It's an easy trap to fall into.
Team acquires big-name player. Big headlines follow. The hype machine starts spinning. And the next thing you know, it's time to declare that team the one to beat.
Despite annual reminders that this is seldom the way things actually unfold in the NFL, it's happening again in some circles. Already, some are calling the New York Jets the favorite in the AFC East, and declaring that the New England Patriots are now playing second fiddle in their own division.
However, somewhere along the line -- from the time the Patriots hammered the Jets 31-14 on Nov. 22, 2009, to when the Jets backed into the playoffs thanks to the Indianapolis Colts' pulling Peyton Manning, to the present day -- perspective has been lost. I think Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who grew up in Needham, Mass., admiring the work of Celtics legend Red Auerbach, would even agree that it's too early to light the victory cigar.
This reminds me of something that former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli used to say from time to time.
He said anyone can be a Super Bowl champion in March and April, but his goal was to build a team that would be there in December, January and February on a yearly basis. The point was that it's easy to make splashy moves at this time of year, and that many media members, and in turn fans, are easily swayed by the quick fix. We want the answers now.
But in the end, it is the totality of all offseason moves over time -- from both a short-term and long-term perspective -- that will ultimately tell the championship story on a year-to-year basis.
Pioli should know. He's won three of them.
Pioli once challenged me to match the newspaper headlines from March and April with results in December and January. It wasn't pretty, and my work was right there at the top of the underperforming list. If my opinions were evaluated as harshly as Pioli himself was, I would have been looking for a new job.
That's one reason conceding the AFC East to anyone on April 12 is a dubious proposition, especially when Tom Brady is the quarterback of the Patriots and Mark Sanchez is entering his second season with the Jets.
That's not to say it isn't fair to scrutinize personnel decisions, or the lack of personnel decisions, a team has made in recent weeks. The key, from this perspective, is that the proper context is attached to such analysis, reflecting that moves made to this point are part of an incomplete picture.
If the season started today, the Patriots would be in a challenging spot. Thankfully for them, the season starts in early September.
Julian Edelman is one example from a Patriots perspective as to why it's way too early to judge anything. At this time last year, Edelman wasn't even on the Patriots' roster. But had we known what his contributions ultimately would be back then, the outlook of the team's receiving corps would have been dramatically different.
Adalius Thomas represents the opposite end of the spectrum. Remember most of those New England-based headlines generated back in March 2007 about how a creative defensive mind like Bill Belichick would unleash fury with a big-money signing and versatile player like Thomas?
This is not to tear down the Jets' recent moves, even though I do believe their swap of Thomas Jones for LaDainian Tomlinson is a step back at running back -- both on the field and in the locker room. Overall, I commend their aggressiveness and believe they are not only one of the NFL's more talented teams, but also one of the most compelling. I like what Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan have created in a short period of time.
But let's slow down.
Pioli used to have a note written on the board in his Patriots office that reminded him that he wasn't collecting talent, but instead, building a team. That process is ever-evolving and requires a lot more than a few splashy, headline-grabbing moves in March and April.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.