New England Patriots – (2006 record = 12-4) – Projected 2007 record = 13-3
Me too. I've also bought into the offseason hype of the New England Patriots. Even with the loss of Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison for at least six and four weeks respectively, I’m picking the Patriots to make it through the very difficult AFC and face the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl. I kept trying be different from all the “experts” by trying to convince myself that, head-to-head, the Ravens or Chargers would beat the Patriots, but I couldn’t because of two reasons. Tom Brady and Bill Belicheck.
Brady - the second best quarterback in the league - played exceptionally well last year with a very mediocre receiving core, only one of which is still with the team. The acquisition of Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, Kelly Washington, and wild card Randy Moss gives the Patriots the most dangerous passing attack in the league because of the talent of the receivers and their quarterback. Nobody – not even the Patriots themselves – know what to expect from Moss. He could be the most explosive/dangerous receiver in the league as he was in Minnesota, or an absolute bust as he was in Oakland. Nobody knows. And the Patriots obviously hope that Moss returns to his Minnesota form, but if he doesn’t New England has plenty of other options starting with Welker and Stallworth. And although Stallworth will be placed on the physically unable to perform list with the likes of Richard Seymour (according to ESPN.com), Welker will certainly benefit a great deal with Brady throwing to him in the slot.
The Patriots defense, like the receiving core, was upgraded in the offseason with Belicheck and the rest of his staff bringing in super utility linebacker Adalius Thomas, and resigning cornerback Asante Samuel and middle linebacker Junior Seau. Thomas should be a significant upgrade and will allow Belicheck a great amount of flexibility in his defensive schemes with Thomas able to play any linebacker position, defensive end, and in the secondary. Seau brings more leadership to a team that is full of it (I think Seau came back for what seems like his 25th season because he wants a championship more than anything, and I think that’s kind of pitiful but that’s a topic that I will save for the regular season), and Asante Samuel provides a shutdown cornerback that the Patriots were certain they were going to lose this offseason. But the thing that I am most interested in watching this upcoming year is how the New England secondary will perform and how much does the New England slow down because of age. Those are two of the many things that could go wrong with this team, but I’m still a big believer in the schemes of defensive master Bill Belicheck and I believe that because of Belicheck and the rest of the Patriots coaching staff the Patriots defense will be very successful.
Star to Watch – Contrary to popular belief, the player that is the most crucial to the Patriots offense is running back Laurence Maroney. Many people will argue that Tom Brady is the most important player (and correctly so), but the person that will have to step up and perform well to take the pressure off of Brady is indeed the second year back out of Minnesota. With Corey Dillon having been released by the Patriots, Maroney takes over the number one running back role with little help supporting him. And for Maroney to carry the load he will have had to have put in the work during the offseason to avoid hitting the same wall he hit in the last quarter of the 2006 season. Also watch: Randy Moss, who could propel the Patriots offense into one of the best in the league if he plays up to his potential. Also Watch: Asante Samuel, who is playing for a large contract this season but could be a problem in the New England locker room after his lengthy holdout.
Player to Watch – The most unsung player on the celebrated New England defense is mammoth defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Wilfork, like fellow stud nose tackles Casey Hampton and Jamal Williams, continuously demands double teams and is the big reason for the success of the Patriots defense against the run. In my opinion, Wilfork will elevate his play even higher this year and make the Pro Bowl over either Hampton or Williams in the AFC. Also watch: Lesser known players that are key to the Patriot’s success are: The entire offensive line who will have to block for Brady for the passing offense to reach its capability, and Kyle Brady who will be an excellent blocking tight end. On the defensive side of the ball watch for Roosevelt Colvin rushing the passer off the edge with much more frequency now that Richard Seymour is physically unable to perform, and Ellis Hobbs who will be tested often playing opposite of Samuel.
What I expect to see from the 2007 New England Patriots:
- I expect quarterback Tom Brady to throw much more often than he did last year, and in turn, this will lead to Brady starting in the AFC Pro Bowl, and becoming a serious contender for the MVP of the league.
- Also in the backfield, I expect Laurence Maroney to excel as the lead back this season because opposing defenses will be so concerned with stopping the Tom Brady and the New England passing attack.
- Randy Moss will be just “alright” this year, but Wes Welker will be excellent in the slot for the Patriots and will be known as one of the best signings of the offseason. Ben Watson will also be great catching passes from Brady as well.
- The Patriots defense will be one of the top five in the league lead by the aforementioned Vince Wilfork, and stud secondary players Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson. But the best player on New England’s defense will be Adalius Thomas, who will thrive in Belicheck’s defensive scheme playing all over the field.
- Finally, Rodney Harrison will return from suspension and be ineffective because he is off HGH. He will then retire and testify to all parties concerned about learning about HGH and how easily Harrison obtained the illegal drug.
How the New England Patriots will fare in 2007:
The Patriots will finish the regular season with a 13-3 season and have a difficult path through the AFC playoffs as the number one seed facing the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers. But the homefield advantage, superior quarterbacking, and excellent coaching will all be factors that lead the Patriots past these two opponents and into the Super Bowl.