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2014 NFL Preview: New England Patriots

As teams begin reporting for training camps all around the country, the smell football is most definitely in the air.  That can only mean the NFL season is right around the corner.  As we prepare another exciting season, let’s do it by breaking down each team individually.  After we go through all 32 teams, we’ll break each division and pick the playoff teams.  After that, we will pick the playoff matchups– including the Super Bowl champions.

First up, are the New England Patriots. Anytime one brings up the New England Patriots, you have to start by talking about Bill Belichick and Tom Brady– two people that have enjoyed tons of success since coming together.  Bill Belichick is without a doubt the best head coach in the NFL; since winning their first Super Bowl, the Patriots have not had a losing record.  For every winning season but one, Belichick has had Tom Brady as his starting quarterback– the one season because Brady was lost for the year with a torn ACL.

On offense, Brady’s confidence in his young receiving corps with each game.  The Patriots return Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompson, and have even added Brandon LaFell from Carolina to the mix.  At some point this year, Brady will also get Rob Gronkowski, who tore his ACL late last year, back to add the biggest weapon on the roster.  Before that happens, the young receivers will need to continue to grow and further earn Brady’s trust in crunchtime.  Another key for the passing while Gronk is out, is both Edelman and Amendola will need to stay healthy, giving two reliable choices for Brady.  The addition of LaFell could also go a long way in making the Patriots’ passing game a true danger for opposing defenses.

LeGarrette Blount has moved on to Pittsburgh, leaving a hole in the running game.  If Stevan Ridley can bounce back from an injury and fumble-riddled season, losing Blount may not be quite so painful.  The Patriots will also need to get plenty of production from Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen.  If they can successfully rely on a three-headed attack in the backfield, the Patriots might find themselves with both a balanced and dangerous offense that defenses will struggle to stop.

On the Defensive side, the Patriots added two huge pieces at the cornerback position with the additions of Darrelle Revis and former Legion of Boom member, Brandon Browner.  They also Will Smith on the defensive line and re-signed Vince Wilfork to anchor the defensive line.  Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are the team leaders on the pass rush, and Jerod Mayo leads the defense at linebacker.

At Special Teams, the Patriots return one the most reliable kickers in the game in Stephen Gostkowski.  They also have punter Ryan Allen ready to give opposing teams as bad a starting field position as he is capable of giving them.

Now to cover the schedule the Patriots must contend with this season:

Week 1- The Patriots open the season in Miami, taking on their division foe Dolphins.  If Ryan Tannehill has finally arrived, this could be the beginning of the end of the Patriots’ reign in the AFC East.  However, with corners the quality of Browner and Revis it will be extremely hard for Tannehill to find Mike Wallace or any of his other receiving options for that matter.  Patriots should be able to open the season with a win and begin 1-0.

Week 2- The Patriots stay on the road, this against the Minnesota Vikings.  The Vikings will have either Matt Cassel, or Christian Ponder, or rookie Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback.  This means the Vikings will be one-dimensional, relying heavily on Adrian Peterson.  This leads the Patriots defense to load on the run and let Browner and Revis handle the receivers man-to-man.  Patriots should improve to 2-0.

Week 3- New England finally heads home to host Oakland.  The Raiders boast the two-headed running attack of Maurice Jones-Drew, who has struggled to stay healthy the last couple of years, and Darren McFadden, who has never had a full healthy season.  When healthy, both Jones-Drew and McFadden are extremely dangerous but staying healthy has been their problem.  The Patriots can easily move to 3-0.

Week 4- New England travels to Kansas City for Monday Night Football.  This could prove to the first true challenge for the Patriots.  This could be their first loss, dropping them to 3-1.

Week 5- On Sunday Night, the Patriots meet another challenge against one the top defenses in the league in the Cincinnati Bengals.  Last year, the Bengals completely shutdown the Brady and Co.  Could happen again this year, Patriots 3-2.

Week 6- For the fourth time in the first six weeks, New England plays away from home.  They to Buffalo, to take on the Bills.  With a second-year quarterback, it can be expected that the Patriots just be able to get by the Bills and improve to 4-2.

Week 7- The Thursday Night game is the first of three straight homes for the Patriots.  The match-up is against rival New York Jets.  Who will the New England have to plan for at quarterback?  Will it be second-year man– the hopeful franchise quarterback– Geno Smith or the veteran, and always dangerous, Michael Vick?  Either way, when it comes to this rivalry it’s just easier to favor the home team.  If that is the case New England could improve to 5-2

Week 8- Revis and Browner could have their hands full facing off against the Bears’ Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall.  If they take those men out of the game, the Patriots must still find someone to cover tight end Martellus Bennett.  This could turn out to be a fun QB battle between Jay Cutler and Brady.  Seeing they are at home, I lean towards New England.  So maybe they go to 6-2.

Week 9- The Manning-Brady match-up we all look forward to every year arrives in week nine.  The Patriots get their shot to avenge last season’s AFC Championship loss in the comfort of their own confines.  If the weather is anything like last year’s regular season match, Peyton Manning could have himself another tough night.  Even with that bad performance, Denver led 24-0 before Brady led the Patriots to comeback victory.  This time around, Brady could be spending a lot of time on ground with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware providing constant pressure on Brady.  If that happens, the Patriots could drop to 6-3.

Week 10- A much needed bye week.

Week 11- New England returns from their break in Indianapolis to take on Andrew Luck and the Colts.  This game will come down to who has the better defense and better running game.  In both cases, the advantage might just go to Belichick’s squad.  Patriots could move up to 7-3.

Week 12- Another potential QB showdown goes down in Gillette Stadium between Brady and Matthew Stafford.  The key may come down to Browner and Revis being able to minimize the damage done by Calvin Johnson.  The top notch secondary comes through, and may help the Patriots to get to 8-3.

Week 13- They go to Green Bay and are forced to deal with Aaron Rodgers and his multitude of weapons.  Plus Green Bay may also have the stronger running game with Eddie Lacy, James Starks, and Khalil Bell in tow.  The Patriots could find themselves at 8-4.

Week 14- The Patriots go to San Diego for their last non-divisional game of the season.  The Chargers could also be a team fighting for either a playoff spot or the AFC West itself– or both.  This match is a wild card indeed.  With wild it is easier to go with the home team.  New England drops to 8-5.

Week 15- They host the Dolphins, who could be one of the teams with a shot at the division lead.  However, the Patriots still seem the better.  New England could now be 9-5.

Week 16- New England travels to New Jersey to take on the Jets in the rematch of earlier in the year.  Again you have to go home team for the win.  Patriots drop to 9-6?

Week 17-  New England closes out at home versus Buffalo.  They could end the season at 10-6.

With that record, they could have either another division title, or squeak into the playoffs, or find themselves on the outside looking in.  The Patriots have only missed the playoffs just twice since winning that first Super Bowl title.  The key to a successful season could come to the knees of Revis on defense and, when he returns, Gronkowski on offense.  With the schedule the Patriots have, they could finish as good as 12-4 or finish as bad as 9-7.  The difference comes down to matches against San Diego, New York Jets (at least one of the games), and Chicago Bears.

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