Patriots Report: Better Than Ever?

With a (relatively) healthy roster, including a shiny new shutdown corner, this might be the best Patriots team since 18-1

By
Greg A. Bedard
· More from Greg·
Darrelle Revis at the Patriots have plenty of reasons to smile. (AP Photo)
Darrelle Revis and the Patriots have plenty of reasons to smile. (AP Photo)

The Patriots were ravaged by injuries last season, losing three core defensive starters (Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly), a Pro Bowl right tackle (Sebastian Vollmer) and one of the league’s most lethal weapons (Rob Gronkowski). They responded with a (ho hum) third-straight conference title appearance. Everyone is back and healthy (even Danny Amendola, for now) except for Gronkowski, who is aiming for a Week 1 return. And the Patriots have added all-world Darrelle Revis and former Seahawks standout Brandon Browner at the cornerback spots. Yes, confidence is rightfully high in Foxboro, as the Patriots may have their most talented team since going 18-1 in 2007.

One vivid memory from watching practice

In the joint practice against the Eagles, Patrick Chung spent much of the session starting at strong safety opposite Devin McCourty. This is the same Chung who the Patriots took in the second round in 2009, then banished him to the bench in 2012 before making no effort to re-sign him as a free agent that offseason. It is also the same Chung who signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Eagles in 2013 to play for former college coach Chip Kelly, and then was benched before being released after one season. There’s still a ways to go in a battle with Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson, but it was amazing to see Chung starting both for and against teams that had benched him and discarded him the past two seasons. It’s also amazing that the Patriots are still so weak at the position that Chung, who is decent against the run but struggles mightily in coverage and being assignment sure, might be the best option.

How this team can go 12–4

By showing up for 16 games. With showdowns against the Bengals, Bears and Broncos at home, the only game the Patriots could be underdogs for would be the Nov. 30 game at Green Bay (and that’s definitely not a given). The baseline for this team, if Tom Brady starts all 16 games, is 12-4. That was their record last season with all the injuries and without Darrelle Revis. Expect this team to be in the 14-2 range.

How this team can go 4–12

If Bill Belichick is abducted. If he’s coaching, even without Brady the team would go at least .500 (see, 2008 Patriots).

Now, from fantasyland …

The Gronk of old? Not quite yet. (Elise Amendola/AP)
The Gronk of old? Not quite yet. (Elise Amendola/AP)

1. When players come back from ACL/MCL surgery (just seven months ago) like TE Rob Gronkowski is, there are going to be days of gains, and some not-so-good days. Maybe I caught Gronk on a bad day, but the player I saw running routes seemed far from a lock to play Week 1 against the Dolphins. He was favoring his right knee, and ran with a decent but not terrible limp. Still, 75% Gronk is better than most tight ends, especially in the red zone, so he should still be way up on your list of tight ends.

2. Barring injury, I see no slow down coming from WR Julian Edelman, who had 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns last season. He’s still as elusive as ever, and he did all that damage despite being one of the few viable weapons for Tom Brady to use.

3. The running back situation is always muddy with the Patriots, and this year is no exception. The thing to keep in mind is New England basically has a running back and a passing back. Who gets what snaps and touches depends on the week’s game plan. I think fourth-round pick James White is more of a threat to Shane Vereen’s playing time than Steven Ridley, who is still the bellcow at the runner spot with Brandon Bolden behind him. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots look to acquire another big back (like they did with LeGarrette Blount) to supplant Bolden.

The starters

How I project the lineup, with competitive spots in bold:

  OFFENSE   DEFENSE
WR Julian Edelman DE Rob Ninkovich
WR Danny Amendola DT Tommy Kelly
3rd WR Aaron Dobson/Brandon LaFell NT Vince Wilfork
LT Nate Solder DE Chandler Jones
LG Logan Mankins SLB Dont’a Hightower
C Dan Connolly/Ryan Wendell/Bryan Stork MLB Jerod Mayo
RG Dan Connolly/Josh Kline WLB Jamie Collins
RT Sebastian Vollmer CB Darrelle Revis
TE Rob Gronkowski CB Brandon Browner/Alfonzo Dennard
QB Tom Brady Nickel Alfonzo Dennard/Kyle Arrington/Logan Ryan
RB Stevan Ridley SS Patrick Chung/Duron Harmon/Tavon Wilson
FB James Develin FS Devin McCoutry
K Stephen Gostkowski P Ryan Allen
 
 

There has to be a lot of frustration that Aaron Dobson, a second-round pick in 2013, is still working his way back from a foot injury that happened last season. The Patriots really need his body type (6-3, 200 pounds with leaping ability) on the field to give them a boundary presence. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are very good when healthy, but they don’t threaten the outside … The Patriots were probably hoping fourth-round pick Bryan Stork would grab the center position away from Ryan Wendell, but an injury to Stork has caused a shuffling with RG Dan Connolly at center for now (which weakens RG) … LB Jamie Collins is a far better player in his second season. He oozes confidence on the practice field. Look for the Patriots to put him in a playmaking role, and he also covers very well … Strong safety is still a huge hole on this team. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots platoon Patrick Chung (base) and Duron Harmon (nickel).

Best new player in camp

Darrelle Revis, cornerback. Duh. He’s the best cornerback in the game because his feet and balance are so good. Patriots fans were so starved for even mediocre cornerback play that they thought Aqib Talib was a mixture of Deion Sanders and Willie Brown. Wait until they get a load of Revis, who is far better than Talib and much more durable.

Strong opinion that I may regret by November

Even after his four-game suspension is up, Brandon Browner is no sure thing at cornerback opposite Revis. Alfonzo Dennard has proven capable in the past, and undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler has opened eyes. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots match up their cornerbacks depending on the opponent, with Browner sitting against teams with a smaller receiving corp but matching up with big vertical receivers. Unlike Revis, Browner is the type of cornerback who will be adversely affected by the renewed emphasis on downfield contact; that’s how he plays defense. And he’s a 30-year-old big corner. Those types of players start their downward slides at this stage of their careers. The Seahawks thought it started last season with leg injuries and didn’t want him back. The Patriots are betting otherwise.

Something I’ve never seen before

The Patriots have an offensive tackle dance going on, and it’s a bit disconcerting. From one play to the next, you weren’t sure who was going to line up where between Nate Solder (usual starting left tackle), Sebastian Vollmer (usual starter on the right side) and Marcus Cannon (usually a right tackle who’s probably a better guard). Something is going on with Solder. He’s struggled in this camp, including the preseason opener. It could be an unknown injury (this is the Patriots, after all), or his confidence could be shaken. In the past, you could comfortably say the Patriots will get it figured out because they had one of the best offensive line coaches in the league in Dante Scarnecchia. He’s now retired, and replaced by veteran coach Dave DeGuglielmo, who is no slouch in the coaching department. The spotlight will burn very bright on DeGuglielmo if the line gets off to a bad start.

What I thought when I walked out of camp

The Patriots are going to the Super Bowl, if not winning it. There are some questions on the offensive line after the retirement of coach Dante Scarnecchia, and strong safety could be a disaster (again). But if things go right for this team, especially with injuries (hello Gronk), the Patriots are stacked on both sides of the ball. Given what they did last season with half a team, they are primed to capture that elusive title a decade after their last.

 

mmqb-end-slug-square

More from The MMQB
56 comments
Corey9
Corey9

This team is stacked!  I say we lose one game in the reg season, either at San Diego or GB, then go on to win it all!

KristianColasacco
KristianColasacco

The defense looks good but I'm still not all that impressed with the people that Brady's going to have to throw to.  Can Gronkowski even get through 3 games without being hurt?


RoyCrim
RoyCrim

what would be a trip to the collective without some  Bob Kraft worship...that and horrible calls are mandatory when the NFL is the topic  

RaoulDuke
RaoulDuke

Been there before with preseason predictions by SI for the Patriots


This from 2009


And that's the central reason why they should again chase 19-0

http://www.si.com/nfl/2013/12/20/patriots

Given all the wonderfulness about this team, perhaps the SI writers should wear knee pads while looking up in awe to the glory that is the New England Patriots  


Buck2185
Buck2185

Greg has obviously been taking some of Richard Sherman's drugs... Here is what is going to happen with New England and has been happening for several years - They have been in a decline and will continue to do so this year. They are no longer allowed to cheat. Teams have figured out their little girl short pick and slant offense. Their QB is a little girl with respect to not wanting to stand in the pocket and throw a ball downfield (and even if he wasn't a little girl) he can't throw a long ball anyway. NE, due to the division they are in, may make the playoffs this year but will quickly be out due to said reasons above. Their decline will increase and the next couple of years will be extremely fun to watch them spiral downwards. If they were smart, they would get rid of Belicheat and Little girl tommy, and start a complete re-build now (it is where they will be in few years anyway)..........

Raiderforlife
Raiderforlife

Denver Broncos 19-0! the team is much better than NewEngland plays at a better hem field advantage and if they where not wiped out by injurys would have beaten Seahawks

JesusBuiltMyHotRod
JesusBuiltMyHotRod

Who's going to play the Randy Moss role and catch 23 TD's this year? 

Super Bowl? 14-2? I hope your day job isn't meteorologist.

Budvis
Budvis

Peter is right pats fans. Don't sweat those troll 'cheat' folks. They only hate the good teams. Anybody hate the browns? Didn't think so.

Also on the "haven't won in 10 yrs" comment. What a load of made up trash. Have you seen their records year after year since? Or how about the fact that only 7 different teams have won since the pats have. To you casting the stone, is YOUR team one of those 7. If not the your comment holds little merit.

Bill101
Bill101

IF BELLICHECK SMILED, HIS UGLY FACE WOULD BREAK, AND STILL BE UGLY

jimmyjon_55555
jimmyjon_55555

pats?  brady is one year older - they dont have good WRs.  will defense be better?  yes- barring injury but- they haven't won a super bowl since 04.... over 10 years guys...

2DrinksIn
2DrinksIn

patriots - seattle --- superbowl

seattle by 6---bet the house!

Sportsredo
Sportsredo

We're pulling for OL Jordan Devey!!  Pats will rule in 2014. Manning's Broncos won't reach the AFC finals.  You saw it here first. 

HoosierMadDog
HoosierMadDog

Get the F#*K outta here. The best Patriot team ever? ROTFL. The defense will still be SUSPECT. Have fun being disappointed in January!

Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan
Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan

Here’s my strong opinion that, regrettably, I don’t think I’ll be regretting by November:New England’s RUN DEFENSE will prevent the club from making a Super Bowl XLIX appearance.Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I have concerns about the Patriots’ ability to stop the run.At the top of my wish list is a healthy Dominique Easley.

OmanGuntarJr.
OmanGuntarJr.

Either MMQB gets rid of that Follow The MMQB... gray box in the lower right hand corner or I'll not be coming back - ever - to what had been a favorite site.

BushidoBrownsRevenge
BushidoBrownsRevenge

HD cameras are cheaper than ever so maybe this will be the best pats team ever.

Chris2112
Chris2112

How can this be the best NE team ever?  Yeah as usual they will benefit from a soft schedule and they play in an awful division.  So they will win 12 games, have a first round bye and then be blown out at home by a better team in the second round.  Yawn....

Corey9
Corey9

@RaoulDuke 2009?  Idk where you read they would go 19-0 but that was Brady's first year back from his ACL injury and we (Pats fans) knew it would take a year to get back to form.  The Pats are in the mix every year and the fact they came within one game of the super bowl last year with all the injuries they endured, thinking they should be the favorites to win it all this year makes perfect sense. Name me any other team in the last 14 years who's been more consistent at getting to the super bowl?  We may not have won it for 10 years now, but you cant say theres been a better team in the NFL the last 10 seasons!  We should be the favorite every year as long as Brady's throwing and Belichick is coaching  

Raiderforlife
Raiderforlife

@RaoulDuke I know SI picks them every year it seems and Peter King can't get is head out of thier butt

ynaghibi12
ynaghibi12

No one can predict Brady's knee gets torn part within 2 minutes of the season starting. They went 11-5 without Brady so the prediction was spot on that year really

JayReardon
JayReardon

@Buck2185 What team do you QB for Buck?  Who's your supermodel wife who bears your children and makes 20 million $ plus a year?  Do you ever wear all 3 of your SB rings at once?  Can we get seats for your HOF induction ceremony in a few years?  Little Girlie Buck -- what a toxically stupid imbecile.  

TerryEnright
TerryEnright

@Buck2185 Hey Buck if teams have figured out that O, then why do they keep winning? They lost four  regular season games last year, two against AFC East teams. So that means that outside the division they were a lousy 6-2. Oh yeah, guess what division had the 3rd best won-loss record out of all eight NFL divisions? Yep that's right Buck, the AFC East. NFC west, then AFC West, then the AFC East. Switch Denver and NE's division, Pats take the West. Switch the Pats and the Seahawks, with their injuries last year Pats are second place. Healthy team would be right there with SF. Yeah that Brady, what a wuss. Remember the year that McNabb had the Sports Hernia and he'd crumble in pain and all the talking heads were saying how tough he was to carry on? Well Brady had the same surgery that off season. So you keep hoping and hating, and yes it will eventually happen, they'll be average, or even less than average, it happens to every team at some point, but not this year.

jbcuster
jbcuster

@Buck2185  When you let your hate affect your ability to understand reality it makes you look like a childish fool. The Patriots have the best winning percentage against the AFC and their outer conference record (NFC) also this century. They have accomplished this with a lousy defense, which is no longer the case. People of your ilk have been on the cheating excuse for way too long, if the reason for their success was due to video taping from the wrong place then their winning would have taken a big hit immediately after they got "caught". This happened the first game of 2007 season, they then proceeded to win a record seventeen games in a row with the NFL and the media so far up their rear end it was amazing they could walk let alone run. Don't go through the rest of your life so angry about the most dominating NFL team in the salary cap era.

ynaghibi12
ynaghibi12

They're awfully close to being 6 time Super Bowl champs. You do realize that, right. AFCCG to colts, 2 super bowls to giants were about as close as a game could be. So do you sing the same tune if tyree doesn't make play of the year, if Samuel holds onto int, if weller holds onto the ball to seal the game, or if Peyton doesn't come back from 24 points?

My point is, you are implying a lot about the ability of the patriots to win a Super Bowl based off of complete random, 50/50 events of the past. That is a simple minded way of analysis in my opinion.

william01609
william01609

@Buck2185  Your a loser....you related to Ryan .........you have a big and a head with nothing it

Marima
Marima

@Raiderforlife That's funny logic.  If the Patriots were not wiped out by injuries (plus Aqib Talib & Alfonzo Dennard), they would have beaten the Broncos again in the AFCCG.

Budvis
Budvis

But they were and they didn't. Bummer though that the broncos were the only nfl team with injuries. Perhaps you fans should petition the commissioner to have an asterisk placed in the record books. Because those injuries it must mean Seattle didn't really win, right?

clefanfromdenver
clefanfromdenver

@Raiderforlife Never...they played tense and got beat...Seahawks would beat them agian and probably will this year...that is hte hallmark of Payton in the post...he gets his teams so wound up thay cannot go out and execute...

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@Bill101 So maybe he already smiled... like 4 yrs ago...


I mean how would we know?

TerryEnright
TerryEnright

@jimmyjon_55555 That's true, however they've lost two by a total of 7 points with two of their best offensive players playing injured. (People forget Brady was limping around in a boot for two weeks before the 07 loss) I'm not making excuses, I'm just pointing out the facts. If it makes you feel better to hate, that's cool, we all gotta get by somehow.

Raiderforlife
Raiderforlife

@Sportsredo your not dealing with reality the Denver team the Pats played last year was destroyed by injuries. I watch this team closely if they don't get major injuries your looking at 19-0. Believe me i hope i am wrong but the Denver defense is much better than the Pats. The offense edge would go to denver and the Pas can't win in Denver they never win thier its a mental thing or something. The Pats have to get Home field advantage and even then its not a given

Raiderforlife
Raiderforlife

@Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan I think the same thing they are not big up front on defense, they don't rush the QB great and Wilfork is on the down side coming off an ACL I would be surprised if he last the season. They do play in a bad division and have a soft schedule so 13 wins possible. They are not going to win the superbowl i am sure of that

Zoocore
Zoocore

Soft schedule? They have the 10th hardest schedule in 2014. Stop regurgitating the same "I hate the Patriots" BS we hear every year. 

RaoulDuke
RaoulDuke

@ynaghibi12 Brady's knee was torn up in 2008. The prediction to which I link was for the next year when the Pats went 10-6 and were blown out by the Ravens in Foxboro to go one and done in the playoffs. 

Buck2185
Buck2185

@william01609 @Buck2185  I have a big and a head??? WTF is that?? And you call me a loser?? Let me know when your mommy lets you out of the basement....

Budvis
Budvis

Uh... Ok. Then that really nullifies my points I suppose, right? Yeah. Thanks for the correction. You got me.

Chris2112
Chris2112

@Zoocore Really guy?  The 10th hardest schedule?  That is a weak fact and besides they have 1 road game against a good team.  Starting the season off against Miami, Minn and Oakland is brutal not sure how they are going to get through that. You have to do better than that.  Know your facts before you say something stupid son.   Lets face it, they are not that good.  

ynaghibi12
ynaghibi12

@RaoulDuke @ynaghibi12 @RaoulDuke@ynaghibi12  I stand corrected. You are right. They were wrong that year sayign they would chase 19-0. Probably the worst year the Patriots have had in the Belichick era outside of year 1. I'm hoping we can agree, this team is WAY different form a pure talent perspective. We will see...  


At the very least we can agree that he was recovering from ACL injury. You did kind of cherry pick the worst year in the last 14 years and try to make a point of it, but I agree, they were wrong that year.

OpinionSlayer
OpinionSlayer

@Chris2112 @Zoocore  Interesting how you did not mention @ Green Bay, @ Kansas and @ Indy. And if you knew anything about their division you would know that last year the had the 3rd best record in the league so your ignorance is really showing. Plus when you consider they have gone to 3 straight AFC championships without a defense and the acquisitions they have made to their secondary and restored health. The Patriots are primed for another SB run.

Chris2112
Chris2112

@ColeHardtruth @OpinionSlayer @Chris2112 @Zoocore Pats haven't won anything since they were caught cheating.    It's easy to hate a team that cheats.  That offense is real scary with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola as your WR's.  Even you idiots have to realize this article is comical!  No way Brady makes it through this season with that garbage o-line.  I don't care if they make it to the AFC championship game again, they will be beaten either there or by the Giants again in the SB.  It would be nice to see another team step it up in the AFC and not give the Pats a free pass to the AFC championship game again.  It was a good run but is over now. :)

Newsletter