We have heard it all when it comes to the New England Patriots: Bill Belichick has run out of ways to cheat, other teams have figured out how to stop them, they let too many free agents go, they did not draft well, and they are too cheap when it comes to taking care of their own players. These are just a few of the remarks we hear year after year.
Newsflash: the Patriots are good, no matter what way anyone wants to spin it. It seems like every year, people write them off and say how they are "done," and year after year, these people are proven wrong. Just look back to the 2014 season, when many analysts and sports outlets declared Brady to be old and washed up. People also declared the Patriots as just not being good anymore (remember Trent Dilfer?). Well, the Patriots made all of their doubters eat their words by going on to win the Super Bowl.
In terms of New England maintaining their dominance, it will not be any different this year. Please note that this is not a prediction that they will win the Super Bowl, but they are definitely still elite title contenders, probably the first or second best team in the AFC, and probably one of the top three or four teams in the NFL overall.
Of course, like any other football team, New England does have its flaws, which is why it makes perfect sense to look at eight reasons New England will win the Super Bowl, and seven reasons they will not win it. To be honest, the reasons on this list in the "win" section are much stronger than the "loss" one, which makes me think we could be seeing another Super Bowl victory by the Patriots.
15 Win - AFC East Kings
It is no secret that the Patriots have dominated the AFC east in the Brady/Belichick era and it is unlikely that we will see changes this year. Remember, the last time a team other than the Patriots won the AFC East was 2008 and Brady got hurt in the first game of the season. Personally, I am expecting improvement from the Bills and Dolphins, but not to the level where they are ready to overtake the Patriots just yet. So why does the AFC East dominance matter? Well for starters, it gives the Patriots six games on their schedule that are manageable. I know the Jets showed improvement a season ago, and yes, division opponents are always difficult games, but on paper, the Patriots should be able to take care of business against their rivals.
The other factor that cannot be overlooked is how these games can set up the Patriots for the playoffs. Winning the division instantly provides a home playoff game and dominance in the division can lead to a playoff bye. Overall, do not be surprised to see the Patriots have a great divisional record and this will set them up nicely for crunch time.
14 Lose - Injuries
The major reason I have injuries at number seven is because they happen to every team. For example, it is likely the Cardinals secondary will be banged up when the Patriots visit them for the Week 1 match-up. Injuries also bring up a lot of "ifs" and "should haves." Anyone can argue, "if this guy was healthy they would have won." That is the point, as injuries are part of the game and they can impact any team at any given time. Teams just have to be able to find a way to move on, or hope the injuries are at a position of strong depth.
The other problem with the injuries is that we just do not know how serious or at what point in the season they are going to occur. For instance, last season's injuries for the Patriots were terrible in both timing and seriousness. They lost their starting running back for most of the season, lost important receivers for large chunks, and lost critical offensive lineman. Other times, teams can get lucky and have players return and be healthy in time for the stretch run. Both scenarios have happened for the Patriots in the past and it will be interesting to see how the injuries play out this year.
13 Win - Time Is Now: Many FAs In 2017
The Patriots are never a team to go "all-in" for one season, but with so many pending free agents in 2017, it is hard not to see the team treat this year with a little bit more of a sense of urgency in comparison to previous years. The Patriots pending free agent list in 2017 includes several high profile players that are crucial to the Patriots success such as Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Malcolm Butler, and Logan Ryan. The Pats do have the cap space to sign most of these players, but it is going to be hard to pay all of these guys what they want, especially the two superstar linebackers -- Hightower and Collins -- who will undoubtedly command top dollar in free agency.
Now no one does better at replacing losses than the Patriots, but this free agent list is at another level and Belichick surely knows how hard it is going to be to replace these guys. That is why the Patriots will have a little more pep in their step this year.
12 Lose - Brady's Rhythm Impacted?
Anybody that watches the Patriots closely knows that Brady does not truly get into his rhythm and best playing level until the season is a few weeks old. Sure, there are some exceptions like last season or 2007, but for the most part, Brady turns it up as the season goes on. So what is the problem? Well with Brady set to miss the first four games that he would usually use to get into his rhythm, it is fair to question if this going to impact the Patriots when he first returns. Will Brady need a few weeks to turn it up in weeks five and six? Will he need these games to re-establish chemistry with some of the new additions like Mitchell and Hogan? If so, this could cost the Patriots games they would otherwise have win. Perhaps this is an explanation as to why Brady has been pushing the team to let him play in preseason.
With him not being allowed to communicate with the coaches or his teammates in any way during his suspension, Brady probably knows that he needs all of the game-like situations he can get before he has to stay away. Overall, this would probably be more of a concern if it was a less experienced quarterback, but nonetheless could still be a potential problem.
11 Win - Manageable Schedule During Brady's Suspension
By no means am I declaring that the Patriots have an easy ride while Brady is gone, but considering the circumstances, the Patriots should be optimistic. On paper, the season opener is going to be the toughest game for the Pats during Brady's suspension, as they visit the Arizona Cardinals. Like most people, I am expecting this game to be a loss for the Patriots. Arizona is one of the top teams in the league and it would be challenging for the Patriots even with Brady. However, after this game, the Patriots can definitely win at least two out of three. They play all three games at home and we know how good they are at home.
These three home games will be played against the Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, and Buffalo Bills. It also helps that Jimmy Garoppolo appears to be improving. He also seems to have some valuable qualities, such as a quick release and solid awareness in the pocket. So, what is my prediction? The Patriots will go 2-2 in these four games, relying heavily on their defense and using the run game more often than we are used to seeing.
10 Lose - Fail To Obtain Home Field Advantage
Many people argue that seeding going into the playoffs is not that important. If you are going to win the Super Bowl, you will win. There is proof of this for some teams like the Baltimore Ravens, but this is not the case for the Patriots. If you look back at the most successful teams in the Patriots dynasty, there is a common factor: home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Patriots are a good team on the road, but they are a superior team at home. Just look back to their latest Super Bowl season for proof of this: Patriots were 7-1 at home and 5-3 on the road. They clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs and the support of their fans led them to the Super Bowl.
Even as recently as this past season, many Patriots fans were upset that the team ultimately clinched the no.2 seed and not the no.1 seed. At the time, many average NFL fans and the media were stating that the team should just take what they can get and rest their players. Meanwhile, most Patriot fans wanted the team to go for the top seed because they knew how much of a difference that spot makes for the team. All in all, if the Patriots clinch home-field, you know there is a very good chance they are going to the Super Bowl.
9 Win - Improved Depth At Wide Receiver
Another reason the Patriots have "only" been making it to the AFC Championship game as opposed to the Super Bowl every year is a lack of depth at wide receiver. Adding further to this depth problem is that the Patriots typically employ the type of receivers that are more prone to being banged up in comparison to the traditional wide-out. The Patriots often tend to have short, shifty guys who catch a ton of short to medium passes. Catching a lot of passes means you are going to get tackled more often. Additionally, these players are typically catching passes in the middle of the field where they are prone to taking bigger hits compared to the outside of the field. It is for these reasons that, come playoff time, players such as Amendola and Edelman are usually banged up, clearly impacting the Pats' passing offense.
Fast forward to this upcoming season and the Patriots have addressed this problem in two ways. Firstly, they drafted a wide-out, Malcolm Mitchell, who may surprise some people this season. He is the type of receiver that can play on the outside, giving the Patriots a different element on offense. In addition to Mitchell, the Patriots signed Chris Hogan in free agency. Hogan has many similarities to Edelman and Amendola in that he is shifty and can play in the slot. This gives the Patriots another option in case Amendola or Edelman is banged up, come crunch time. Clearly, the Patriots have some depth at WR that they have not had in a long time and perhaps they can use this to keep everyone fresh.
8 Lose - Brady Is 39
Tom Brady appears to be playing like he is 29 compared to 39. Many people know he goes to extreme lengths to take care of his body. Some of the madness includes a gluten-free diet, healthy substitutes such as avocado ice cream, going to bed early, and not drinking alcohol very often, if at all. He has a method of training that apparently works very well for him (he has promoted his style of training on numerous occasions to teammates and other athletes). Despite all of these positives Brady has going for him, we cannot forget one important factor: Father Time is undefeated. How much longer will Brady be able to keep up this play? Surely, his play will have to take a dip sooner than later, especially considering the lack of running game the Patriots have had. The other implication relating to father time is that it can appear out of nowhere. One month, Brady could look great than by the next, he might start to show his age. We just do not know and I guess we just have to wait and see.
7 Win - Postseason Experience
I know many players try to downplay the value of post-season experience. Some players also argue that as long as you execute your game-plan, experience will not matter. However, throughout my time as a sports fan, it has become clear to me that this experience is crucial in helping a team succeed and win. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule and players such as Malcolm Butler come to mind.
Nonetheless, when it comes to experience, one simply cannot ignore or overlook the otherworldly experience of the Patriots. They still have tons of their main players/coaches on the roster from their previous Superbowl victory, including Gronk, Edelman, Hightower, Collins, Butler, Ninkovich, Danny Amendola, Devin McCourty and many more players.
However, undoubtedly, the biggest factor is Brady and Belichick's experience. In total, they have won four Super Bowls, six conference championships, and 22 postseason games as quarterback and head coach. This makes it hard to think of a situation that they have not experienced together. As a result, this is why we very rarely see the Patriots panic in any game and know they are truly not out of a game until the final horn blows.
6 Lose - Pass Rush Question Marks
The Patriots defensive line, particularly the end, is something for fans to focus on. This is the position wherein the Patriots suffered the biggest offseason loss. Overall, it is fair to predict the Patriots will have an improved defense (more on that later), but the one question mark they may have relates to their pass rush on the edge. The biggest question certainly relates to the replacement of Chandler Jones, who the Pats traded this past offseason. The Pats did sign Chris Long, who according to reporters, has looked great all training camp. However, it is hard to ask Long to replace Jones by himself, as he is past the prime of his career and he is in a stage where he may be better suited for a situational role.
I know Patriots fans will argue that Jones had the tendency to play great in the beginning of the season and disappear down the stretch, but keep in mind, his mere presence on the line opened up room for other players, as he was often attracting double teams.
5 Win - Improved Tight End Duo
The Patriots often find a way to take one team's trash and turn it into their treasure. This may be now the case with the acquisition of Martellus Bennett, who was acquired from the Chicago Bears in exchange for just a fourth round pick. On paper, the Patriots have finally found another tight end that can spare/create room for Gronk. Bennett, unlike most tight ends with whom Gronk has played, can be a legitimate threat in both the blocking and passing game. Bennett is a freak of nature and a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses, and if the Patriots figure out how to utilize both of these guys together, it will be a problem for many defenses. To be honest, at this point it looks like a big IF, as Bennett has struggled during the preseason. Let us see if he can turn it around.
In addition to Bennett, it would be unfair to disregard upcoming and surprising young tight end AJ Derby. Many people may laugh when reading this, but local reporters have been lauding the play of Derby since the beginning of training camp. He has also shown up in preseason games and seems to have established a very good rapport with Garoppolo. Maybe this is just me falling for the preseason hype, but I am curious to see how these new tight ends help Gronk and the Patriots.
4 Lose - Lack Of Running Game
We have seen the Patriots get away with a sub-par running game the past few seasons, but can they keep that trend going? We literally have seen games in the past couple of seasons wherein the Patriots throw what seems like 85 percent of the time. For example, last season vs. the Jets in Week 7, Brady threw 54 times compared to just nine rushes by the team (four of those rushes were by Brady). Given these points, one must acknowledge that the depth chart in New England for running backs is not bad by any means, but there are some issues. LeGarrette Blount is a good player, but he seems to have consistency and injury issues, which has hindered his performance.
Additionally, Dion Lewis is a very electric player, but injuries have slowed him down as well. He is starting the year on the PUP, so New England is going to have to find a way to establish a strong running game without him for the first six weeks of the season. The Patriots also have promising young back Tyler Gaffney. However, he also has injury issues so it is tough to expect much from him this season. In conclusion, the Patriots need to improve their running game significantly to make their road to a Super Bowl easier.
3 Win - Tom Brady
Yes, as discussed, Father Time can kick in at any time. However, right now, it appears Brady is safe and as a result, I am going to assume he maintains that high level of play for at least another season. Brady definitely has more weapons this year with new additions like Bennett, Hogan, and Mitchell. If he is able to create chemistry with these new players anywhere near the level he has with the returning players, we may see one of the best offenses of all time -- of course, only when Brady is eligible to play.
In addition to Brady's improved surroundings, some may ask what else could a guy with four rings, multiple MVPs and Super Bowl MVPs have to prove? Well, for Brady, it is all about getting even for the four-game suspension he received as part of 'Deflategate'. To this day, Brady maintains he is innocent and now that he has finally lost in the courtroom, he will find a way to get back at the NFL. What better way is there to do so than to win a Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl MVP? Could you imagine how awkward it would be if Goodell had to hand Brady the MVP trophy after all of the bad blood between the two? This would make for a great story line and also great television. Will it or will it not happen, only time will tell.
2 Lose - Offensive Line
Who can forget how bad the Patriots offensive line was last year, particularly in the AFC Championship game? Obviously Belichick knew this and as a result, has made some major changes. The first change was to trade for a former top 10 pick in Jonathan Cooper. Cooper has had a disappointing career to this point and it does not seem like that is going to change anytime soon, as he is dealing with a nagging foot injury. The Patriots have also added Joe Thuney via the draft and he is receiving many positive reviews, so perhaps this will help. Next, Belichick proceeded by hiring former long-time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. There is no doubt Scarnecchia is one of the best in the business, but will he be able to turn around a line that looked downright brutal at times last season?
Adding further to these problems is that one of their top lineman, Sebastion Vollmer, is likely out for the year due to injury. Overall, there are some huge question marks in New England relating to the o-line and Scarnecchia better have some magic up his sleeve if the Patriots want to win the Super Bowl.
1 1. Win - Best Coaching Staff
Yes, the Patriots will probably sustain some major injuries over the course of the year, but they will still have Belichick and his excellent coaching staff. Everyone knows what Belichick can do and he has been talked about a ton by media and fans. Therefore, the focus here will be on the great coordinators he has. Matt Patricia has gotten better as a defensive coordinator every year and in some aspects has grown with his players. He will surely be a head coach one day in the NFL ( he already received interviews last offseason), but in the meantime, the Patriots are lucky to have him and Pats fans hope he can continue to help improve the defense.
Meanwhile, Josh McDaniels is the perfect offensive coordinator for Brady and the Patriots. Brady and McDaniels often talk about the great chemistry they have together and this is noticeable in their game plans. There also seems to be a lot of interest relating to McDaniels having a second opportunity as a head coach. Interestingly, McDaniels has shot down opportunities for interviews (maybe he is going to be the heir to Belichick). This is great news for the Patriots, who will happily keep McDaniels on board.
Finally, let us also acknowledge the special teams coach, Joe Judge. Special teams performance is an area where the Patriots are often among the top of the league and do not expect anything different this year. Overall, having a great coaching staff is huge for the Patriots and this is a major reason they are contenders every year.