2017 AFC Predictions

Well we’re off and another NFL season is under way where we have to place predictions and previews into what Taylor Blitz Times crystal ball offers. For the most part the 2017 season has shaped up based upon watching players grow into their roles and there are a few draft picks that will make an impact.

As the season concluded last February, the world was treated to the 1st overtime in Super Bowl history. However it placed salve over an open wound as the Raiders had to enter the playoffs without Derek Carr, and the Titans losing their last 3 without Marcus Mariota. It gave a feeling of inevitability to the Steelers and Patriots meeting for the right to go to Super Bowl LI.

2017 AFC Predictions:

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots 12-4**

AFC West Champs: Oakland Raiders 12-4

AFC North Champs: Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5

AFC South Champs: Houston Texans 9-7

Widcards: Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens

AFC Champions: The Oakland Raiders

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One of the biggest acquisitions this year was the signing of Marshawn Lynch to ignite the offense and bring toughness to the team. His punishing running style and spirit will merge with reigning TBT Offensive Player of the Year David Carr to carry the Raiders through the west and beyond. Last year the Raiders were 6-1 on the road with David Carr with 4th quarter comebacks in 4 of those games. Had Carr been healthy for the playoffs they could have won in New England.

 

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SUPER BOWL XXV RUNNER UP 1990 BUFFALO BILLS

As the 90’s dawned we had a few teams that had been playoff staples during the 80’s and a few new teams coming of age. In the Buffalo Bills you had a team come of age as blue chip talent had been stockpiled in recent years. In the pre-free agent era you had to build a team through the draft. Just like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys of the 1970’s, the Bills sought to construct a champion brick by brick.

sb xxv2Defensive End Bruce Smith and WR Andre Reed came aboard in 1985. Jim Kelly agreed to terms after the USFL dissolved in 1986. Linebackers Shane Conlan and Cornelius Bennett were added along with CB Nate Odomes joined ranks in ’87. Aggressive veteran SS  Leonard Smith came in with 2nd round RB Thurman Thomas in ’88 as the Bills made the playoffs for the 1st time in 7 years.

The ’88 season saw a 12-4 Bills team with the NFL’s #4 defense make it to the AFC Championship Game. Although they lost 21-10 to Cincinnati, they were definitely a team on the rise. Yet injuries and infighting nearly brought the team down in ’89 as they became known as the “Bickering Bills”. They only finished with a 9-7 record and lost 34-30 to Cleveland in an amazing divisional playoff game.

sb25gnts2However a light went on for the ultra conservative Bills offensively. In week 3 they fell behind big in Houston. Kelly brought the Bills back with a 5 TD performance, a 47-41 win. In his USFL days, Kelly ran a Run & Shoot with the Houston Gamblers and looked most comfortable playing this style with a No Huddle offense. They unveiled it late in the season and won the AFC East before falling to Cleveland.

Kelly threw for 405 yards and 4 TDs. Thomas had come of age in the playoff loss with a record 13 receptions for 150 yards and 2 TDs. It capped a breakout year that saw Thomas run for 1,244 yards and 6 TDs. In 1990, several vets were let go and Darryl Talley, Kelly, Smith, Reed, Thomas, Lofton, and Bennett would have to take on leadership roles for the departed DE Art Stills, NT Fred Smerlas, OT Joe Devlin, then RBs Robb Riddick and Larry Kinnebrew. Would their new “No Huddle” K-Gun keep scoring at will?? After a 13-3 record secured home field advantage:

Alas Scott Norwood’s field goal sailed wide right and the best team the AFC had in years fell 20-19. The only team to lose the NFL championship by 1 point. However the Bills were a young team in their prime and they would be back. They would go on to be one of the league’s most galvanized teams. The infighting of ’89 was in the distant past.

Head Coach Marv Levy, GM Bill Polian, QB Jim Kelly, RB Thurman Thomas, WR Andre Reed, WR James Lofton, and DE Bruce Smith all made the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Epilogue: When a long sought after quarterback finally joined the Bills in 1986, starved fans chanted for Jim Kelly to take the lowly Bills to the Super Bowl.

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SUPER BOWL IX CHAMPION 1974 PITTSBURGH STEELERS

The first NFL championship in 42 years where the game ball was given to Steeler patriarch, the late Art Rooney. It had been a long time coming for all the decades of despair this team had been through. From the war time merging with the Philadelphia Eagles to form the “Steagles”. To the failed ability to recognize quarterback talent by cutting future Hall of Famers Len Dawson and Johnny Unitas. Nothing good had happened for this organization for decades.

Enter Chuck Noll.

superbowlixNoll was hired to be the Head Coach after serving under Don Shula’s Baltimore Colts regime in 1969. His last game with the organization was the loss to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. By then Noll was defensive coordinator after serving for years as a defensive line coach, most notably with the early 60’s San Diego Chargers in the AFL.

They say the player is the father to the coach a man becomes and Noll had been a lineman in his playing days. So instead of building his team first with a quarterback or featured runner, he drafted defensive tackle Joe Greene. He would build his defensive masterpiece from the ground up. A point often forgotten is the selection of LC Greenwood in the 10th round that same year.

A closer look at the front of the ring.

A closer look at the front of the ring.

In 1970, quarterback Terry Bradshaw was selected as the #1 overall pick. They finally had their quarterback of the future but the chief building block was Noll’s defense and in particular his defensive line. Five years later they were the best in pro football and came to be known as “The Steel Curtain”

Of course the Steelers had the great class of 1974 to put the finishing touch on what would become a football dynasty. However a look back and you can truly see how Pittsburgh’s first NFL championship had AFL roots.

If the AFL hadn’t been around to offer Chuck Noll his first coaching job at the professional level in 1960, would he have been in place to take the Steelers job in 1969?? Also look at the make up of the Steeler team from a draft and racial standpoint. Mining talent from historically black colleges and smaller schools was an AFL trait, not an NFL one. What Noll did in Pittsburgh was recreate the San Diego defensive line of the early 1960s he wasn’t allowed to in Baltimore.Steel_Curtain_Time_Magazine

  • Joe Greene – North Texas St.
  • LC Greenwood – Arkansas AM & N
  • Ernie Holmes – Texas Southern
  • Dwight White – East Texas State

So think of Joe Greene as a latter day Earl Faison or Ernie Ladd who had come from Grambling. By the time we include the late quarterback “Jefferson Street” Joe Gilliam from Tennessee State, Mel Blount from Southern, and John Stallworth from Alabama A&M, this team resembles the 1965 San Diego Chargers or 1969 Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL more than it did the 1968 Baltimore Colts.

super-bowl-logo-1974Many former players have talked about the racial quota that existed in the NFL back when. Well along with Vince Lombardi and Hank Stram, Chuck Noll broke that system for good and let talent flourish. First the Steelers took $1 million to move in with the AFL teams to form the AFC in 1970 with the league merger. Than Chuck Noll built the best AFL team he could through the draft

In doing so he brought Pittsburgh a championship it so desperately sought. It would not be the last.

RIP Coach Noll

RIP Coach Noll

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This bauble was what each player and coach received after their 16-6 win vs the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX.

2013 New England Patriots Preview – Bill Belichick’s Greatest Challenge

How tortured was Bill Belichick when he watched a less talented team in the Baltimore Ravens finally get past his New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game?? He would have had a different game plan had he made the Super Bowl and faced Colin Kaepernick a second time. It’s been his history. He’s in the midst of rebuilding the Patriots defense with many young defensive players maturing. Here at Taylor Blitz Times, our CEO had this team picked to win last year’s Super Bowl. With a solid quiet off-season, who could possibly get in the Patriot’s way?? Uhhh…. did we say quiet??

Bill Belichick has to have aged with this offseason. This will be a coaching challenge unlike any other in recent memory for his Patriots.

Bill Belichick has to have aged with this offseason. This will be a coaching challenge unlike any other in recent memory for his Patriots.

For once the Patriots have had a tumultuous off-season and we have to see how this affects the team. In the past there were surprising cuts like Lawyer Milloy’s release just before the 2003 season opener. Yet that’s just it. That move was right before the season, where preparing for a regular season opponent kept players from dealing with it too much. Now TE Aaron Hernandez, who may have to step up if Rob Gronkowski is slow to recover from surgery, has been arrested for first degree murder. What will happen to his two TE offense now?? No Wes Welker to turn to as Belichick did last year when injuries hit the tight end position.

Do we know if there is lingering fallout from Welker’s departure?? How could one who produced so much for this organization be so disregarded at the negotiating table?? Now Danny Amendola is the big ticket receiver and he comes in with marginal credentials. Teammates are definitely looking at that. By the way, Gronkowski is laying on the table after surgery on his forearm and now another on his back. When will he come back?? Will we have the old Gronk when he does come back??

With this latest situation with Hernandez, it throws the offense for a complete loop personnel and practice wise. When Ray Lewis went through his arrest and trial it started in January and was over with by May. All of this after Belichick diffused the media situation when he signed Tim Tebow, now questions arise about where will he play. The Patriots completely cut ties and released a disgraced Hernandez. Now does this slow the decision to trade backup QB Ryan Mallett as many Patriot insiders believe??

Keep in mind, this isn’t 2003 where the Patriot locker room was a veteran laden group with Tedi Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Ty Law, and an in-coming Rodney Harrison. This is a young group and this will have some affect on the team overall. Sure they have Tom Brady, but we’re talking leaders within the rank and file of the Patriots. A soon to be 36 year old quarterback isn’t the same as a 36 year old Ray Lewis inspiring the rank and file of the Ravens. Not raising the physicality of his football team. Once you think about it, maybe the Patriots can learn something from those Ravens that beat them last year. This could be Belichick’s greatest coaching challenge.

The ace up his sleeve is future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Yes, but for how much longer??

The ace up his sleeve is future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Yes, but for how much longer??

Quarterback: Think back to the early part of this off-season. Tom Brady renegotiated his contract to offer the cap relief he believed would keep Wes Welker in the fold. At best they would be able to acquire a top notch receiver to go with the continuity they had at tight end. Now Hernandez is released, Welker is in Denver, Brandon Lloyd released, and Gronk still recovering. ESPN’s Numbers Never Lie put out a stat last week: Of the 346 receptions made by Patriots WR/TE, 91% were by players currently injured or no longer on the roster. Welcome to the summer of Tom Brady’s discontent.

To underscore the enormity of the situation, Brady is coming off back to back seasons of 5,235 yards with 39 touchdowns in 2011, and 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns last year. The Patriots scored 513 points in 2011 then 557 last year. After a 3rd straight 500 point season, they equaled the 3 straight years of 500 point seasons of the St Louis Ram’s Greatest Show on Turf.

Now he has a short off-season to get to know a new bunch of receivers. With his place in history already secured, this could prove to be his greatest challenge as well. The key to getting to Brady has been to clog his underneath patterns and allow the rush to get to him. Once he’s hit in the legs he does look down at the rush. He’s going to need players making the right sight adjustments with him this year and there will be more breakdowns or playcalling will limit the offense. The Patriots are still Super Bowl caliber at quarterback but will his new personnel keep him from reaching that game itself??

Can Stevan Ridley carry the full load in  the Patriots backfield?

Can Stevan Ridley carry the full load in the Patriots backfield?

Offensive Backfield:  One position that is solid on this side of the ball is running back. Third year back Stevan Ridley proved to be an effective runner after a 293 attempts for 1,263 yards and 12 TD performance in 2012. The one thing he will have to do is pick up the receptions out of the backfield (40) that left with the release of Danny Woodhead. Yet let’s face facts, when Woodhead was in the game the Patriots were going to pass the football.

Going into 2013, most fans outside of the North east remember Ridley from that crushing hit taken in the AFC Championship Game from the Ravens Bernard Pollard. To that avail, Belichick traded for LeGarrette Blount formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the heavy carries.  At 6’0 247 lbs, Blount is a heavy hitter between the tackles. Once you throw in a Shane Vereen and you can see the Patriots will be solid at running back. Or in our eyes playoff quality.

Of the two rookie receivers, Boyce presents a dangerous element to the Patriots receiver arsenal.

Of the two rookie receivers, Boyce presents a dangerous element to the Patriots receiver arsenal.

Receivers: Now with Wes Welker running routes for Peyton Manning 2000 miles away, Aaron Hernandez getting used to life on cell block B, Brandon Lloyd released, and Rob Gronkowski recovering who is Brady to throw to?? Well “The Hoodie” has brought in a few receivers in the draft in Aaron Dobson (2nd round) and Josh Boyce (4th round) to accompany Amendola to camp. These guys absolutely have to get in camp and develop their timing with Brady. Everything from audibles to sight adjustments to non-verbal communication to keep from slowing this offense down.

Amendola will play the slot in 3 receiver sets and will be the “Z” in traditional formations. Dobson and his 6’3 frame is thought to be the “X” and has decent speed (4.4/40). Boyce has great speed (4.38 / 40) and looks to play in multiple receiver sets unless he unseats Dobson as a starter.  He presents the deep threat that hasn’t been in Foxboro since Randy Moss departure. This has been an obvious weakness in recent years as teams sat on all the underneath routes in every one of their postseason defeats. If Dobson is slow to develop, Donald Jones should figure prominently or Michael Jenkins formerly of the Falcons. These would be steps back however.

To team with Gronkowski at TE will be Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard or possibly a move here with Tim Tebow. Or at least the competition will include these men. When in reality, Hernandez’s skill set can’t be matched by any of these players. None have even been long time starters and are all mediocre journeymen. Expect a slow descent on the use of the 2 TE offense or a huge drop in production if they try to stay with it. Receiver has dropped to below average in Foxboro.

Offensive Line:  This group won the John Madden award for the best set of protectors a few seasons ago and wasn’t too far off that performance in 2012. Last year they were 6th in sacks allowed with 27 and tied for 11th in quarterback hits allowed with 67. However if the receivers don’t develop outside, these numbers will go up. Brady isn’t that mobile and at 35 years of age, this would be the wrong time to take more hits. These numbers were made better by the ability to 1…2…3 quick pass to Welker, or Hernandez that may no longer be there.

Where this group is tremendous is their run blocking from passing formations. They paved the way for 2,184 yards and 25 touchdowns. Most of which came from running out of the shotgun and multiple receiver sets. However in power rushing situations on 3rd/4th and 2 or less, this group only converted on 56% of the time to the strong side. That isn’t enough. Although they re-signed RT Sebastian Vollmer, there are rumblings he is in for a battle with Marcus Cannon in this year’s camp. This is still a playoff level group.

A stronger defense will be needed with the offense scoring less this season. Chandler Jones can't afford a sophomore slump.

A stronger defense will be needed with the offense scoring less this season. Chandler Jones can’t afford a sophomore slump.

Defensive Line: For the last several years, Belichick has been getting by on schemes and situational juggling of personnel.  Vince Wilfork (the [[_]]) has been a mainstay (49 tackles/3 sacks) but aside from Rob Ninkovich (8 sacks), only rookie Chandler Jones (45 tackles /6 sacks) distinguished himself. Is Ninkovich a linebacker or a defensive end?? In the nickle, Dont’a Hightower produced 4 sacks yet should be unseated by 7th round draft selection Michael Buchanan out of Illinois. A long armed athletic pass rusher that should give Belichick more to tinker with.

One of the best things about the Patriots is they keep their opponents from keying in on their personnel on the line. At the same time it works against them in terms of becoming a top shelf defense. No one has been able to work to become dominant as they still haven’t found the replacement for Richard Seymour. Without a second strong lineman, this group has been in the bottom half of the league as they were 25th in defense in 2012, and 31st the year before that. This group gets by on using linebackers for much of it’s production for sack totals and has trouble stopping the run. Below average is the best we can give this group.

Ninkovich has been a the wild card on this defense. Teams don't know where he'll be coming from next in Belichick's schemes.

Ninkovich has been a the wild card on this defense. Teams don’t know where he’ll be coming from next in Belichick’s schemes.

Linebackers: How about the bounce back season of Jerod Mayo?? He made the Pro Bowl after registering 147 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 3 sacks, an interception, and 3 passes defensed. Not quite his 175 tackle masterpiece of a few years ago but he was more of a factor against the pass. Only 26, he’s going to be Belichick’s defensive anchor for many years to come. Brandon Spikes was right with him with another 4 forced fumbles to go with 91 tackles, 7 passes defensed and a sack. These two accounted for 10 total turnovers. That’s getting the job done. Now throw in Hightower’s rookie performance (60 tackles / 4 sacks) and this is a Super Bowl caliber group.

Secondary: A full offseason with a re-signed Aquib Talib and bringing in SS Adrian Wilson should greatly benefit this defense. Kyle Arrington needs a bounce back year where he didn’t intercept a pass. Devin McCourty had a solid year with 79 tackles, 5 interceptions, 13 passes defensed and 2 forced fumbles. Was it us, or did he look comfortable at Safety??  He gives them a Charles Woodson type ability to face 3 and 4 receiver sets if he has to lock onto a receiver. If he stays there now that Patrick Chung is healthy.

We’ve said for a few years this group is set to mature into something special. With the addition of Wilson and Talib, expect this to be one of the top secondaries in football. Going into his 13th season, Wilson keeps himself in tip top shape and has been a Pro Bowl player 4 of the last 5 seasons. Over the last 5 years he’s collected 9.5 sacks playing so close to the line of scrimmage. A frequent blitzer. He automatically makes this group better. A playoff caliber group.

Adrian Wilson is an attitude player that brings thunder to the Patriot secondary.

Adrian Wilson is an attitude player that brings thunder to the Patriot secondary.

Overall: You have to realize we’re coming down to the end of Tom Brady’s career. At 35 years of age how much longer will he do this?? What type of toll will this season have on him if his receivers are slow to develop?? This will be a unique study as we make our way through this season. It could be the last with the Patriots being the clear cut best in the AFC East.

They will see trouble early on in weeks 3-6 when they host Tampa, go to Atlanta, to Cincinnati, then host the potent New Orleans Saints. A 3-3 record could be the situation  before ironing out issues and playing to a rocky 10-6 finish. Payback will be on the minds of  the Texans when they host New England in week 13. Back to back road trips to Miami and Baltimore in weeks 15 & 16, figure to be difficult as well. Last year being 100% healthy they lost 31-30 to the Ravens so expect a dogfight in that one. With their #1 offense, they barely escaped in Miami 23-16 and the Dolphins have improved their defense.

This is the case if Gronkowski comes back early and is 100% for the season. If he doesn’t this team could slip to 9-7 or 8-8. Don’t forget last year they had 3 games against division opponents where games were decided by 7 points or less. Bill Belichick may have to will this team down the stretch to another division title. It will not be the same as it’s been though. Depending on Brady’s frame of mind, the Patriots could be in a mode of complete transition in 2014.

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Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

2012 AFC Picks & Prognostications

The NFL season is underway and we are late with our version of what we believe will happen in the AFC this season. Many new faces in new places that have teams excited. Most notably was the debut of Peyton Manning in last night’s opening win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. So the Broncos are going to streak to the Super Bowl…right?? Not so fast. A lot of excitement left the arena in Cleveland as the rookie starting tandem of QB Branden Weeden and RB Trent Richardson completely underwhelmed in a 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Had they provided just an ounce of offense they would have prevailed.

With fellow rookie QBs Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannenhill starting in Indianapolis and Miami respectively, they also took their lumps in week 1. Yet these teams knew they were going to have a long season and hope to see some growth as the season progresses.

Not so with many of the conference’s heavyweight teams in Baltimore, New England, Pittsburgh, and Houston. Can Joe Flacco perform better in a contract year for him?? Can the Ravens defense stay blood thirsty without Terrell Suggs?? How will the Steelers fare as their defense replaces some familiar faces?? Will the Patriots improve defensively this year with so much youth on that side of the ball?? Are the Texans the new team to beat coming out of the AFC South?? We’ll try to answer a few of these

2012 AFC Playoff Predictions

1. New England Patriots 13-3 ## AFC East Champs  Homefield Advantage

2. Houston Texans 12-4 AFC South Champs

3. Kansas City Chiefs 11-5 AFC West Champs

4. Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6 AFC North Champs

5. Baltimore Ravens 10-6 Wild Card

6. Denver Broncos 9-7 Wild Card

AFC CHAMPION: New England Patriots

Now based upon last night many will have the Broncos headed for the Super Bowl. Take a look at their schedule as a whole and you’ll see more than a few bumps in the road. Are the Broncos a more complete team than the Atlanta Falcons who murdered the Chiefs in Kansas City40-24?? That is where Denver is headed next week. The Georgia Dome will be loud as Falcons fans anticipate a Super Bowl season for their team. How about the defending AFC South champion Texans or going to defending AFC Champion New England Patriots?? Oh you didn’t know those were three of the next four Bronco opponents?? Sure they beat the #1 defense in the Steelers but that is without former Defensive Player of the Year in James Harrison and starting FS Ryan Clark.  That’s like winning Miss America without Miss California, Miss Florida, Miss Texas, Miss Ohio, and Miss Georgia not being available. Peyton did perform well in his debut however it was just one game and it has to be kept in perspective. The Broncos still have a lot of questions at receiver and their defense as a whole. They conclude with 3 of their final 5 against Tampa, the desperate to make the playoffs Ravens, and the Browns. You saw what that Browns defense did to Michael Vick and on any given Sunday…

There is something the Texans are missing and we won’t find out til later this season. This isn’t the same team that was on the field for them a few seasons ago. They are solid on defense but may have given up too much in letting LB DeMeco Ryans, DE/LB Mario Williams, and CB Duante Robinson out of town. They’ll be solid from a tactical standpoint but will they have playmakers on defense to turn a close game like they couldn’t against the Ravens in last year’s playoff?? Someone has to emerge..

In the AFC North these teams will beat each other up as the best defenses ravage the rest of the conference. The Steelers will emerge because of Ben Roethlisberger winning games with those fast receivers. They will transform into more of an offensive team as their defense ages and eventually will show wear. LB Larry Foote becoming the leader in the middle is well deserved and he played tremendous against Denver early on. They still have the best offensive / defensive personnel in the division and again will narrowly beat out the Ravens in the AFC North.

Out west Kansas City will emerge and play as they did in 2010 when they were one of the strongest teams in the league. They lost to the Falcons in week 1 but they are much better than they were in 2011. They are set at every skill position and RB Jamaal Charles looked good coming back from knee surgery. Matt Cassel is looking to have a rebound year and the Chiefs are solid on the offensive and defensive lines. A lot like Tampa in the NFC, this team took a step back although they have a good roster and should bounce back nicely in 2012.

As for the Chargers, they are the AFC West version of the Houston Texans. A lot of good football players but lack the playmakers to change games. Add to that WR Vincent Jackson is now down in Tampa and someone new has to emerge. Phillip Rivers is a good quarterback but he can’t go it alone. The Chargers will frustrate their fans as they lose close ball games all year. Until a few playmakers emerge they will watch the playoffs alongside the Oakland Raiders.

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2012 New England Patriots Preview

As the final pass from Tom Brady fell harmlessly to the turf in last February’s Super Bowl, the immediate thoughts move to the upcoming offseason. Of course the incomplete pass touched off a celebration for New York, but the assessment for each team’s possible return began. One thing was evident as you looked at New England: Bill Belichick and his Patriots may have arrived at the Super Bowl a year too early. Do you realize of the 22 starters from the 2007 16-0 team, 17 of them have been replaced some 4 years later?? Oops make that 18 with Left Tackle Matt Light’s retirement. This team has been completely overhauled and has remained a force in the AFC and the question has to be asked: If Belichick’s young defense is maturing and Brady, Welker, and Gronkowski remain a force on offense, who is going to keep this team from reaching Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans??

Quarterback: The number one reason why that question can be asked is Tom Brady is still at quarterback. He’s the only quarterback in NFL history to make it to the NFL Championship Game or Super Bowl with 4 different starting running backs. So losing Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis won’t cause to large a problem. He is the only quarterback in NFL history to have 5 seasons with 13 or more wins and only two of his Super Bowl wins were during those seasons. Last year’s stat-line?? He went 401 of 611 attempts for a team and AFC record 5,235 yards 39TDs and only 12 interceptions. Yet he’s only going into his 13th season and holds these distinctions as well:

 

  • In 2011 he tied John Elway for the most Super Bowls as a starting quarterback with 5.
  • Brady holds the record for most touchdown passes in a season with 50. (2007)
  • In 2010 set the record for touchdown to interception ratio at 9. (36TDs / 4Ints)
  • In 2010 set the record for most passing attempts without an interception at 335.

Although he’s one of the game’s elder statesmen, he still seems to have good feet within the pocket. He still has a zeal for the game and has helped TEs Hernandez and Gronkowski grow into the league’s best pair of tight ends through his leadership and play. So it’s at this point we expect Tom Terrific to have another great season. Possibly no passer in history utilizes his weapons better. His achille’s heal has been ever since the 2007 Super Bowl, if you get to him and hit him in his legs early, he will look down at the pass rush. Opponents hope to do more of that with the Patriots grooming a new Left Tackle. However it’s time to stop comparing Brady to his contemporaries. Where does he fit in history?? Well at quarterback the Patriots are Super Bowl quality.

Offensive Backfield: One of the reasons the Patriots used their short passing game so much was the inability to run the football with any consistency. They have replaced the departed Green-Ellis with former Indianapolis Colt Joseph Addai. The Patriots are hoping for a little more burst than the 3.7 yard rushing average Green-Ellis gave them. Although he did score 11TDs his number one problem was he couldn’t stretch a play past what it was designed for. At times in the NFL you have to be able to break a few 10 -15 yard runs. Neither he (667 yards) or Danny Woodhead (351 yds /1 TD) or Stevan Ridley (441 yds/ 1TD) could sustain a solid rushing attack.  This was one of the deficiencies that came to haunt them in last year’s Super Bowl. They’re asking a lot of Addai who hasn’t rushed for more than 500 yards in his last two seasons. Since they didn’t draft a running back they may be forced to run by committee again. They’re still below average at running back.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski has 54 million new reasons to smile with his new contract.

Receivers: Believe it or not this was the other deficiency that reared it’s head in not only the Super Bowl loss to the Giants, but the loss to the Jets in the 2010 playoffs as well. This team can’t get deep. However it took teams with superior corners that allowed safeties and linebackers to sit on intermediate routes (20 yards and under) to finally get to Brady. Wes Welker has been re-signed and hasn’t declined at all as the game’s best slot receiver. His 122 receptions gave him his 4th season with over 100 which ties him with Jerry Rice for the most all time. Think about that for a second…that’s rarified air for a receiver who has only had 4, 1,000 yard seasons.

However when you couple Welker’s stats with those of TEs Rob Gronkowski (90 rec. 1,327 yds 17TDs), and Aaron Hernandez (79 rec. 910 yds 7TDs), you understand this is actually the Patriots replacement for an anemic running game. Yet this team can’t stretch the field and that brings down their grade at receiver. Deion Branch has lost a step and can’t threaten vertically either. When they go up against high ranking defenses they will have trouble. At receiver, this team is playoff quality not Super Bowl quality.

Offensive Line: Will have their hands full replacing Left Tackle Matt Light but shouldn’t be a serious problem. The Patriots favor the short passing game anyway. Last year this line ranked 10th in sacks allowed with 32 and 13th in quarterback hits allowed with 71. The team has been very cavalier moving to get a free agent tackle into camp. Belichick is going to go with the same passing style of the last few years, and Brady will see little pass rush with most plays being 5 step drops or less. Get used to mini rollouts in games also to keep backside pressure down as well. Yet don’t forget the Patriots selected Tackle Marcus Cannon from TCU in the 2011 draft. So “The Hoodie” is ready. However this line has to take a step back to average since Light was such a staple on the team and was a locker room presence. After all, he was the spokesperson who presented Robert Kraft with the painting to commemorate the 2011 season in his late wife’s honor. Locker room leaders like that are hard to replace.

Andre Carter registered 10 sacks last year for New England.

Defensive Line: Proof positive that the NFL was upside down last year??  Here you had the NFL’s 31st ranked defense winning the AFC and they had to draft defense, defense, defense. Last year giving up 411 yards per game were too many and most of the issues come from a defensive line that is influx. Vince Wilfork is still a force in the middle but the hodgepodge set of pass rushers needs to be bolstered with a bonafide blue chip player. Last year Mark Anderson and journeyman Andre Carter each registered 10 sacks but Belichick was forced to juggle his line too much last year.

The Patriots used 1st and 3rd round draft picks on DEs Chandler Jones of Syracuse and Jake Bequette from Arkansas. Each player stands 6’5 and Jones is trying to beef up from his 247 lbs to rush the passer from the blind side. Last year the Patriots were 14th in sacks with 40. However Carter made the Pro Bowl last year and the Patriots need to re-sign this unrestricted free agent to help bring along a young Jones and give Belichick a chance to field a 3 DE pass rush alignment like the Giants. If they re-sign Carter this group has a chance to be playoff quality. If not defensive growing pains will drop them below average.

Linebackers: This unit took a step back last year. First Jerrod Mayo, who had an out of this world 2010 leading the NFL with 175 tackles came down to Earth with a total of 102 last year. Sure he missed a few games but the slip in play was the catalyst to the slide of the defense overall. However with an injury free camp, the Patriots expect a bounce back season for Mayo. A pleasant surprise was the heady play of LB Rob Ninkovich (80 tackles) who proved to be a solid overall defender. He registered 6.5 sacks last year and Mark Sanchez is still having nightmares from the pick six he took back to ice a pivotal divisional game last year. If he can repeat his performance and LB Brandon Spikes and Gary Guyton can stay on the field this season, the Patriots can improve to a good to middle of the pack defense overall. We have to see how they evolve this pre-season. Right now we have to give the linebacking corps an average ranking with a chance to be good.

A young and growing secondary.

Secondary: Quiet as it’s kept, the best set of corners in the AFC this season might be Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty. You have McCourty #32 who made the Pro Bowl in 2010 with 7 interceptions and Arrington who should have made it last year. His 7 interceptions had a lot to do with teams backing away from McCourty. These two have had some growing pains but at 24 and 25 years of age respectively, this year Belichick will have the best corner play this team has seen since Ty Law and Otis Smith. Yet with their speed, youth, and now on field experience, expect the pass defense rankings to go up this year.

Patrick Chung is a good young safety who came on after injuries early in the season. He needs to make just a few more plays and should in his second season after supplanting Brandon Merriweather. He only had 1 interception as an 8 game starter last year after having 3 in spot duty in 2010. Had he been just one step quicker, he could have knocked down that Eli Manning to Mario Manningham 4th quarter pass in the Super Bowl. Nah…that was just a fabulous throw. Well if you think about it if he improves a quarter of a step or half a step?? Regardless he’s expected to have a better 2012 than 2011. This is a good young secondary and it’s growing… have to give them an above average or playoff grade.

Overall: This team arrived at the Super Bowl one year too early. With a bounce back season from Mayo and improved play from a young secondary this team should win Super Bowl XLVII going away. Tom Brady can adapt and cover any deficiencies that could arise on the offensive end. If they re-sign Andre Carter and one of their rookie defensive ends can pay immediate dividends… Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will win their fourth Super Bowl with a fifth on the near horizon.

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