Over the course of 32 days (or so) I will be previewing all 32 NFL teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2014 season. This post is previewing the New England Patriots.
The Patriots have been the model of consistency since the turn of the century, making the playoffs 11 times since 2001, including three Super Bowl championships. With head coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady still at the helm of the team, you should expect another successful season for the team. The Patriots have won 12 games each of the last two seasons and a third straight season is definitely possible. If everything goes right for the team, more than a dozen wins isn’t out of the question, especially since their division is a fairly easy one.
Some people considered Brady’s 2013 season to be a disappointment, but his 4343 passing yards put him sixth in the league in that category and his 25 touchdown passes had him missing the top 10 by one. Most teams would probably like to have a quarterback put up those kinds of numbers. Brady’s numbers look even more impressive when you consider that his top target, TE Rob Gronkowski, played only seven games — six starts — and caught just 39 balls. WR Julian Edelman led the team in receptions, with 105 for 1056 yards. The drop-off to the second-most receptions was significant; WR Danny Amendola had 54 catches in just six starts. No running back started more than seven games for the Pats, and that was LaGarrette Blount, who is with the Steelers this season. The team’s returning running backs, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen combined for just shy of 1000 yards in seven total starts.
If guys like Gronk and Amendola can stay healthy — a big “if” considering their injury histories the last couple of seasons — this offense should be able to compete with any other team in the league. The Pats play a couple tough defenses in the first few weeks of the season, with back-to-back primetime games against the Chiefs and Bengals, who ranked fifth and sixth in defense, respectively, last season. Other obstacles on the schedule include a likely shootout at home against the Broncos before the Pats’ bye. After the bye, they face three games that could be tough: at the Colts, home against the Lions and at the Packers. The Pats finish the season with three divisional games, one against each of their in-division rivals. Again, the AFC East should be the Pats’ to lose if they play anywhere near their expectations.