New England Patriots Predictions
The New England Patriots are coming off a 13-3 campaign in 2011. They would make it all the way to the Super Bowl, only to have their hearts ripped out by the New York Giants again. The Giants beat the Patriots in the big game for the second time in five years.
New England has proven it’s not going anywhere, but it will be looking for its first Super Bowl since 2004 heading into 2012. Bill Belichick remains the best head coach in football, and until he’s gone, the Patriots will be one of the Super Bowl favorites in the AFC.
The Patriots finished third in the league in scoring (32.1) and second in total offense (428 yards/game) last year. They took care of the ball offensively, which helped them finish +17 in turnover differential. This is an offense that moves the ball at will behind a short passing game.
Tom Brady is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 5,235 yards with 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Even at age 35, he’s still one of the top quarterbacks in the game.
With leading rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis gone to Cincinnati, that leaves Stevan Ridley (441 yards, 5.1/carry, one TD) and Danny Woodhead (351 yards, 4.6/carry, one TD) to man the running back position. I look for the second-year back Ridley to get the bulk of the carries this season.
The receiving corps is loaded with talented playmakers. WR Wes Welker (122 receptions, 1,559 yards, nine TD), TE Rob Gronkowski (90, 1,327, 17 TD), TE Auron Hernandez (79, 910, seven TD) and WR Deion Branch (51, 702, five TD) return to lead this unit. The Patriots have added WR Brandon Lloyd (70, 996, five TD) from St. Louis to give them the deep threat they’ve been missing.
LT Matt Light has retired, but the offensive line is in good hands as second-year LT NateSolder has been groomed to take his place. RT Sebastian Vollmer, RG Brian Waters, C Dan Connolly and LG Logan Mankins all return. This is one of the best pass-protecting O-lines in the league, but needs to improve in the running game.
It’s hard to believe the Patriots made the Super Bowl last season with a stop unit that ranked 31st in total defense (411 yards/game). However, opposing teams only managed 21.4 points per game, so the defense clearly held its own inside the 20-yard line.
The losses are heavy along the defensive line as Andre Carter and Mark Anderson combined for 20 sacks last year, but each left in free agency. The Patriots used their first-round pick on rookie DE Chandler Jones (Syracuse), and they are hoping he’s their best pass-rusher in year one. DE Brandon Deaderick (17 tackles, 2 sacks), DT Kyle Love (33 tackles, 3 sacks) and four-time Pro Bowl NT Vince Wilfork (52 tackles, 7.5 for loss) round out the starting four.
The linebacker corps figures to be one of the most improved units on the entire team. MLB Brandon Spikes returns after missing eight games last year with an injury. WLB Jerod Mayo is one of the best in the business, and SLB Rob Ninkovich is underrated. Plus, they used another first-round pick on rookie SLB Don’t’a Hightower (Alabama), who will see a lot of playing time in his first year.
The secondary was the weakness of the defense last season and may be again in 2012. CB Devin McCourty (16 passes defended), CB Kyle Arrington (20 passes defended) are solid outside. SS Patrick Chung is a tackling machine, but he missed eight games last year with an injury. New England had added FS Steve Gregory from San Diego to hopefully shore up the last line of defense.
AFC East Prediction – 1st Place (13-3 Record)
The offense should be as explosive as it’s ever been with Brady running the show. He can make up for a poor defense, which is the biggest question mark in New England. The losses of Carter and Anderson up front are big, but I like the linebacker corps, and the secondary should be improved. While the Patriots are eight years removed from their last Super Bowl championship, an 11th straight season of 10-plus wins is almost a certainty. They will win the AFC East for the eighth time in nine years, and they are once again the favorites to get to the Super Bowl from the AFC.
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