though you wouldn't know it with the media constantly singing the praises of Baltimore, San Diego, Chicago. And the coaching staff, while depleted with defections since
the last Super Bowl win, is still top notch. And the latter is key because all teams are flawed in some way, and this staff is expert in finding and exploiting those flaws. There are no guarantees, but if they could win in 2001, they can certainly have the potential to win this year.
3. There have been some rumors floating around about Belicheck and his contract. How much longer will he be with the Patriots?
If injury reports are confidential, contract negotiations are state secrets. All I can offer here is an uninformed opinion. So, for all I've read about Belichick, he enjoys success. He's not like Bill Parcells in that he's looking for another challenge. I don't see Belichick retiring, only to come back a year or two later, and I don't see him taking a job with a struggling team just to see if he can make them better. The current rumor is that he'd want the New York Giants job if Tom Coughlin is fired because he'll be closer to his New Jersey roots. I can think of a dozen reasons Belichick will not take the Giants job. He has it good here. He has a great team, a great staff, a great owner, the media (for the most part) treats him well, he gets paid well. Leave? Why? There's enough challenge in maintaining excellence in a league like the NFL where free agency, the salary cap and other factors makes it difficult if not impossible.
4. How did Pats fans feel when they let Vinateri go?
Some (probably most) were livid. Others, more pragmatic, were simply nostalgic. I doubt you'll find anyone who wanted to see him go. A lot of people understood that Vinatieri's departure was as much his decision as the Patriots. Clearly, it wasn't solely about money. There are rumors he didn't like some of the things about the team and the way it's run, whether that meant the front office or the coaching staff is a little vague. There's also no doubt he'd benefit greatly by playing in a dome eight or more times per year. The jury is still out whether it was a good or bad move by either party, and the future more than anything will determine how the fans really feel about it. (Last season, there was a "raffle" of sorts: $10 per chance to win the rights to a Massachusetts-Patriots vanity license play bearing Vinatieri's jersey number I'd like to know how many chances were purchased and who won and how he or she feels about it.)
5. What is the secret to the success in NE? It seems they never have cap problems and lose big names every year but always are in Super Bowl contention.
I don't know how much of a secret it is. I think it goes like this: the ownership relies on Belichick to tell them what he's looking for in players. He discusses with Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli. From there it's a combination of Belichick, the coaches and the scouts analyzing the player pool and talking with those players and the current players to determine skill, reputation, fit within the system, whether he is a "Patriots kind of player." They collectively determine that player's worth, and then it's up to Pioli to negotiate. They tend to look for players who are complete packages, who can play more than one role if required -- whatever are the needs of the team. That's why free agency and, far more devastating, injuries have less impact on the Patriots than on other teams. A Patriots kind of player is one who has desire, but puts the team ahead of himself. Several players have given the team the "hometown discount" in contract negotiations because they believ
e in the system and want to stay and win instead of take more money elsewhere. Richard Seymour is the only Patriot elected to the Pro Bowl this year. It's nonsensical, but you don't hear the players complain, because they have loftier collective goals than individual recognition. Teams win Super Bowls. Individual players, like Terrell Owens, don't (and certainly not year after year).