With the upcoming NFL season slowly approaching, I am getting very anxious to see what the New England Patriots have in store for us. The Patriots will field a much different team from a year ago, and they are the early favorites to win it all.
Let's take a look at the top position battles this season, their upcoming schedule, and some possible obstacles that could hurt our run to the Superbowl.
Top Position Battles in '09
The most exciting addition the Patriots made this offseason was the acquisition of running back, Fred Taylor.
The Pats ran a much more conservative offense last year, trying to adjust to the loss of Brady. There were only three teams who ran the ball more times per game than New England in 2008. Although I don't expect us to run the ball as much this year, we could use another hard nosed runner in the backfield.
I have not been impressed with the development of Laurence Maroney, and am starting to believe he might not be the answer we all made him out to be.
The best way to run in New England is by committee. The tandem of Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, LaMont Jordan, Laurence Maroney, and BenJarvis Green Ellis proved to work well for us.
As a team, they averaged over 140 yards per game and over 4.4 yards per carry. Although I believe Fred Taylor might be the most talented of the group, Laurence Maroney has the most upside, giving him the early edge to start on opening day.
With the release of LaMont Jordan, I also see Laurence Maroney getting the first chance on goal line carries.
The Pats will most likely go back to their pass happy offense this year. Kevin Faulk is the best back we have at catching the ball out of the back field. This reason alone leads me to believe that Faulk will see the most plays this year in the backfield.
Expect all five running backs to split carries based on who Coach Belichick believes is best suited for that situation.
The wide receiver position is going to be fun to watch this season for Patriots fans.
The new acquisitions, Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis, will be battling for that No. 3 spot, opposite Moss. This battle will greatly depend on who can work better with Brady in camps.
Galloway is 37 years old and is coming off of an injury plagued season. Galloway depends on his speed to get open down field so if he comes into camp lacking this speed we are used to I wouldn't be surprised if he gets buried in the depth chart.
Lewis is a lot younger and has more potential to be a speedy down field threat. The other player who might battle for this spot is rookie Brandon Tate.
Unfortunately, he is coming off of a very serious ACL injury and might miss the entire season. He also tested positive for marijuana at the rookie combine. I don't expect to see him play much more then maybe special teams this year.
Lewis has what it takes to be the No. 3 receiver in an offense that suits him much better than what he had in Philadelphia. I am giving Lewis the early edge.
This is probably the toughest position to break down right now for the Patriots.
Coach Belichick has a lot of talent to work with this year and I am anxious to see how he utilizes it. Recent additions Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden are the most experienced of the group, which will probably make them day one starters.
However, last year's rookies, Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley also impressed me.
The guy I am the most excited to watch this year is rookie Darius Butler. He had an excellent career at the University of Connecticut on both sides of the ball. He was their starting corner back but also played wide receiver, indicating how good his hands are.
He has tremendous speed and athleticism, jumping 40" in the vertical jump, and recording a 4.46 in the 40 meter dash. The cousin of Ravens running back Willis McGahee, he can play in both man to man and zone coverages. He has a good nose for the ball and is a great open field tackler.
Give Butler some time learning behind Springs and Bodden, but if one them should get hurt, Butler will make some noise this year.
In Depth Look at New England's 09' Schedule
According to ESPN.com, the Patriots have the third hardest schedule in the NFL this season. Their opponents went 151-105 last year for a .580 winning percentage.
Does this worry me? Not at all. Our first game of the year comes against the Buffalo Bills on the first Monday Night Football game of the year. This should prove to be an epic battle between Randy Moss and Terrell Owens.
However, Bills starting running back Marshawn Lynch is out through suspension. The Bills offense will need some time adjusting to the new look offense. New England will start off the year with an exciting win.
Expect a lot of big plays on defense, giving New England a 2-0 start. Their next five games before their bye week are Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Tennessee, and Tampa Bay, with their only away game at Denver.
Without Jay Cutler under center I do not see them as much of a threat this year. Tennessee is the best team we will play before our bye week, but without Albert Haynesworth, their defensive line won't nearly be as scary as it once was.
We should be undefeated leading up to our bye week.
The Colts game is in Indianapolis on a Sunday night. The Saints game is in New Orleans on a Monday night. This will be a very tough stretch for New England.
I think we will split games with Miami, and come out of this five game stretch with two losses. I mean, you can't expect us to go undefeated every year can you?
Our last four games come against Carolina, Buffalo, Jacksonville, and Houston. We should win the first of those three. The last week of the year I believe Houston will be fighting hard for a playoff birth. They have a strong team this year and will surprise a lot of people.
New England will be sitting around 13-2, having clinched the playoffs weeks before. We will most likely rest some of our starters for most if not all of the game. Houston will play this game like it's their last, which it could very well be, and sneak in a last week win.
The overall projected record for 2009 is 13-3. And when it comes to playoffs, well, let's wait for the season to start before I make these predictions.
Possible Obstacles We Could Face in 09'
The most obvious obstacle New England will face in 09' is the health concerns of Tom Brady.
We have seen Carson Palmer and Peyton Manning both come back from similar knee injuries. We must also feel very comfortable with the progress of the injury or we wouldn't have sent his backup Matt Cassel to Kansas City.
I believe this is a prime example of "We must trust in Belichick." He knows what he's doing. If he thinks Tom is fine, then I think Tom is fine.
Another issue is keeping our front seven healthy.
According to NFL.com, the Patriots recorded 47 sacks in 2007. Last year that number dropped to 31. They also had seven more forced fumbles in 2007.
With Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, and Adalius Thomas all coming back healthy this year, I believe our 2009 numbers will look more like they did in 2007.
Our defense must get pressure on the quarterback, forcing quicker throws and giving our secondary more opportunities for interceptions. We need to get the intimidation back in our defense.
Last year when the Dolphins smoked us for 38 points in the second week of the season, opposing teams gained a lot of confidence when lining up against us. New England's defense starts with a ferocious front seven. We need these guys to step up in a big way this year.
Jerod Mayo should once again lead the team in tackles and I expect him to keep progressing as one of the best linebackers in the league.
With Adalius Thomas coming back from injury, this group of linebackers will once again bring fear to opposing teams.
Overall Outlook for 2009
I predict the New England Patriots will not only win the Superbowl this year, but do it in their old, dominating fashion.
Their offense is loaded with talent and speed, and should start where the 2007 team left off. They will be an aggressive, up tempo offense, that will score a lot of points and will get criticized for running up the score.
Tom Brady will have an exceptional year, throwing many touchdowns to Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
Our defense will be big, tough, fast, and scary. Our front seven will be able to shut down the run, and our secondary has the depth and talent to run with the best.
Brandon Merriweather will explode onto the scene to be our best safety. He has learned from Rodney Harrison how to play tough, hard nose football.
It is now his turn to come in and be the leader of this secondary. We have an exciting mix of experienced veterans and talented young prospects.
Coach Belichick will once again show the world why he is simply a mastermind when it comes to coaching.
The Patriots will once again show the world why we are a dynasty. Success is what the New England Patriots stand for. We have a very prestigious organization that is built around it.