Jerry Ballgame previews the 2013 New England Patriots.
Now that “Tebow Time” has apparently passed, Welker’s whining about Coach Bill has ended and the horror that has been the Hernandez story has settled down for the time being, it is time to take a closer look at who Peter King is predicting will be the next Super Bowl Champ; The New England Patriots. Although that might have been a rather bold prediction on my part, who am I to argue with the “Monday Morning Quarterback”, himself. Then again, with five Super Bowl appearances in the last twelve years, picking the Pats is not exactly going out on a limb, either.
When the Pats Have the Ball
Let’s face it, any team with Tom Brady at its helm, has to be considered a contender. TB12, as we like to refer to him, may have the occasional bad game, but he never takes whole games or seasons off, and is capable of raising the talent levels of those around him. That’s something he’s probably going to have to do this year, with so many new, and some very young, faces surrounding him. He is going to need to have either Danny Amendola or Julian Edelman healthy for every game to fill that Welker spot and help move the chain. Rookie receivers Kembrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson have all looked good in pre-season, as has rookie free agent Zach Sudfeld, who will be the starting tight end until Rob Gronkowski returns, sometime around game four.
The Pats offensive linemen, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Ryan Wendell, Matt Solder, Logan Mankins, Marcus Cannon, as well as Will Svitek and rookie Braxston Cave are considered a solid unit that will have to protect Brady as well as open holes for their running backs. Contrary to popular belief, the 2012 Pats actually had a very respectable running game, rushing the ball something like 120 more times then they threw it, with a 4.2 yards per carry average. For the most part the RBs will look the same, with Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, and Brandon Bolden being joined by the 250 pound LeGarrette Blount, who they acquired via a trade with Tampa Bay.
When They Don’t Have the Ball
At least one of the league leading 14 rookies will see action on the defensive side of the ball, in a unit that has gotten younger and faster. Although the backfield wasn’t as improved as had been hoped, they do sport a very solid front seven that should make things difficult on the opposition’s running game. Second round pick, LB Jamie Collins is expected to see action on a unit that will once again be anchored by family favorite Vince Wilfork, along with Rob Ninkovish, veteran newcomer Tommy Kelly and second year DE Chandler Jones, of whom much is expected. Their core of linebackers will be led by Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes, with the newly healed Dane Fletcher, and afore mentioned Collins, expected to be major contributors.
Despite efforts to upgrade it, the defensive backfield looks suspiciously similar to what it looked like last year. Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard are at the corners, and Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory start at the safety spots. Belichick had signed former Cardinals Adrian Wilson (over Ed Reed) to strengthen this position, but it has become apparent that the veteran Wilson has little left in the tank, and is currently on the IR. You can expect to see Kyle Arrington, second year safety Tavon Wilson, and rookies Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon on the field a great deal as well, depending on the defensive package being employed. If the truth be told, had T. Wilson had a better camp, he’d be starting over Grogory, who is considered a liability despite his role in the infamous “butt fumble” on Thanksgiving night.
As for Special Teams, I do have some concerns regarding the kicking game. Place kicker Stephen Gostkowski has proved he has a strong leg, putting 53 of his 111 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks last year, but I just wish I felt more confident in his placekicking attempts. Maybe it’s just me, as he finished 11th out of 40 placekickers 2012, hitting 29 of 35 attempts, but all his misses were in that 30 to 49 yard range. I know those aren’t exactly chip shots, but making them can certainly make the job of the offense that much easier. He’s also going to have a new holder in rookie punter Ryan Allen, and I can’t help but feel that, one way or another, that’s going to comeback to haunt them.
Who am I to argue with Stephen King, or Peter King, or any other member of the King Family for that matter? If they say that the Pats are going to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl, I won’t disagree. In fact, I very much like New England’s chance in a game that is going to be played in New York City (OK, New Jersey) in February, most especially against a mild weather and/or domed team. Of course, first of all you have to get to the game, and although I like their chances, several very serious questions need to be answered.
For starters, why do they have a league high 14 rookies, including seven un-drafted free agents, on their roster, and how are those young ones going to adjust to life in the fast lane? That just seems like a significant number, especially when you consider that several of them may be required to play important roles throughout the course of the season. Will Rob Gronkowski ever be 100%? Are Alfonzo Dennard‘s legal problems behind him, and even if they are, does he still face disciplinary action from the NFL? Are they deep enough all the way around to sustain the injuries that you know are coming? How will they fare in the challenging non-divisional part of their schedule? (They are hosting the Saints, Steelers, Broncos, and away for Atlanta, Cincinnati, Houston, and Baltimore.)
I believe , as Peter does, that they will find the answers. At the heart of King’s prediction that the Patriots will be Super Bowl champs is the belief that they are “….the team whose leader can provide the fastest fixes”; and of course that leader is Tom Brady. I too believe that it is Brady’s ability to maximize the performances of those around him that will key their return to the big game. Brady has thrived in the cold and snow before, and I believe, come February, he will do it again.
Featured image courtesy of: Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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