The New England Patriots kick off the season today vs the Tennessee Titans. A game that will feature a new and improved Patriots defense against Jake Locker in his first professional start. No quarterback has ever won his first start when they have played the Patriots in the Belichick era. The previous 3 times the Patriots have won.
The key for the Patriots this season will be establishing a running game. By all accounts the Pats have gone to a more traditional offense in the preseason. Many times they lined up in traditional pro sets with a full back in front of the half back.
Stevan Ridley will be relied upon to tote the rock 15-20 times a game It will be interesting to see what packages the Patriots come out in.
At anytime they could have tight ends Gronkowski, Hernandez, or Fells as a lead blocker for Ridley. We may also see newly signed back Lex Hilliard in a blocking back role. By establishing the run game the Patriots can keep the pressure off of Tom Brady. The Pats 1st offense did not get a lot of time together this preseason because of injury and a quirky schedule. The game against the Titans will be the first time the starting 5 on the offensive line will be together. It is imperative to run the ball to set up the play action pass. The offense can do many things with its personal but deception can be the key. With Gronk and Hernandez the Patriots can come out in multiple looks and in my opinion can really take off with a commitment to the run. Lets not forget the last time the Patriots were victorious in a game played at the beginning of February the offense was much more balanced then it has been the last 5 years.
What can we really expect this season from the defense? It is no secret that the defense the last few years has left something to be desired. Just like the running game, the defense was just as important when the Patriots were winning Super Bowls. The last 2 championship loses have been results of the defense not being able to get off the field. Enter dual first round picks defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Donte Hightower. The Pats did something they normally do not in trading up to select the two young players. Jones had a really nice preseason. If he can give that effort all year-long when other teams have game film on him he could be very special. Hightower teams with other young backers in Mayo and Spikes to form the all SEC linebacking crew. Spikes is the key he needs to stay healthy. When he is on the field the defense has an edge.
The much maligned secondary has 3rd year corner and newly named captain Devin McCourty as its lynch pin. McCourty had a pro bowl rookie season picking off 7 passes. Last season was very inconsistent for him. Weather it was injury, the lock out, a years worth of tape on him or all of the above, he needs to improve. I don’t think Devin is a good as he was his rookie season or as bad as he was last year. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. I believe he is more of the player we saw in year one than year two. If he is the rest of the secondary is that much better. Patrick Chung needs to stay on the field. His absence last year was felt by the revolving door at safety. Rookies Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner give great depth. The player I would keep an eye on is Ras-I Dowling. He is a big physical corner who was a starter last season before a hip injury landed him on injured reserve. In my eyes he can be a number 1 corner in the NFL if he can stay off the training table.
The Patriots offense seems to be in good shape with Tom Brady at the helm for his 13th season. With Wes Welker in his final year of his contract I would expect another solid year from the slot receiver. With Brandon Lloyd coming aboard the team finally has an outside threat. Those thinking he is the second coming of Randy Moss are mistaken. Lloyd can be a deep threat but his strength is the 15 -20 yard route. He knows the offense and that can only help. Just like in the running game the tight ends will factor in huge in the passing game. Rob Gronkowski set NFL records for touch downs and receiving yards by a tight end last season. Do not expect the same year. Aaron Hernandez will cut into his production as well as Lloyd. Newly acquired Greg Salas was the St Louis Rams best pass catcher for a 4 game stretch last year. Another player that knows the offense Salas and Edelman will provide valuable depth at the wide out position.
Bold predictions for the season.
Aaron Hernandez the other tight end in New England will have more catches than Rob Gronkowski.
Stevan Ridley will have a break out year and remind people of Curtis Martin. A one cut no frills running back who gets the job done.
Brandon Lloyd will lead the Patriots in receiving yards
Wes Welker will not top the 90 catch mark.
Chandler Jones will have an up and down year but will close the season out on a hot streak collecting more than 10 sacks on the season
McCourty will lead the team in interceptions with 6.
The Patriots will finish the season at 12-4 They will lose against Baltimore, San Francisco, Buffalo and Houston.
The Patriots get retribution in the playoffs beating Baltimore in the division round and Houston in Houston for a trip to their 6th Super Bowl in the Belichick era.
The sky is the limit for the Patriots this season, yet they are fighting history. Their have only been 2 teams to ever win a super bowl the season after losing the big game. The 1971 Dallas Cowboys and the 1972 Miami Dolphins. I am predicting it happens this year. The Patriots will be victorious in New Orléans this February putting a nice finishing touch on a truly amazing run of excellence. They will defeat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 47.
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