To kick off the season, I’ve asked William Berry and Randolph Charlotin, two Patriots uber-bloggers like myself, to join me in a roundtable discussion about training camp, the preseason, and the coming regular season. Sit back and enjoy our attempted insight into all things Patriots.
Biggest Surprise/Disappointment of Training Camp?
RC: While everyone is jockin' Jerod Mayo, Shawn Crable has been the best rookie. He's applied consistent pressure against opposing reserve players and even picked up a sack-and-a-half and an interception. He's way ahead of where Pierre Woods was as a rookie. QB Kevin O'Connell gets an honorable mention.
The biggest disappointment goes to the two lines. So far, the front seven hasn't stopped the run. On the other side, injuries do play a part, but the offensive line hasn't handled blitzes well, leading to a fragile pocket. With an intense competition for the backup QB job going on, Matt Cassel and Matt Gutierrez aren't getting the help needed up front.
WB: No good surprises. Disappointment, so far I hate to say it, but Richard Seymour. I'd call him the biggest disappointment because I expected big things from him, not as much from Matt Cassel or Chad Jackson.
MD: Gary Guyton made some great plays in the preseason and made the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie. He’s got great speed that was lacking in years past at this position. Between him, Mayo, and Crable, the Pats linebacking crew is looking promising for the future.
Biggest Surprise Cut?
RC: WR Chad Jackson. The fact that he wasn't discarded on Saturday made me think the coaching staff was giving Chad a second chance. He made some plays in the final two preseason games, and I thought it was enough. He was hurt for much of his second season, so I figured that bought him a little more time. That time amounted to just one more day.
WB: John Lynch and Chad Jackson.
MD: Fernando Bryant. He started every preseason game and looked like he had the starting spot opposite Hobbs sewn up. Chad was known to be somewhat on the bubble, and Lynch will probably be back after Week One.
Player you think will have a breakout year?
RC: The biggest problem for RB Lawrence Maroney has been staying healthy. But he finished the season strong, averaging almost 98 yards per game in his last six games, including two consecutive 122-yard games in the divisionals and AFC Championship. He will share the load, but Maroney will get the majority of carries.
WB: Shawn Crable. Would it be Mayo's breakout year when we expect him to be dominant?
MD: Terrence Wheatley. I am guessing (and praying) that the coaching staff saw enough from him to axe Fernando Bryant.
Can Brady/Moss/Welker top their production of 2007?
RC: They could, but they won't have to. The defense will be better in '08, so the Patriots won't have to out-score everybody. Also, with Jabar Gaffeny's role defined early, his increased numbers will reduce the burden on Moss and Welker.
WB: No, even lousy teams will be playing the pass and Maroney has a big year.
MD: I don’t think they will, as I believe there will be more focus on running the ball this year. The Patriots have the deepest backfield in the NFL, and they can hurt you in a number of different ways. Teams that spent all offseason trying to figure out how to shut down the Pats' passing attack are about to get a hefty dose of smash-mouth football.
RC: The Bills might be on the cusp of breaking through this year. The team is young, with a lot of good players acquired through the draft. The Jets stocked their shelves by signing or trading for marquee free-agents.
New York's roster sounds good, but I want to see if they congeal into a cohesive unit on both sides of the ball. The edge goes to the Bills. Favre won't be enough to be better than the Bills. But both are still far behind the Patriots. I still expect a divisional sweep by the Pats.
WB: No. Favre will be benched for "trying to make plays" after Week Five. Oh, the Bills might make some noise later, based on the weak schedule.
MD: The Jets do worry me a bit, as they have added some quality pass rushers, and with the Unretired One flinging it back there, anything is possible. However, I do think the Patriots are still the better team and will win the AFC East.
The Bills will be healthy and, therefore, probably better. I still just don’t think they have enough offense or defense to match the Pats.
RC: When the Bolts and Colts faced off in the Divisionals, it seemed the Chargers were clearly the better team. And in the AFC Championship, the offense moved the ball well with a limping QB Philip Rivers and no All-Pro RB LaDanian Tomlinson.
The Chargers are the most talented team in the league, and when healthy, they are the biggest threat to the Patriots.
WB: Is Manning dead? Chargers are without Merriman this year, and I think L.T. will be hobbled the rest of his career.
MD: I have to say the Colts. It’s always a war between them and the Pats, and with Peyton Manning back there, you’re never safe. Their defense plays hard and fast and can put pressure on Brady.
The Chargers scared me a little bit more when Shawne Merriman had all his knee ligaments. Plus, there’s just something about Norv Turner that makes me confident we can dispose of them when we need to.
Not to say the Chargers won’t win in October, they’re bound to win one of these times. However, the Pats will own them if it comes down to a playoff matchup.
Which NFC teams scare you the most? Who would you least want to see in a Super Bowl matchup?
RC: New Orleans is arguably is the most offensively-potent team in the NFC. New England's defense doesn't match up well against the Saints' passing game. But Dallas is scarier because the defense fortified the secondary by drafting Mike Jenkins and trading for Adam Jones, two corners to combat spread offenses.
But Tony Romo has to win in the playoffs first before the 'Boys can think Super Bowl. Until then, the Saints are the team New England doesn't want to see at XLIII.
WB: NFC, what's that? I'll say the Bucs because their second string just manhandled our first-string defense.
MD: Dallas. Luckily, we wouldn’t have to worry about them until the Super Bowl. I still think they will be upset in the playoffs before that, but no one is more talented than the Cowboys.
I just don’t think they are the best team, if that makes sense. If they put it all together and get to the Super Bowl, look out.
What is the biggest challenge facing the 2008 Pats?
RC: The success of the defense rests on how well they defend the pass. The pass rush will be fine with Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas on the outside and the D-line rotation of Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, Vince Wilfork, and Mike Wright. But LBs Tedy Bruschi and Mayo have a lot to prove: Bruschi that he still has it and Mayo to be a quick learner.
In the secondary, last week's edition, S John Lynch must prove himself while Brandon Meriweather must prove he can catch errant passes. And don't forget the question of Ellis Hobbs and who?
WB: Winning the friggin' Super Bowl. Wait a minute, that is looking ahead. The next practice.
MD: Not peaking too early. They have the talent and the experience. If they can avoid injuries and just be reaching their peak in January, it will bode well for them. Last year, they were worn out and flat. Hopefully this year there won’t be the same distractions.
What games most worry you, in terms of the Pats being upset? (i.e not SD or IND)
RC: Not including the Colts or Chargers, there isn't a team on the schedule with a real chance of upsetting New England. The Steelers are still frauds, Seattle isn't good enough on defense, and same goes for the Arizona Cardinals.
Denver gets respect because Head Coach Mike Shanahan has an understanding of how to combat what the Patriots do. The same compliment goes to Head Coach Eric Mangini and his Jets.
WB: @ Miami and Denver, for stupid reasons.
MD: Jets and Seahawks. I can imagine the game in Seattle will be a great one. Glad I’ll be there to witness it.
If the Patriots could only win one of Indy & San Diego, which one would you choose?
RC: It's very possible that by the time the Patriots get to Indianapolis, they will have the chance to give the Colts their first home loss in their new stadium.
It would be nice for them to establish themselves as the dominant team in the league by beating the Chargers, but a win in Indy nine weeks into the season can have the same affect, as well as giving the Lucas Oil Stadium its first blemish.
WB: Indy, for we will see them again, maybe not SD. Home field may come down to that. Yeah, SD is getting trumpeted as the next great team—that's why I think they are done.
MD: Indy. That one will be for home field.
Will you view a regular season loss differently this year after 2007?
RC: Absolutely not. In the regular season, a loss is one loss out of 16 games. Losing a regular season game wouldn't have guaranteed a Super Bowl win last year. Same applies this year. Just get to the playoffs. Going undefeated in the second season matters more than wins and losses in the regular season.
WB: No, one week at a time. In a sick way, I look forward to hearing Charger fans crow for weeks, then lose to the Patriots in the playoffs. Kinda like Steeler fans in 2004.
MD: I can say I will now, but I’m sure once it happens I’ll know I was lying. Though, I can admit there will be a sense of relief that the 16-0 talk will be buried.
Predicted regular season record for the Pats?
RC: 14-2, with a realistic chance at 16-0. Seriously.
WB: OK, I'll say it 19-0. Why? Because I'm a homer and damn proud of it.:)
Seriously, look at the schedule. Yes, the Cardinals or somebody might become beasts. If you say that, then a team like Seattle might collapse. Other than hooky "curse" games like @ Miami or vs. Denver, the real games are SD, Indy, Pitt, and Seattle.
I think 4-0 is possible there. Heck, I think @ Miami will probably be tougher than vs. Pittsburgh.
MD: 14-2, and I will be fine with that.
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