Revisiting 10 Bold New England Patriots Preseason Predictions
Teams shatter expectations every year, and to serve as a measuring stick of my own expectations, I decided it would be fun to look back at my expectations for the New England Patriots and see how they fared by comparison.
For the most part, they defied my expectations. Some of that was due to injuries, some of it was due to their 3-3 start to the season, some of it was players either exceeding or falling short of my predictions.
While the overall theme of my original predictions was that the Patriots would enjoy a very successful season, some of my predictions are rather laughable in hindsight.
In the interest of accountability, here's a look back at what I was looking for from the Patriots in 2012, with a look at the final result and whether I was right or wrong.
Tom Brady Will Be Sacked 33 or More Times: False
What I Said: "Protection issues have been prevalent all preseason, and unless the offensive line has put it together in the short time since we last saw them, quarterback Tom Brady could be under a lot of duress this season."
What Happened: Brady was sacked only 27 times, and was under pressure on just 25 percent of his dropbacks, the second-lowest percentage in the league (via ProFootballFocus.com).
In hindsight, the health issues at right tackle and right guard may have impacted the projection. What we saw in the preseason involved issues concerning a few backups. Those positions were resumed by the rightful players during the season.
Even with Logan Mankins missing six games, Dan Connolly missing two games and Sebastian Vollmer missing a game of his own, the offensive line held up. In fact, it even exceeded expectations in some areas, opening up holes for a running game that averaged 136.5 yards per game.
Over 110 Receptions for Wes Welker: True
What I Said: "This is essentially the same offense as last year, minus Deion Branch and plus Brandon Lloyd. After an offseason where it seemed like the Patriots were determined to surround Brady with familiar weapons, Welker's presence remains the most familiar one."
What Happened: Welker was the lone constant in the Patriots offense in 2012, amid a sea of injuries and changes in the offense. So what did he do? Exactly what he's done now five of the six seasons he's played in New England: reel in over 110 catches.
It will be interesting to see if this season was the tipping point for a long-term deal for Welker, and it won't take long for us to find out, as free agency begins March 12.
Brandon Lloyd Will Not Light Up the Scoreboard: True
What I Said: "It would be easy to predict big things for Lloyd, who has put up big numbers in McDaniels' offense two straight years with a combined 147 receptions for 2,414 yards and 16 touchdowns, but Lloyd was easily the best receiver for the Broncos in 2010 and the Rams in 2011. With Wes Welker and the tight ends, there won't be an overwhelming number of opportunities coming his way."
What Happened: The numbers I predicted may not have been exact—I expected Lloyd to finish "somewhere in the 50-catch, 800-yard, eight-touchdown range"—but the idea was on track.
He shattered my expectations in both receptions (74) and yards (911), but fell four touchdowns short of my expected mark.
Lloyd was targeted 131 times, but caught only 56.5 percent of the passes thrown his way—the lowest mark for any Patriots receiver targeted more than 30 times.
Lloyd was not a disappointment by any means, but in an offense that consists of Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and (for once) a solid running game, there are only so many opportunities to go around. With full health from Gronkowski and Hernandez, though, who knows how much smaller Lloyd's role might have been.
Devin McCourty Will Struggle and Will Move to the Slot: False
What I Said: "Yes, ideally a first-round cornerback isn't your third cornerback, but the Patriots run sub packages more often than they run a base defense, which means the third cornerback is essentially a starter anyway. Plus, moving McCourty to the slot takes advantage of his willingness to get his nose dirty in run defense."
What Happened: Is there a category for "extremely false"?
After struggling in 2011, many people might assume that McCourty's switch to safety was expedited by poor play at cornerback. On the contrary, McCourty was in the middle of a renaissance at cornerback before injuries to starting safeties Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung, coupled with poor play from their backups, forced the Patriots to move McCourty to the deep end of the secondary.
All they got for their troubles was a much-improved secondary that finally looked like a cohesive unit, which also finally began to mitigate the damage being done through the air, particularly on deep balls.
Once again, we enter the offseason wondering whether McCourty will be a full-time safety or make the switch back to cornerback. Either way, though, there's reason enough to have confidence in his abilities.
Chandler Jones Will Log More Than 10 Sacks: False
What I Said: "The Patriots are looking to replace 20 sacks left behind by defensive ends Mark Anderson and Andre Carter, and although Jones figures to do much more than simply rush the passer, he will have plenty of opportunities to do so. If the preseason is any indication, he should be able to maximize those opportunities."
What Happened: Chandler Jones was playing like one of the best rookie defensive players in this year's draft class, before an ankle injury sidelined him for a coupe of games and stalled his production. The difference in his production before and after the injury is incredible.
If he had played all 16 games at the pace of his first 10, he would have finished with between nine and 10 sacks. He finished the season with six sacks, however, making me all-in-all false.
The Two Tight Ends Will Total 22 or More Touchdowns: False
What I Said: "Yes, this is a more versatile offense than the ones we've seen in the past with these two tight ends, but with the absence of a top-notch goal-line back like the Patriots had in BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Patriots might be throwing the ball a lot more down near the goal line than they have in recent years."
What Happened: I was wrong, but injuries threw a wrench in my prediction. In fact, Gronkowski averaged one touchdown per regular-season game (on pace for 16) and Hernandez had five touchdowns in 10 regular-season games (on pace for eight). Had they played the entire season, they would have ended up with exactly 22 touchdowns.
If only I could apply asterisks.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis Will Not Be Replaced, but He Will Not Be Missed: True
What I Said: "At some point, one of New England's running backs will inevitably fumble the ball. At that point, New England sports talk radio will inevitably blow it out of proportion, saying that they shouldn't have let Green-Ellis walk (especially if it costs them the game)."
What Happened: Stevan Ridley was too busy being the most dominant running back the Patriots have seen since Corey Dillon to give New England sports talk radio any time to lament the departure of Green-Ellis.
The Patriots, as was assumed, couldn't replace the fumble-proof abilities of Green-Ellis (and, as it turns out, Green-Ellis couldn't maintain that sparkly white reputation forever, as he fumbled three times this season). Ridley's explosive abilities as a runner, though, made Green-Ellis' dependability a distant memory.
Deion Branch Will Be Back: True
What I Said: "One of the Patriots' surprise cuts as they trimmed the roster down to 53, Deion Branch figures to make a return at some point in the 2012 season. The Patriots currently have just four wide receivers on their roster. Although the position isn't as valuable to the Patriots as it is to other teams (by virtue of there being only two or three wide receivers on the field at most), just one injury could leave the Patriots thinner than a twig at wide receiver."
What Happened: Not exactly a bold prediction, but it came true, so I'll take it.
Branch was on and off the roster in 2012, rejoining the team in Week 3 before being released and off the roster for four games midseason.
Injuries left the Patriots ravaged at the skill position, and they will have to figure out a way to develop talent at wide receiver if they ever want to move on permanently from Branch.
Aaron Hernandez Will Put Up Better Numbers Than Rob Gronkowski: False
What I Said: "Hernandez has looked increasingly comfortable with Brady all preseason long in practices. He is the Patriots' quintessential matchup problem, and the Patriots will likely look to take advantage of that wherever they can."
What Happened: An ankle injury in Week 2 threw a wrench in my visions of an All-Pro season for Hernandez, and he was ultimately outperformed by Gronkowski across the board.
Not much else to add here.
15-1 and a Trip to the Super Bowl: False
What I Said: "It may not be the sexy prediction that 16-0 would be, but to predict a team to lose just one game is bold enough from this perspective, especially since only five teams in NFL history have gone 15-1 since the league expanded to a 16-game season. Of those teams, only two have won the Super Bowl. It's certainly feasible for this team to go undefeated, and the league's easiest schedule makes it tempting, but I just can't bring myself to predict an undefeated regular season."
What Happened: Well, this prediction was dead in Week 3, even if the Patriots had made the Super Bowl.
Then they didn't.
That'll teach me to set unrealistic expectations...oh, wait, wasn't that the whole concept of this to begin with?
Final Score Card: 4 out of 10, Epic Fail
Good job, good effort.
Still, I sucked this year.
I'll try to do better next time.
So, too, will the Patriots.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.