2013 NFL Preview: New England Patriots

Don’t Be So Quick to Bury the Patriots…

Can Brady and Belichick keep their hold on the AFC East?

Can Brady and Belichick keep their hold on the AFC East? (Credit Opertinicy)

Oh, ye of little faith. The New England Patriots‘ bandwagon hasn’t been this empty since before Drew Bledsoe came to town, and the excuses are voluminous. “Gronk is hurt”, “All the receivers are gone”, “The Hernandez thing is too distracting”… they seem never-ending in 2013. But doesn’t it feel a lot like how the media treats its pop stars – build them up just to tear them down – doesn’t it?

Think about it. Just last season, ESPN started calling Tom Brady the “greatest living American”. Bill Belichick was regarded as the best coach in the NFL, able to surmount any obstacle. And the Kraft family was lauded as the best group of owners in the league. And now, just one season later, everyone’s piling on to burn the franchise to the ground.

The only question we have is this: have you all learned nothing? Sure, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd are gone. How many receivers have come and gone in Tom Brady’s tenure as Patriots QB? Sure, Aaron Hernandez‘s murder rap is more than a little distracting. But this is the team that’s brought in perceived “headaches” like Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth and not missed a beat.

Simply put, if the New England Patriots don’t begin the 2013 NFL season as the prohibitive favorite to win the AFC East, in spite of all the distractions and defections, then people haven’t been paying attention.

Minnesota Vikings: 2012 team stats

Team record: 12-4 (1st in AFC East)

Total offensive rank: 1st (4th pass, 7th rush)

Total defensive rank: 25th (29th pass, 9th rush)

2013 New England Patriots: offensive preview

No, this offense won’t look anything like it did in 2012 in terms of personnel. But don’t expect much of a deviation from the offensive scheme and playbook that made the Pats #1 in total offense last season. The balance of a #4 pass attack and #7 rushing game will still be utilized – although the receiving corps will be younger, less tested and subject to scrutiny.

Tom Brady is the lynchpin for the Patriots’ offensive success. Outside of his 2008 season which was halted in Week 1, Brady has not missed a regular season start since 2002. If we were to take the worst statistic from each of those seasons, it would read thusly: 3,529 yards, 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Most NFL quarterbacks would take those numbers every season – for Brady, they’d indicate a down year. And before you accuse us of kissing Brady’s behind, we’d invite you to find another QB with a 96.6 passer rating and 3 Super Bowl rings over a 13-year career (so far).

Brady’s offensive weaponry, at first blush, is as shaky as its been in his career. The main wide receivers are: Danny Amendola, who is quick and gifted but horribly prone to injury; Julian Edelman, who has never been better than New England’s #3 wideout; and rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. While Thompkins and Dobson have shown flashes in the preseason, Bill Belichick generally doesn’t like to rely on rookies for production. Pro Bowl TE Rob Gronkowski‘s health is a concern after 2 off-season surgeries, but when Gronk returns he instantly becomes one of the 2 best tight end options in the league (with the Saints’ Jimmy Graham). In the interim, the tight end position will be manned by players such as veteran Jake Ballard and the intriguing 6’7″ Zach Sudfeld, who has made a name for himself this preseason.

Due to the uncertainty at WR, the Patriots may lean more heavily on the ground game. Stevan Ridley established himself as the Pats’ #1 back last year with 1,263 yards and 12 TDs on 290 carries. Shane Vereen provides a change of pace. The run game will lean towards the strong left side of the O-line, anchored by LT Nate Solder and LG Logan Mankins.

2013 New England Patriots: defensive preview

The Patriots defense has been growing up the last 2 seasons, and may need to prove its maturity sooner rather than later if the passing attack falters early in the season. The strength of New England’s D is their front 7 against the run, which ranked 9th in the 2012 NFL season. Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are one of the premier DT tandems in the game, flanked by the steadily improving Rob Ninkovich and the young, explosive Chandler Jones.

The linebackers are led by the talented Jerod Mayo, who in his 5th NFL season tallied 147 total tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 3 sacks and an INT. 2nd year Alabama LB Dont’a Hightower mans the RLB position, while 4th year middle linebacker Brandon Spikes looks for his first full 16-game season in his NFL career.

The secondary must improve dramatically after allowing the 4th most passing yards in the 2012 season. The cornerback position features two embattled players, Aqib Talib (who was jettisoned from Tampa Bay) and Alfonzo Dennard, who was hit with an offseason DUI charge. The safety position is a bit more secure, with the solid Devin McCourty (3 forced fumbles, 5 INTs in 2012) and Steve Gregory.

2013 New England Patriots: schedule includes AFC North, NFC South

The Patriots must deal with two of the toughest divisions in the NFL on their schedule this year, as they play the AFC North and NFC South in full. From a fan’s perspective, this means highly entertaining matchups against the Falcons, Saints, Bengals and Ravens, as well as the classic Patriots vs. Steelers rivalry.

New England must also contend with AFC favorites Denver and Houston; while the Texans game is on the road, Patriots fans will be treated to Peyton Manning and company traveling to Gillette Stadium Week 12 for Sunday Night Football. In terms of the team’s AFC East schedule, their division rivals are relatively front-loaded: the Patriots only play 2 AFC East games after Week 8 of the regular season – at Miami and at home for Buffalo.

Here’s the New England Patriots’ 2013 schedule, home and away:

Home: NY Jets, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Miami, Pittsburgh, Denver, Cleveland, Buffalo

Away: Buffalo, Atlanta, Cincinnati, NY Jets, Carolina, Houston, Miami, Baltimore

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