They've insistently said that last year and this year are two different circumstances as the two teams face each other Sunday night in Oakland. Both teams have several of the same cast of characters but the Patriots have a different identity than last year's Super Bowl winner.
Until quarterback Drew Bledsoe sustained a chest injury in a 10-3 loss to the New York Jets last season, Tom Brady was little more than an unknown backup. Brady turned into an efficient game manager by making smart, decisive throws but staying away from risky plays in leading New England to a Super Bowl championship.
The Pats also relied on the efficient running of Antwain Smith, who rushed for 1,157 yards. Smith, who has 595 yards rushing this season, is on pace to gain 1,057 yards on the ground.
Where New England is a different club is that it no longer feels the need to protect Brady with a conservative approach. For the entire 2001 season, Brady completed 264-of-413 passes for 2,843 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The 25-year old Michigan product is about to significantly improve those numbers. In 2002, Brady has completed 243-of-370 passes for 2,472 yards, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Because of Brady's increased experience and comfort in running the offense, the Raiders are likely to see a more aggressive posture by New England's passing game.