Patriots' biggest key to success

When projecting the success of the New England Patriots over the next three years, which ties into ESPN Insider’s Future Power Rankings, it brings us back to the hot-button issue that set off some fireworks when the club used a late second-round draft pick (No. 62) to select quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo:

How many more years will Tom Brady still be playing at a high level?

Brady turns 37 on Aug. 3 and wants to play into his 40s. The Patriots hope that is the case, but as evidenced by the selection of Garoppolo, they are also planning for the possibility it isn’t. That’s smart business.

At the same time, we'll follow up with another question: Anyone here willing to bet against Brady?

This reporter isn’t. Those who watched all or some of the Patriots’ 13 spring practices would be hard-pressed to say anything looked different with Brady, whose arm strength still looks to be top-notch. He keeps himself in tiptop shape and still carries a sixth-round-draft-pick chip on his shoulder.

As long as Brady is still playing at a high level over the next three years, the Patriots have the often-elusive piece to make them a contender.