The New England Patriots will win Super Bowl 44.
They were able to limp to an 11-5 season last year, despite a depleted starting line, both offensively and defensively. Star quarterback Tom Brady was injured, as were running backs Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris, along with guard Stephen Neal.
Defensively, the Patriots were missing the majority of their secondary, including Rodney Harrison and Terrence Wheatley. At linebacker, the Pats were without their strong outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, and were thin at the inside linebacker position as well.
The Patriots need to stay healthy to win next season’s Super Bowl. New England can win games despite injuries; however, the team will need to be at full strength to win a title.
Offensively, the Pats merely need to come close to what they did over the past two seasons, and they will blow away their opponents. With Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker, the passing game will not be an issue.
The Patriots acquired RB Fred Taylor over the offseason. This means that they will feature three prime running backs: Maroney, Morris and Taylor. Each back can put up solid offensive numbers, and each poses a threat for the defense. Taylor and Morris are both hammering backs, and if they have the opportunity to lower their shoulders, they will take it. Maroney is a little bit more of a scat back, and while he can run defenders over, he can also use his quickness to blow by them.
Defensively, the Patriots have the best defensive line in the NFL, and only improved it by picking Ron Brace in the draft. With Brace, Wilfork can get rest while the offensive line still must deal with a monster defender in terms of size.
At linebacker, the Patriots are good, but not great. Jerod Mayo was the rookie of the year last season, and he will only get better. Tedy Bruschi will play alongside him, and while Bruschi is aging, he still makes smart plays and tackles with great consistency. At outside linebacker, the Patriots have Adalius Thomas, who is not only a threat to sack the quarterback, but also is a dominant run stuffer, who can cover the best tight ends in the league.
Opposite Thomas will be Shawn Crable or Tully Banta-Cain. This position is the biggest hole in New England’s defensive lineup; however, Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff have displayed a great amount of confidence towards Crable, and believe he can be a great player. If the genius responsible for three Patriots’ titles puts his trust in a player, you can believe it’s true.
In terms of New England’s secondary, they can be dominant if they remain healthy. In the secondary, Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders are solid safeties. Behind Sanders and Meriweather on the depth charts is Patrick Chung, who can be the hard hitting safety the Pats missed with the absence of Rodney Harrison.
Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden, the two apparent starters for the Patriots, have both proven themselves to be successful corners in this league. Behind Bodden sits younger corners including Jonathan Wilhite, Terrence Wheatley, and Darius Butler. Butler was considered the best corner back available in the draft by some, while Wheatley and Wilhite both demonstrated solid play last year. Wilhite started to come into his own at the end of the year, while Wheatley was able to shut down Reggie Wayne of the Colts before he was injured.
For the Patriots to miss the playoffs, they would need to catch the injury bug. Literally, they would need to have more injuries than last season, because this year they are deeper, more experienced, and better.
The only injury which could truly halt the Patriots’ season would be one to Tom Brady, as Kevin O’Connell still hasn't proven himself. While O’Connell’s skill is unknown, Belichick may have found himself another gem late in the draft. Hopefully, the Pats will not have to see his skill development this season. The reason I think Brady’s knee will be a non-factor is because if there was any doubt about his health, Bill Belichick would not have dealt Matt Cassel.
The Patriots will win Super Bowl 44, barring more injuries than they experienced last season.