5 Bold (and Slightly Less Bold) Predictions for the 2014 New England Patriots
After draft season and before the NFL preseason, there's "prediction season," where writers and fans yammer on about what they think will happen in the upcoming slate of games. Some predictions are easy—the New England Patriots will win the AFC East—while others take some thought to develop.
Here are five bold predictions that I think can—and will—happen in 2014.
Danny Amendola Plays in All 16 Games
In five NFL seasons, Danny Amendola has only played a full 16-game season one time (2010). Since then, he has played in one (2011), 11 (2012) and 12 (2013) games. I see the positive trend continuing in 2014, with Amendola playing in each of the New England Patriots games.
Unlike at the start of last season, Amendola is not the only true option at Tom Brady's disposal. The overworked Amendola gutted it out against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 of the 2013 season, but he paid the price the rest of the year.
With the emergence of Julian Edelman and Aaron Dobson, along with the promise of Josh Boyce and Jeremy Gallon, the onus for moving the chains won't fall on any one pair of shoulders. Boyce, Gallon and perhaps undrafted free agent Roy Finch will also eliminate the need to see Amendola on special teams, eliminating another possible injury vector.
If all you think of when you see the name Amendola is a hobbled player, go look at the Bills tape again. Before tearing his groin, he was tearing up Buffalo. Look for the same in 2014.
Aaron Dobson Leads the Team in Receiving Yards
As I mentioned with Amendola, the depth at the receiver position should prevent one lone player from dominating the statistics. While that might be bad for fantasy football players, it is good for the New England Patriots.
It might also help Aaron Dobson. While there is an abundance of talent at the "Z" and slot positions, Dobson is one of the few Patriots receivers with the skill set to play the "X" role. Brandon LaFell and Kenbrell Thompkins are options, but they are better-served elsewhere.
With that in mind, Dobson should see a plurality of intermediate and deep targets from Brady, with Edelman, Amendola and a host of others dominating underneath.
Seventy catches for 1,100 yards isn't out of the question if Dobson's foot holds up. Both Amendola and Edelman might surpass the catch total, but their yardage totals likely will—as they are both used to—come up a bit short.
Dominique Easley Is the Defensive Rookie of the Year
Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr might get the majority of the hype, but Dominique Easley is in a fantastic position to make a case for himself as the best rookie on the defensive side of the ball.
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich—two players who accounted for over 130 total quarterback pressures—will flank Easley, while Vince Wilfork will occupy at least two blockers on the interior. That leaves one poor offensive lineman to deal with Easley's lightning quickness.
Even if Easley's initial surge is stymied, the Patriots secondary will give him enough time to mount a second attack. The addition of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner—complementing Devin McCourty and Logan Ryan—is music to the ears of New England's defensive linemen. Make the quarterback hold the ball for one more beat and the defensive line—including Easley—will make them pay.
Chandler Jones Notches 15 Sacks
Chandler Jones accounted for 67 total pressures in 2013, including 11.5 sacks. He nearly doubled his 2012 rookie total of six. Like Easley, Jones will benefit from the arrival of Revis, Browner and Easley himself. Extra time and less attention will make any defensive end happy.
Jones isn't counting on any favors or resting on his laurels. Already an athletic specimen, Jones has taken to re-sculpting his body. Jeff Howe from the Boston Herald explains:
Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones returned to Gillette Stadium earlier than usual this offseason to bury himself in the weight room.
The 24-year-old dedicated himself to isolated lifts, single-leg squats, lunges, anything to strengthen his lower body with the intention of getting after opposing quarterbacks with more ferocity this year.
That is not what opposing quarterbacks want to hear. If the defensive end is able to stay healthy, look for Jones to surpass the 15-sack mark in 2014.
Armond Armstead Suits Up for a Game
Armond Armstead is the Sidd Finch of the modern-day New England Patriots. Fans have watched the highlights, they've read the scouting reports, they just haven't seen him playing football—or at all—since signing with New England out of the Canadian Football League in January 2013.
He was placed on injured reserve last year after an infection sidelined him prior to the start of the 2013 training camp. At least during the portions open to media, Armstead still hasn't found the field.
The promise, however, is there. Bill Belichick is going to want some return on the $625,000 in guarantees paid out. Armstead is at least a rotational player—if not a starter—when healthy. If Belichick can remain patient, his investment in Canada just might pay off.