Here we are at last and just in time for the last season prediction for the team that kicks off the season later on tonight. Everyone's favorite pick to repeat in the Super Bowl and the NFL's Alabama dynasty New England Patriots is the last team that I need to vet. I like everyone else believe this is the team to beat for the Super Bowl and should make it at the end of the year. However, I am a bit skeptical to just hand them the trophy just yet since repeating in this league is very hard to win in. I think they should be able to run the AFC though where the contending teams like the Titans, Raiders, and Steelers all do not have the savvy or defense to slow them down. Plus, they still have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick who will run the NFL until both of them run off into the sunset together.
I feel like all I have to say in the offensive section is Tom Brady and then move on, but I feel like I would just be mailing it in here. So, instead I will do my best to pick apart this offense. Their offensive line protecting Brady took a big jump after being a bit of a mess the year prior not because of an influx of talent, but the return of one of the best offensive line coaches in Dante Scarnecchia who I think Belichick convinced to return until all three of them retire together. They do have a talented left tackle in Nate Solder when healthy to go along with a solid interior trio of Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason. The biggest weak point is right tackle Marcus Cannon and they probably would have hoped rookie Antonio Garcia would push him, but he is currently on the PUP list. Overall, the Patriots have been able to find solid talents to come in and play on the line over the years. Their running back group may be a headache for fantasy team owners, but the Patriots would not be themselves if they made it easy on people. They have a crew of incumbent Dion Lewis who's health may have caused him to fall out of favor now that he is behind newly acquired Mike Gillislee and fellow incumbent James White. They also brought in Rex Burkhead who is supposedly a sneaky play to get a lot of action in their offense. Then they have a mix of receiver that even without Julian Edelmen should still be a headache to slow down. Newly acquired Brandin Cooks is told to be an even better fit to their offense than Randy Moss was. Then they still have Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell (who I think is their best receiver on the roster, but is currently on the shelf), and newly acquired Phillip Dorsett who can be a nice deep threat for them. Plus, in terms of Dorsett they have gotten a lot out of other team's castoffs so I can see this being another great find. Then their tight ends will be great still even if Rob Gronkowski continues to get banged up since they brought in a capable back up in Dwayne Allen who can be a real red zone weapon for Brady. Overall, none of their receivers outside of Gronk are slam dunk studs, but that's the beauty of this offense where you cannot double team one guy or else you will get burned by another weapon.
Their defense may be their weakness to make it to the Super Bowl, but among their AFC competitors they still have one of the better stop units. I also have to admit even if I think their players are not good on that side of the ball Belichick continues to prove me wrong. Heck he even made bust Shea McClellen look serviceable. They did let solid pass rusher Jabaal Sheard, and traded away Chandler Jones, but still look to have a solid enough pass rush. They still have Trey Flowers who is quietly one of the better linemen in the league and have a decent rookie prospect in Deatrich Wise who can play. I also think them acquiring Cassius Marsh can be more than just a special team pick up. Their tackles are a solid group with Malcolm Brown, Alan Branch, and Vincent Valentine. Their interior linebackers are a solid bunch with D'Onta Hightower, David Harris, and Elandon Roberts who is currently on the shelf, but if he can come back they will be a good bunch. Bill Belichick did a great job reloading their secondary by getting Stephon Gilmore who will create a great duo with Malcom Butler on the other side who is playing for a new contract. Their safeties are always quietly solid with Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. Overall, this defense to me looks a bit weak from front to back, but I have been wrong before about this defense. They also do not have to be great in a pretty weak AFC conference across the board and especially in their own division.
In the end, this is still the team to beat with the best quarterback and coach combination in the league. Unless of course Brady at age 40 falls off a cliff talent wise, but I doubt it. He keeps himself extremely healthy and is getting even wiser each passing year with his ability to dissect defenses. My only worry is their lack of an obvious pass rush, but I am sure they will figure it out. Their schedule is obviously favorable playing in the AFC East where they should sweep the season series with all of them. Then they face off against the Chiefs, Saints, Texans, Bucs, and Chargers. Their toughest match ups are with the Panthers, Steelers, Falcons, at Denver, and Raiders. I think they should win most of those games, but would not be shocked if they lose one or two of those. If they do not end with at least a 13 or 12 win season I would be shocked.
3 (19) - Derek Rivers DE - I really liked Rivers potential and versatility coming into the draft. Then when he landed with New England I thought this was the best landing spot for him where Belichick loves to move guys around. Unfortunately, he suffered a season ending knee injury that will force him to take a redshirt year his rookie season. Hopefully, he can come back by the time OTAs come around to allow him to get a full off season of work.
3 (21) - Antonio Garcia OT - Now I get why Belichick loves to trade away picks for actual veteran talents even if they do not work out like Kony Ealy. Garcia who could become a solid swing tackle prospect is out as well with a illness. He has been out since June 5 so I doubt he will be ready to come off the PUP list even when he is able to in Week 7. If anything he will probably be another redshirt rookie to go along with Rivers.
4 (25) - Deatrich Wise DE - The only rookie who could play for the Patriots this season. Wise has some raw talent and length who can be a nice interior pass rusher. His versatility is something Belichick will love where he has the ability to play the 5-technique and standing up on the edge. I would like to see him get stronger to be more effective in the run game. Overall, he will probably just be in the rotation his rookie year.
6 (28) - Conor McDermott OT - What a fall for a prospect a lot of people had high hopes for going into the year. At the time, I thought he would have gone undrafted with how stiff he was as a blocker. Then he was drafted by the Patriots who were his best shot to maybe work it out. In the end, he ended up being cut this Saturday by the Patriots. He was not even worthy of a practice squad addition for the Pats so obviously he was as bad as I expected. He was picked up by the Bills, but usually players go the other way to become successful.
2018 Off Season:
This off season will probably be more the same for the Patriots as long as Belichick and Brady return. They will continue to gather players who can play now to extend their success into Brady's twilight years. Whether that is with trading their picks again or maybe swapping Malcolm Butler for picks like they were tempted to do this past year. They also have Nate Solder as a stand out free agent who I think they should bring back just to keep the continuity on the line and finding quality tackles in this league is tough even though Solder is on the lower end of the spectrum. Also they have the big thing about Jimmy Garoppolo who everyone loves. If Belichick wants to leave the team in good hands after Brady and he leaves he would franchise tag him. However, that is a hefty price for a back up quarterback and I bet more likely than not he walks or at least tries to so he can get paid. I am skeptical about his success elsewhere unlike many pundits around the league who loves him. To me trading a bunch of picks for nothing more than a 4 year veteran quarterback with one and a half starts is a bit crazy. Especially, how many former New England quarterbacks who leave fall flat on their faces like Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, and Matt Cassell in recent years. I would not be shocked if recently traded Jacoby Brissett is next and if Garoppolo does leave I doubt he finds much success or anything close to his high expected price tag.
My 2018 Mock Selection:
1 (30) - Da'Ron Payne DT Alabama