Monday, September 3, 2012

32 in 32: New England Patriots

New England Patriots
Read the introduction here
Read the 49ers preview here
New York Giants tomorrow

2011 Record: 14-2

Key Acquisitions: Will Allen, Jake Bequette, Tony Fiammetta, Steve Gregory, Dont'a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Brandon Lloyd, Tavon Wilson
Key Departures: Mark Anderson, Andre Carter, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Gary Guyton, Matt Light, Chad Ochocinco (at the time he was Ochocinco, but of course now he's Chad Johnson).

Once again, the Pats will have a great regular season, but at this point it seems like a forgone conclusion that they will lose in the playoffs. Tom Brady is 35, but you can never predict when the greats will regress, so I won't try. The offense looks really strong once again, and the running backs could be surprisingly good as a unit. The defense has to be better this year, as they were way too talented to be next to last in the league. While it will be better, that doesn't exactly mean that they'll make the stops in the playoffs when needed. While they are almost a lock for a top 2 seed every year, they might end up with another playoff failure. Let's just say that I couldn't find too many losses on their schedule this year. They have the easiest schedule in the NFL (based on last year's record), despite it being a first place schedule.

Tom Brady is great. No surprise there. If you are surprised however, then you have major issues or you're a super homer Jets fan. He had the second most passing yards in a season in NFL history. Of course he finished behind Drew Brees in that category. Let's hope this dog won't track his scent and try to latch onto his arm again.

Individually, none of the running backs really stand out, but Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, and Danny Woodhead will all see a good amount of carries. Woodhead will be utilized more as a pass catcher out the backfield, taking over the longtime Kevin Faulk role. Ridley has the most breakout potential, so he'll end up getting the bulk of the rush attempts.

Wes Welker is still a slot receiver disguised as a #1. He is not a #1. Not enough down field speed, but what he lacks in speed, he makes up for with hands, route running, and intelligence. Once again, he'll be Tom Brady's best friend. The real deep threat on this team, is Brandon Lloyd. Josh McDaniels returned to New England as the offensive coordinator, which means that Lloyd is very excited. With McDaniels as his coach in Denver, he had by far his best season, with Kyle Orton as his quarterback. This about how that season would have turned out with Tom Brady throwing him passes. Yeah, exactly. Julian Edelman is a decent short yardage receiver. Matthew Slater is a very good special teamer, so maybe he can bring some of that skill to the offensive side of the ball. Maybe.

Rob Gronkowski. Physical specimen, freak of nature, legendary partier. The Gronk will have another great season, but not nearly as good as last year. That was just way too good to be repeated. Especially since Aaron Hernandez will be featured more in the offense, fresh off his new contract extension. Hernandez is the third best tight end in the NFL, but the second best on his own team. And talk about an embarrassment of riches, the Pats claimed Jake Ballard off waivers early in the offseason and they went out and signed Visanthe Shiancoe. Ballard was a good young pass catcher for the Giants but he is currently on the inactive list. Shiancoe has proven himself to be an average at worst NFL tight end. If the top two members of the Boston TE Party happen to go down with an injury, Ole Hoodie won't worry too much.

Nate Solder was good at times, but had a lot of bad moments. He's excused however, because he was only a rookie last year. Logan Mankins is probably the best guard in the league, so he'll have yet another fine year. Dan Connolly is currently penciled in as the starting center, but that could change. It's very possible that  he can move to right guard and Ryan Wendell could take over in the middle.  Donald Thomas didn't really impress during the preseason. This all of course hinges on whether or not Brian Waters comes back. He was excused from all of training camp and he's considering retirement, but if he does return, he should still be a really good blocker. That is if he is healthy and in shape, something that we won't know until he finally makes his way to Foxborough. Sebastian Vollmer is a great tackle on the right side. It's possible that he could switch positions with Nate Solder, simply because Vollmer is more of a sure thing on Brady's blind side.

For some reason, the Pats decided to improve their hellacious defense by adding to the part of it that was good. The pass rush was the only saving grace for this defensive unit last year, with impressive pass rushers Mark Anderson and Andre Carter being the key factors with 10 sacks each. Carter was injured late in the year and as a result, was not signed by anybody in free agency. Anderson on the other hand, went to the division rival Bills. They are going to be replaced by first round pick Chandler Jones and third rounder Jake Bequette. Bequette won't be starting, but he could possibly find playing time as a situational pass rusher. Rob Ninkovich got a good amount of pressure on the quarterback last year, despite the fact that he was playing at the linebacker position. Expect a jump in his sack totals when he moves to defensive end this season. He's also pretty good in run support, and his biggest weakness was in pass coverage, so playing with his hand on the ground should help that deficiency. Jermaine Cunningham was good in his rookie year and took a step back last season, so I'm assuming that the lockout had an effect on him. Kyle Love is not a good pass rusher at all, but he's decent at stopping the run. Hopefully that makes up for his inability to scare the quarterback. Vince Wilfork had yet another great season. While his sack totals don't reflect it, he did a very nice job of getting into the backfield. He is a rock in the middle of the defensive line, and also stops the run pretty well. He even recorded two interceptions. Run fat man, run! He's also much younger than I expected, as he's turning 31 in November. He's probably the best defensive tackle in football.

The group of linebackers look really stout. Jerod Mayo is a former Pro Bowler and All-Pro who wasn't at his best in 2011. He's still young and he's talented. Brandon Spikes is very good at stuffing the run. Dont'a Hightower looks to be a jack-of-all-trades at the outside linebacker position, and I certainly think that he'll prove to be a very good draft pick.

Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty both have major big play potential. That's only when they aren't being victimized in coverage. Neither will lock any receiver down, because they both enjoy going after interceptions. Not the greatest mindset in the world, but they cause turnovers. Sterling Moore of Lee Evans fame could push for a starting job over one of these two corners. As you can see by that video, he goes to knock the ball away rather than for the pick. Patrick Chung is a good safety, while Steve Gregory looks to be a joke in coverage. A joke I say.

Special Teams
Stephen Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the league because of his accuracy. He has a very reliable foot. Zoltan Mesko was once again very good, and he's one of the best punters in the NFL. Nice kicking game here. Julian Edelman will handle most of the punt returns, but don't be surprised to see some Wes Welker sprinkled in there as well. Danny Woodhead could return some punts as well, and he and Matthew Slater are currently listed as the kick returners this year. Some potential here.

14-2, 1st in AFC East

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