For every time a twenty-something girl dives onto Facebook to share a photo of the most recent fried meal they had or their most recent engagement, there’s a twenty-something guy out there posting the latest cliche Facebook update about how pumped they are that football is back! IS IT REALLY? I didn’t notice. Most people like ice cream!
My apologies—I’m a bit feisty at the moment. Please just proceed to insert your favorite cliche “Football is back!” quote here. Moving on…
The Patriots. I got to watch them last night in their first preseason game. They actually drafted players that seemed like logical choices this year, and damn does that make me happy. I maintain, unabashedly, that the Patriots should be considered the favorite to win the Super Bowl this year. If Tom Brady doesn’t go down, I for one expect them to win it all. Put that on record.
Last night, I think every Patriots fan saw exactly what they wanted to see. First-round pick Chandler Jones in particular was a beast putting pressure on the opposing quarterback. At 6’5 and 266 pounds, this guy has literally no upper body—he’s all arms and legs, which he used last night to get to the quarterback with what looked like relative ease. Comparisons to Jason Pierre Paul have already started flooding in, but (a) that’s a heck of a comparison, and (b) let’s wait till the guy has some real success first, shall we? Regardless, it appears as if Jones will make the entire Patriots defense, and mainly the secondary, significantly better by actually putting some pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Better yet, Dont’a Hightower (6’4, 270 pounds) is probably the scariest man I’ve ever seen, and Jake Bequette (6’5, 274 pounds) looked like an absolute stud as well. I’d look for all three of these guys to be immediate contributors, and the Patriots just got a hell of a lot bigger and scarier on the defensive side.
So how does the rest of the team look?
Short of a full season preview, the Patriots strengths will again be on the offensive side of the ball. They have the best quarterback in the league, the best tight ends in the league, and an incredibly deep receiving corps. While I’ve always been a cheerleader for Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallet, actually watching them play last night was somewhat maddening. Everybody in New England has been spoiled for more than a decade now, and trying to come to terms with having to watch a quarterback aside from Tom Brady someday is going to be even worse than I expected. Aside from Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and maybe Drew Brees, watching other quarterbacks is simply something of a reminder that playing the position isn’t nearly as easy as those guys make it look.
As for the weaknesses of the Patriots, the secondary immediately jumps out again. I’d say with some more experienced players there, I’m generally less concerned about the secondary than I was last year—but it will still be maddening watching the better quarterbacks in the league convert on third-and-long. Like the newfound ability to apply pressure to opposing QBs, the secondary will instantly be that much better—it will at least be able to cause more turnovers than last season. Definitely a plus.
The bigger question mark for me this year is the Patriots offensive line. The O-line was missing some key pieces last night, but one of the supposedly more reliable players, Nate Solder, looked flat-out terrible. If injuries hit the O-line, the Pats don’t have a ton of depth. Tom could find himself in big trouble, especially on his blind side, and obviously this only adds to the possibility of him going down with a serious injury. This is what makes me wake up with a start, hyperventilating at night.
Perhaps one of the most interesting question marks for the Patriots is at the running back position. At this point Stevan Ridley is option 1A, Shane Vereen is 1B, and Danny Woodhead continues to play the same role he has all along. I think it’ll be a running back by committee situation throughout the year, and while I don’t think the running game will be a strength, I do think it will be sufficient. All the Patriots running backs need to do is not fumble the ball and find someone who can punch the ball across the goal line in the red zone.
I’d look for the Pats to go 13-3, and I want a rematch with the Giants in the Super Bowl. Let’s see what Eli can manage if we actually manage to put some pressure on him.