The Part I Patriots played in an era when stingy defense ruled the day. But rule changes – some of which came to fruition because of complaints made about the physical Patriots defense – and football’s natural evolution have flipped the script. The N.F.L. is a passing league now. So the Patriots have put themselves at the cutting edge of offense – just as they were at the cutting edge when perplexing, multifaceted defense first came in vogue. This is the brilliance of Belichick. He makes sweeping strategic adjustments better than any coach in N.F.L. history. Yes, the Part II Patriots have come up short in the postseason lately. But the Part II Patriots have also featured just about every different scheme you can imagine, from the vertical Randy Moss period to today’s horizontal tight end period, from blitzing 3-4 man defenses to classic 4-3 zone schemes. It is this malleability that keeps thrusting New England into the postseason. And it is this malleability that makes the Patriots, once again, as big a threat as any team to take the title.