So we, admittedly, underestimated the commitment required for us both to preview all 32 NFL teams together in a little more than a month. It's tedious, thankless work. So from now on we're splitting the rest of the teams among the two of us to get done twice as quick (and with half the work). It is with that that we're proud to bring to you the 20th of our 32 team previews for the upcoming NFL season, the New England Patriots.
KYLE'S TAKE: Honestly, before I even did the slightest bit of research on the Patriots this year -- not that much is needed since the team is pretty much the same as last year -- I already had them slotted in to win the AFC East. First of all, their only competition in the East is Miami and with Culpepper such a question mark when it comes to his health, New England is the easy choice. Second of all, questioning Bill Bellichick almost seems stupid nowadays. He is a coach that finds a way to win despite not having all of his players healthy and other problems that may come along.
Although most of the main players are there, the Pats have lost some key players. Receiver David Givens is in Tennessee. The Pats have never been too strong at receiver so that will hurt. What will hurt even more is that Deion Branch, former Super Bowl MVP, is holding out for a new contract. He wants to avoid the franchise tag and will sit out some of the season to make sure that doesn't happen. Bethel Johnson and Tim Dwight are gone as well, leaving Tom Brady with an even weaker core than he has had in the past -- especially if Branch does hold out. They do have Reche Caldwell, who was emerging as a really good receiver in San Diego to give a hand, and Troy Brown is still around, but he's made more of an impact with the Pats as a cornerback.
Corey Dillon is starting at running back, but the Patriots are hoping that their first round pick, Laurence Maroney out of Minnesota, can put in some time as well. Dillon has been an effective back in the past, but he's 31 already and running backs don't last too long past that age. He's had 12 touchdowns in the last two years, but two years ago he had 1,635 yards. Last year he had 733. Maroney had 9 rushes for 66 yards, including a 27 yard run in their first preseason game. Those aren't bad stats.
I've always wondered what would happen if Brady went down. Supposedly his backup, Matt Cassel --no relation to the NBA's ugliest player Sam Cassell -- is doing quite well for himself in his brief tenure in New England. He had a good game against Miami last year. It was the very last game and New England was already in the playoffs, but Miami had a chance to fight for something. New England did lose, but Cassel had 168 yards and two touchdowns. In their preseason game this year, he had 229 yards and one touchdown. The former USC pretty boy won't be starting, but it's a little comforting to know that if Brady goes down for a game or two, they won't be in the deepest of all trouble.
Defensively, New England is often strong. Once again, they have to worry about inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who had to undergo wrist surgery. Last year he had a stroke and I didn't even think he'd play again, so no one should be surprised when he comes back as soon as possible. Players such as Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Asante Samuel, and Randall Gay are all staples of the defense and they will perform at a high caliber like always. However, the Patriots lost linebackers Matt Chatham and Michael Stone, two of their best coverage linebackers. Regardless, Bellichick makes his defense click no matter what.
I'll briefly mention that the Pats lost Adam Vinatieri to the Colts and now Martin Gramatica and rookie Stephen Gostkowski are battling for the role. As I mentioned in the Colts preview, the loss of a kicker shouldn't make or break a team and I'm sure the loss of Adam V. won't kill the Pats at all.
Even if they don't have their best receiving core, this team will make it work. They've proved that enough in the past. Who knows what group of players will win the AFC East. I just know that those players will be wearing Patriots uniforms.