Quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick will enter their 15th NFL season together as members of the New England Patriots in 2014.
They began their tenure in 2000 when Brady was drafted in the sixth round and Belichick was hired by owner Robert Kraft. They've since won the AFC East 11 times, amassed 163 victories and won three Super Bowls.
But, is this the year the dynamic duo of football smarts and Hall of Fame talent finally drifts off into the sunset?
Both are getting up there in years - Belichick is 62 and Brady turned 37 in early August - but they always seem to put up victories no matter what type of obstacles or challenges are thrown their way. Why should this year be any different?
Even though the Patriots have gone almost a full decade without a Super Bowl victory - losing in the AFC Championship game the past two seasons - they're a legit contender every single year and are almost a shoo-in to take home the divisional crown. And it can all be attributed to Brady and Belichick who've become one of the best player-coach tandems in the history of sports.
A major key to their success is that they're fantastic problem solvers.
In 2013 a major concern for the Patriots was the lack of experienced receiving options Brady had to throw to. Yet they found a way to work through it and made it to the AFC title game. Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson were both rookies while Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman were not used to being the guys Brady looked to as his top wide outs. Brady still managed to put up good numbers, but at times it seemed chemistry was lacking, especially without the veteran presence of Wes Welker. Now with a full season under their belt and a better understanding of the playbook, the Patriots' offence could be a lot more fluid in 2014.
A major positive addition to the lineup will be tight end Rob Gronkowski. The 25-year-old has missed considerable time over the past two seasons with forearm, back and knee injuries, but will presumably be ready for Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins. A healthy Gronk, Brady's favourite target, for an entire season will be extremely beneficial for New England. They also acquired tight end Tim Wright in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Wright had a solid rookie campaign in 2013, recording 571 receiving yards with five touchdowns, and might flourish under the guidance of Belichick who loves using the two tight end offence.
The Patriots will be good again in 2014. Probably plenty good enough to win their sixth straight division title in a sub-par AFC-East, but the window for Brady and Belichick to win a fourth Super Bowl together is definitely closing.
This one would likely be the hardest yet, but it would also probably be the sweetest for the future Hall of Famers.
The defence should be improved too. New England averaged the seventh highest yards allowed per game in 2013 with 373.01, but that was with significant injuries to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (Achilles tendon) and Pro Bowl linebacker Jerod Mayo (pectoral muscle). Both should be back and healthy alongside linebacker Jamie Collins who'll look to build on a solid rookie campaign.
The Patriots made an off-season splash, picking up cornerback Darrelle Revis after he was released by the Buccaneers. The 29-year-old Revis should bring stability to the Patriots' secondary and is a year removed from a devastating knee injury suffered in 2012 as a member of the New York Jets. Revis could once again establish himself as one of the league's most dangerous corners, especially under Belichick in 2014.
Eyes on Easley
The Patriots selected defensive end Dominique Easley out of Florida in the first round (29th overall) of this year's draft. Easley suffered a knee injury last September while in college and many thought he'd fall out of the first round because of it. Easley might not see a lot of action in his rookie season, but it's something to keep an eye on if injuries start to rack up like last year.
New England's offensive line allowed Brady to be sacked 40 times and hit 81 times last season. Those numbers aren't horrible, but they're not great either. Their o-line will be similar to last year's, but will be without six-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins who was sent to Tampa in the Wright deal. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who missed the second half of 2013 with a broken leg, will be in the lineup to start the season. The Pats will need to protect an aging Brady better in 2014 because if he goes down, teaching an inexperienced Jimmy Garoppolo to play QB for a contender might be too much for even Belichick to handle.