The air is cool and crisp and that must mean it’s football season. Most Patriots’ fans have been counting down the days for The Return when No. 12 takes his first regular season snap since my life nearly flashed before my eyes. And so, I present some basic things that you should or should not bet on, if you happen to live in Nevada or Delaware.
Bet the house that the Patriots will make the playoffs this year.
It’s easy to put this on paper, but this prediction says more about last season’s coaching job by Bill Belichick, perhaps the finest season in his career.
Guiding a team quarterbacked by a guy who hadn’t started a game since high school and a secondary that made backup quarterbacks look like Hall of Famers (see: Wallace, Senaca) to the sixth most wins in the league was a remarkable accomplishment. However…
Don’t expect that the Patriots will go 16-0 again.
On paper, the team is just as talented as the 2007 squad. That year proved to be a special one, despite the ending, and they won games they had no business winning. The Patriots will be very good and the reason is Tom Brady.
Sure, Matt Cassel was good and very good at times. But watching Brady connect with mini-Wes (Julian Edelman) in the first game and Randy Moss in the third game of the preseason was proof that Tom hasn't lost a thing.
In fact, the year off has made him more hungry and he will be every bit as good as the MVP performance he delivered in 2007. But even with that, the Patriots will lose a game and it won't be the final one they play this time.
Bet the house that the Patriots will find new leadership on the defensive side.
Two new defensive players will emerge as leaders on the team. Jerod Mayo is the easy one. The reigning AP Defensive Rookie of the Year gained the confidence of Coach Belichick early and his late-season performance against the Jets was one for the storybooks.
Mayo will wear the coveted green dot, meaning that either he or his helmet will be on the field for nearly every play. The other player is Brandon Meriweather who emerged once Harrison was lost for the year.
Meriweather will take on the role of playmaker in the secondary, capable of delivering a big hit and staying with the best receivers in the league. His speed, range, and hitting ability will be a welcoming presence for the Patriots and not so much for Offensive Coordinators around the league.
Don’t expect that the Patriots won’t miss the veteran group from last year.
What Bruschi, Vrabel, Harrison, and Seymour have lost in speed and athletic ability, they made up for it with savvy and intelligence.
All of them were big play guys who came through at important spots and there will certainly be at least one time in the year when you will mumble to yourself about how the Patriots could have used Seymour or Vrabel.
Bet the house that the Patriots running back group will be, collectively, amongst the leagues’ best.
Despite injuries to the team’s top-three backs last season, the Patriots still finished sixth in rushing yards per game. Coach Belichick will use the five backs in specific situations to maximize talent. And with opposing defenses stretched out by the Patriots’ spread attack, I think I could probably squeeze out a couple yards per carry.
Don’t expect that Laurence Maroney will lead the team in rushing.
Just call it a hunch. We don’t know the extent of Maroney’s shoulder injury last season, other than the fact that it appeared Maroney has appeared to dodge contact since his rookie season, prior to any injury. And Coach Belichick’s patience with Maroney will be very thin.
The addition of Fred Taylor and the straight-line running styles of Sammy Morris and Law Firm will make Maroney obsolete if he continues to try out for Dancing With The Stars behind the offensive line.
Bet the house that the Patriots will continue to play chess, while the entire league is playing checkers.
The Patriots move the CBs up and get physical in coverage, and the rest of the league follows and then Bill Polian and Peyton Manning start whining until the rules and changed.
The Patriots run a 3-4 defense and the entire league follows suit and the whole draft process changes by putting an emphasis out OLB/DE players. Now the Patriots scrap the whole thing and will shift their base defense to a 4-3 to maximize the talent of Mayo, Derrick Burgess, and Gary Guyton. Book it that in two years, the 4-3 over Coach Belichick has put into place will be the hot defense. However…
Don’t expect the defense to be great at first.
The Patriots are missing 6 starters from last year and it will take time for the new additions and young players to mesh together. Unlike the 2007 team, this is a defense that will struggle early and peak late. The infusion of youth throughout the defense will pay great dividends in the 19th game of the year.
Bet the house that the Patriots will be in the Super Bowl picture.
I’ve learned my lessons and won’t declare the Patriots preseason champs as I learned from just one quarter of the season last year. However, this is a determined group, having suffered from some very difficult conclusions to the seasons in the past four years. However...
Don’t expect anything I say to actually happen.