So it’s currently the beginning of August, which means we’re all officially imprisoned in a perpetual state of oblivion commonly referred to as the “dog days of summer.” In other words, there is absolutely nothing legitimate going on in the world of sports aside from a couple baseball teams fighting for playoff contention and preseason football. Thus, I’ve decided to provide you guys with what I believe is the ULTIMATE 2014 New England Patriots Season Preview.
Offseason: For those of you who elected to spend the last three months or so sequestered in a hyperbaric chamber or sorts, Bob Kraft & Co. have made quite a few moves since free agency commenced back in March. In fact, I can’t remember the Patriots creating such a splash with their offseason negotiations since, well, never. Normally they just trade away their first twelve draft picks for couple Starbucks gift cards, stiff a fan favorite out of a few million bucks in contract renegotiations, sign another 5’9″ white slot receiver from some D2 program in the midwest, and bring in about 40 defensive backs from Rutgers. However, our good friends in Foxboro seemingly snorted an 8-ball of pre-workout before crushing the boardroom this summer and I don’t see how anyone could argue with what the front office is sending to Sun Life Stadium in September.
In other words, our Jews beat your Jews and managed to silence any concern I had following the Pats’ loss to Denver in the AFC Championship Game. They locked up their two biggest free agent concerns in Julian Edelman (who’s been my favorite Patriot since his D-back days in 2011) and Vince Wilfork; they went out and scooped up Brandon Lafell, who at the very least should be able to use his frame to snatch a few red zone lobs; they further solidified themselves as the best-looking team in football by drafting Jimmy Garoppolo; and oh yeah, they signed Brandon Browner and this guy named Darrelle Revis who, according to sources close to the league, plays pretty decent defense…
Offense: Even though the Pats largely earned their early 2000s hardware on the back of a snarling, hard-nosed, “by any means necessary” defense, it’s pretty safe to say that things have changed in the last six or seven years. Strictly speaking, the Patriots have managed to reach two SuperBowls and seemingly three-hundred AFC Championship Games in the last decade because of what they can do on the offensive side of the ball. That said, the modus operandi in New England has slowed its role—and become more realistic—since that video game of a season they had in 2007; nevertheless, the narrative is still very much the same because Brady and Big Dick Bill are still jogging through the tunnel on the weekends.
In regard to the regular season, the Patriots are basically a lock to reach the playoffs because the AFC East is still a third-rate division. Miami may give them a couple migraines in late December but blowing the doors off Ralph Wilson and MetLife Stadium for four wins a year requires less tangible exertion than getting accepted to community college. As for the rest of the schedule, there may be problems because the NFC North always puts up a pretty scrap. The Packers and Bears are both respectable franchises and watching the Lions’ pass rush reminds me of that scene in the second Lord of the Rings when the orcs start to bullrush the Towers at Helm’s Deep. That said, the Patriots have good depth and a strong enough core of weapons on offense to pour in end zone trips as long as the offensive line doesn’t appear to be held together with an assortment of duct tape and rubber bands—like last year.
On a side note: I understand the concerns regarding Gronk and whether he can stay healthy but I’m getting sick of people questioning if he’ll have the same impact coming off injury. You can debate it all you want but the answer is simple: If Rob Gronkowski is on the field, you’re going to notice him. The guy’s been the breathing embodiment of consistency since he landed in New England and I still stand by my claim that he’s the most freakishly gifted athlete I’ve ever seen play the position. He blows by linebackers, he shrugs off cornerbacks, he DOESN’T drop passes, he’s the best run-blocking skill player in the league, and he rarely makes mental mistakes. Simply put, he’s just one of those guys who shows up to the field with a lunchbox and earns his 95+ Madden player rating…
X Factor: Obviously the biggest key to success this season concerns whether Brady and Gronk’s knees manage to elude implosion so I’m going to get a bit more Kraft-y (see what I did there?) on this one. Considering Brady routinely avoids the deep ball—presumably because Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson seemingly grease their hands with WD-40 before lining up for post routes—in favor of slinging bullets into the slot, my 2014 Patriots’ Offensive X factor is the same guy the Pats hired to replace that other white dude they traded to Denver: Danny Amendola.
Last year, Edelman basically chucked Welker’s jockstrap over his shoulder and into the recycling bin while Amendola reinforced the notion that he’s anatomically comprised of the same materials third grade teachers supply their students with for arts and crafts. I refuse to go as far as to say that he isn’t tough because it takes a tremendous amount of grit and balls for a guy my size to run a quick slant into an expanse of 250+ pound leviathans who are willing to heave you into a coma for a six figure annual salary; nevertheless, the dude can’t manage to sneeze without fragmentizing half of his skeletal structure and, without him, stringing together first downs becomes exponentially more difficult.
Defense: Like I mentioned earlier, the good people in Foxboro threw a bone to All-Pro Devon McCourty this offseason and spooned a couple veteran defensive backs who—if healthy and not jacked up on pharmaceuticals—should dramatically shrink the dimensions of the secondary; thus allowing Matt Patricia to explore personnel versatilities and pump a few more blitz formations into the playbook (otherwise known as the Gospel of Bill) rather than relying on scrubs the team pried from the practice squad three hours prior to kickoff.
As for the rest of the defense, things are looking just as solid. The return of Wilfork and Tommy Kelly should help plug that balsa wood wall that the Patriots called a defensive line last season; Mayo, Hightower, and Jamie Collins are athletic enough to hang with most tight ends if necessary; and considering that the Patriots finally locked up a few guys who can prevent opposing quarterbacks from slinging to their first read, look for Chandler Jones to chew up a handful of coverage sacks.
X Factor: This one was tough for me because there’s an overwhelming amount of potential in some of these younger guys. Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower had an absolute field day against the Colts in the divisional-round and Chandler Jones’ genetic inheritance gives me anxiety; however, my 2014 Patriots’ Defensive X Factor is none other than Rob Ninkovich because, although he was huge factor for the team last season, I’m expecting a Pro Bowl performance out of him this year.
For starters, Ninkovich is your prototypical Belichickian player: he grinds out series, he approaches/reads the game from the eyes of a coordinator, he’s white, and most importantly, he can play multiple positions. The guy’s as versatile as they come in the NFL and the closest player to Mike Vrabel the Patriots have had since, well, Mike Vrabel. I’m not going as far as to suggest he’ll become a red zone target in the near future—Vrabel somehow managed to haul in 10 touchdowns in a career where he lined up at tight end roughly 12 times—but look for Matt Patricia to take the governor off this dude early and often. With the revamped flexibility of the defense, we’re likely to see him taking reps at either end of the line, as well as outside linebacker in 3-4 sets.
Prediction: 13-3 and a New England/San Francisco SuperBowl…
PS This is by far the longest blog I’ve ever posted to this site.