The New England Patriots had a bit of a roller coaster year last year. Tom Brady got his 4 game suspension lifted, Dion Lewis had a break out year, injuries to big names like Lewis, Edelman and the offensive line hurt the team and they suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game. The NFL did suspend Brady again for his role in deflategate and Brady decided to not fight this suspension which gives backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo the start for the first four games of the season. Some analysts have the Pats going 12-4 like they have for the past couple of years now, let’s have a look at the Patriots’ schedule and see how they will fair in these games.
So obviously the first four games of the season are the games that a lot of fans will have a close eye on since the team will be without Tom Brady. The first game in Arizona against the Cardinals could be a loss for the team since Arizona has that stifling defense with names such as Tyrann Mathieu, Pat Peterson, new acquired Chandler Jones and Calais Campbell. Based on recent offensive line struggles and it being Garoppolo’s first full game as a starter I think the Patriots will lose to the Cardinals. The next three games are in Gillette Stadium where the Patriots rarely lose and two such games are division games. I believe the Pats will pull it together and give Tom Brady a 3-1 record when he returns against the Cleveland Browns. They will most likely beat the Browns and the Bengals but the Steelers game is a game to watch out for. The Patriots will have to travel to Pittsburgh and go up against Big Ben and Antonio Brown which is no easy task. This could be a loss for the team but for now I will give them the victory by a last second field goal. Another win against the Bills will put the Pats at 7-1 heading into the bye week. After the bye, we get a Super Bowl 49 rematch when the Seahawks face the Patriots at home. This is another game to watch closely as the Seahawks can easily come into Gillette and steal one from the Patriots which I believe they will do. After the Seahawks game, it is nothing but somewhat smooth sailing for the Patriots. They should dominate the Jets, 49ers, Ravens and even get sweet revenge on the Broncos then possibly lose one of their last two games to the Jets or Dolphins which puts them at a 13-3 record to end the season. The 13-3 record will be good enough for home field advantage in the AFC and as we all know playoff Tom Brady is a whole different animal especially when he has home field. I’m not being biased or anything but I do see the Patriots making the Super Bowl because of how weak the AFC has gotten. The Broncos aren’t as good as they were last year, the Steelers could give the Pats a run but it might not happen, the Chiefs are a sleeper team but the Patriots owned them in their last meeting so I would say at this point the Patriots are the favorites to go to represent the AFC in Houston but things can absolutely change. It will take a full team effort to make it to the Super Bowl this year so here are some Patriots players to watch closely this year.
Dion Lewis may start the season on the sidelines this year due to cleanup surgery but when he returns it will most certainly be impactful. James White and LeGarette Blount will share the load of the rushing duties until Lewis comes back so the Pats are in good hands. By the time Lewis makes his return, the Pats will most likely be ready for the playoffs and may have secured the division. Having Lewis 100% healthy for the playoffs is huge for the Pats, he had to miss it last year and the Pats kind of struggled in the run game but now that he is going to hopefully be back in time, expect New England to utilize him to his max potential.
When the Patriots traded with the Chicago Bears to acquire veteran tight end Martellus Bennett, many people said that the Patriots had the best tight end combo in the league again. The last time the Patriots had a duo like this was when Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski where teammates, now Gronk has another big and physical tight end to dominate the league with. The good thing about acquiring Bennett is the Patriots can rest Gronkowski for the playoffs or if they don’t want him to risk injury. When the Patriots are in the red zone, expect either Bennett or Gronkowski to get the touchdown since they tower over the defenders. Martellus Bennett has also never played with a QB on the same level as Tom Brady so his production could potentially sky rocket this year. I think Bennett could snag anywhere between 5-8 touchdowns this year which is a solid number for the vet.
Nicknamed “7-11 because he is always open” Chris Hogan will look to bring some heat to the already established wide receiver core of the Patriots. He is good at going for the long ball and getting himself open in the open field which is something that the Patriots struggled with a bit last year. Julian Edelman is good for slant routes which he turns into 20 yard plays and Danny Amendola is just OK with going long but I believe the Patriots have found themselves something special with Hogan. He won’t be Brady’s number one receiver or number two but on third and long situations or if they need to move the ball down field quick look for the Pats to go to Hogan. What is good for Chris Hogan is he is playing with a better QB than last year and he looks to fit into the system well, Brady and Hogan connected for a 56 yard TD in the preseason game against the Panthers which got some fans on their feet and excited to see what he can bring to this team.
These are just some of the players to watch out for during the 2016 season. While there are plenty more to keep an eye on, let’s see what kind of storylines await the Patriots.
Will the offensive line help out Jimmy G?
Last year, the Patriots offensive line was so dismal that I’m surprised Brady kept his head on his shoulders. The o-line has been somewhat of a problem for the Pats these last couple of years and as we all know, the QB needs his lineman. Marcus Cannon really isn’t good for a lineman, he was slow to react, he didn’t block well and he didn’t see defenders coming in for the sack. He HAS to improve, for his and the QB’s sake. The o-line did get an upgrade when Johnathan Cooper came over from the Cardinals but it needs a full improvement in order for Jimmy Garoppolo (and Tom Brady) to have success. Garoppolo will have to learn to get the ball out quickly if his o-line doesn’t help him out. Brady needs to have a bit more time to throw the ball or run for the first down and this all starts with the offensive line. Garoppolo has time to click with his linemen but they better have that chemistry for the whole season.
Can they stay healthy or at the very least 100% full strength?
Towards the end of last season the Patriots weren’t in the best of strength heading into the playoffs and as a result lost home field advantage. Dion Lewis was out, Julian Edelman wasn’t 100%, the offensive line was hit with injures, just too many injuries hurt the Pats. Malcolm Mitchell, Dion Lewis and Sebastian Vollmer are already the first victims of the injury bug for the Patriots and those names can have a big impact on the performance of the team but if there is anything Bill Belichick knows, it is to work with what he’s got. I don’t think full panic will set in for the Pats if a big name gets injured but one of their main priorities should be to be at full strength for the season.
Will the Pats worst nightmare really come true?
Now this is a big one because in sports nothing is guaranteed. People saying the Pats will go 3-1 or 4-0 are just predicting they will, there is no guarantee that they will. The worst thing for the Patriots is if they go 1-3 or even worse 0-4. If they go 0-4 they will have to win the next 12 games in order to win the division and make the playoffs which is no easy task. We do know though that the Patriots have a knack for proving everyone wrong, just look at the 2014 season for evidence. Could Jimmy Garoppolo under perform and go 1-3 or 0-4? Only time will tell that.
Writer’s note: How do you think the Pats will fair this season? Send your comments to my Twitter: @repete617!