Let's get something out of the way: The Patriots are not as good of a team without WR Randy Moss. Reacquiring Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch was nice, but he's no Moss.
Patriots fans seem concerned that this drop-off in talent will diminish the offense so much that the Pats will miss the playoffs. With the secondary issues, fans believe this is a team that needs to score 30-plus points a game, like it has, to make the postseason, and trading Moss will not get it done.
I don't buy this.
Did opponents' game-plan to shut down Moss, and therefore open up the middle of the field for WR Wes Welker and TE Aaron Hernandez? Yes. But that doesn't mean that suddenly every defense will eliminate the Patriots' short-to-medium passing game. It has been well-documented that Moss' targets decreased drastically following Week Two; the Patriots can dink and dunk even with defenses not having to worry about Moss.
Last week, Patriots color commentator and former WR Gino Cappelletti told PFW, "You don't necessarily have to have someone stretch the defense all the time, just every now and then." Well, the Patriots have a guy who can be a deep threat "every now and then" in speedster Brandon Tate. And even Hernandez can try to fill that role on occasion.
When this team won its three Super Bowls, it wasn't because of a star in the Moss mold flying down field. The offense hinged on spreading the ball around to a bunch of slot receivers, like Branch. That's why it's fitting that Branch, who led the Patriots in receiving twice, returns to Foxborough as the offense will continue with what worked the last time he was a Pat.
The only difference is you won't see Tom Brady chuck the ball downfield once or twice a game to Moss. And if he does air it out, it will probably go to Tate, who could end up being a star in his own right. Don't fret about the offense yet, and don't think this has turned into a Moss-for-Branch swap. The Patriots' offense will be just fine, and Branch will help accomplish what they have already been trying to do.