The belief endures that as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still striving toward a fourth ring in New England, the Patriots will remain solidly in the Roman-numeral mix.

It's Brady-Belichick football metaphysics. Smoothes over anything. Theirs is an 11-5 or better world no matter what.

First-degree murder charges against the team's most versatile offensive weapon (one who still counts $2.55 million against the 2013 cap)? Wes Welker's free-agent go route to Mile High? Gronk's aching back? The Tebow Circus in town?

Even the most devout B&B believer has to admit this is a whole lot of "it is what it is" for the Dynasty Duo to smooth over.

But NFL analysts in the hours after the Commonwealth of Massachusetts slapped leg irons on Aaron Hernandez last Wednesday reassured us that Brady and Belichick are, well, still Brady and Belichick, as dependable as sunrise and sunset.

The belief endures that these two can make the playoffs just by getting out of bed and brushing their teeth. This assumes, of course, the rest of the AFC East remains subservient to its football masters from Foxboro and the Patriots do not get stuck with Tim Tebow as their stretch-the-field tight end.

Still, with the opening of training camp a little more than three weeks away, and obstacles piling high, many B&B believers are this time actually a little worried.


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Their biggest worry is about Brady's supporting offensive cast.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski is the only one of Brady's top five receivers from last season still on the roster, and he is expected to open training camp on the PUP list following back surgery June 18. While Brady has in some years done a lot with relatively little (we fondly recall the Reche Caldwell Era), the Patriots' defense in such years was usually more dependable over the long haul than this one will likely be.

And while the offense has become the greater issue in recent season-ending losses (13, 17, 21 and 14 points scored in curtain-closers the last four years), it is still that offense which has assured the Patriots in recent years would make the playoffs.

While fans this past weekend were able to turn in their Hernandez No. 81 Patriot jerseys to the Patriots Pro Shop in exchange for another player's jersey of equal value, there is no player of equal offensive value the Patriots can readily turn to.

And though his trial is still probably more than a year away, Hernandez's film-at-11 absence can't help but hover over the team, no matter how much the coach and players will never talk about it. This is a highly publicized murder case involving a player who, had he remained healthy (missed six games last season with an ankle injury), projected to be the team's most important offensive player besides Brady.

If the offense struggles this coming season, people will wonder how much of it is locked up inside the Bristol County House of Correction.

If Welker does his usual thing and catches 100 passes in his first season as Peyton Manning's catcher, while Danny Amendola does his frequent thing and gets hurt, people will seethe over the Patriots stringing along a true Patriot like Welker so they could lock up Hernandez at $40 million over five years. ("Locked up" now has a disturbing new meaning when speaking of Hernandez.)

Brady and Belichick are still nice to lean on in difficult times. But it figures to be more difficult this time for the coach to simply snap his fingers and make the real world go away. Unless, that is, it turns out that the Patriots had one heck of a 2013 draft.

Follow David Pevear at Twitter.com/merganser10