New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick may be the devil, but he’s not stupid. He knows his window with Tom Brady is closing and all it takes is one bad hit to completely change the future of his franchise. It’s why the Patriots, who usually toss pricey vets away without a second thought, re-signed plenty of talent this off-season and brought in some new, expensive toys as well.
Like it or not (and I do not), the Patriots have been the predominate dynasty of the last 16 years. No team has been so successful for so long and it has everything to do with Brady and Belichick (and, you know, cheating for the first three Super Bowls). But since they were busted for SpyGate they managed to go to four more Super Bowls and won two of them. You can blame their opponents’ late fourth quarter offensive playcalling for that (and I do), but you can’t argue with the rings. They won them. Fair ans square. I guess.
Let’s see if Belichick did enough to spark one final title run for the Pats.
Free Agents Kept
Alan Branch, Defensive End
Duron Harmon, Safety
Dont’a Hightower, Middle Linebacker
Justin Coleman, Cornerback
Brandon Bolden, Running Back
Malcolm Butler, Cornerback
Free Agents/Players Gained
Brandin Cooks, Wide Receiver, acquired in a trade with the New Orleans Saints
Kony Ealy, Defensive End, acquired in a trade with the Carolina Panthers
Rex Burkhead, Running Back, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals
Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback, formerly of the Buffalo Bills
Lawrence Guy, Defensive End, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens
David Harris, Linebacker, formerly of the New York Jets
Andrew Hawkins, Wide Receiver, formerly of the Cleveland Browns
Mike Gillislee, Running Back, formerly of the Buffalo Bills
Free Agents/Players Lost
Martellus Bennett, Tight End, signed with the Green Bay Packers
LeGarrette Blount, Running Back, signed with the Philadelphia Eagles
Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, signed with the Minnesota Vikings
Chris Long, Defensive End, signed with the Philadelphia Eagles
Barkevious Mingo, Linebacker, signed with the Indianapolis Colts
Logan Ryan, Cornerback, signed with the Tennessee Titans
Jabaal Sheard, Defensive End, signed with the Indianapolis Colts
Sebastian Vollmer, Offensive Tackle, retired
2017 NFL Draft
Round 3: Derek Rivers, Defensive End, Youngstown State
Round 3: Antonio Garcia, Offensive Tackle, Troy
Round 4: Deatrich Wise, Defensive End, Arkansas
Round 6: Conor McDermott, Offensive Tackle, UCLA
Proposed Offensive Starters
QB: Tom Brady
RB: James White
WR: Chris Hogan
WR: Julian Edelman
WR: Brandin Cooks
TE: Rob Gronkowski
LT: Nate Solder
RT: Marcus Cannon
LG: Joe Thuney
RG: Shaquille Mason
C: David Andrews
The Patriots’ offense begins and ends with Tom Brady, probably the best quarterback to ever play the game. By the time the season starts Brady will be 40 and that’s a big reason why Belichick is pushing all his chips to the center of the table this season. Yes, Brady says he might play another four seasons. I don’t buy it. I think it’s way more likely this is his final season.
Even with touchdown machine LeGarette Blount gone, the Patriots still have a formidable group of running backs. I’ve plugged Super Bowl 51 hero James White in as the starter, considering he can run and catch the ball out of the backfield. Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee will all get plenty of opportunities. New England has to find a red zone back to replace Blount, however, and that could end up being rookie LeSean Daniels Jr. or Brandon Boldon.
The Pats will open with their best wide receiver group since 2007-08. While none of these guys is Randy Moss, the depth is just better with Julian Edelman, newly acquired Brandin Cooks, the underrated Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola, who took a pay cut to stay with the team.
Up front, the Patriots made no changes on the offensive line, but there’s no depth here past a couple of late round rookies. Any injury, especially at the interior positions, could really put a damper on their postseason plans.
Proposed Defensive Starters
DE: Kony Ealy
DE: Trey Flowers
DT: Alan Branch
DT: Malcolm Brown
OLB: Dont’a Hightower
OLB: Rob Ninkovich
MLB: David Harris
CB: Malcolm Butler
CB: Stephon Gilmore
FS: Devin McCourty
SS: Patrick Chung
The Patriots lost two of their best defensive ends in free agency with Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long both flying the coop. They made up for it with a trade for Kony Ealy, who might turn out to be better than both the guys he’s replacing. Ealy would have been the MVP of Super Bowl 50 if the Carolina Panthers could have pulled off the victory over the Denver Broncos.
Adding Stephon Gilmore to the defensive backfield makes this as good a unit as any in the league. Malcolm Butler has already emerged as one of the NFL’s best corners. Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung are both underrated players on the back end. McCourty finished second on the team in tackles last season with 78 to go with one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, seven passes defended and a pick.
Bellichick brought in David Harris at middle linebacker, removing a recurring thorn in his side with the New York Jets. Dont’a Hightower was a player the Patriots wouldn’t let escape, paying the outside linebacker a big bag of cash to stay. Rob Ninkovich is playing out the clock on his career, but has been a solid player for New England for a long time.
The Patriots got better on both sides of the ball, trading draft picks for established players they knew could fit their system. Brady has plenty of weapons to spread the ball around on offense and Gimore, along with Harris, are significant upgrades on defense.
O/U wins: 11.5
Week 1: Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 2: at Houston Texans
Week 3: at Detroit Lions
Week 4: New York Giants
Regular Season Schedule
Week 1: Kansas City Chiefs
Week 2: at New Orleans Saints
Week 3: Houston Texans
Week 4: Carolina Panthers
Week 5: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 6: at New York Jets
Week 7: Atlanta Falcons
Key game: The Patriots get the Super Bowl 51 rematch at home. The Falcons nearly ran New England off the field in the championship game, only to sputter in the third and fourth quarters. The Patriots already made a statement with the greatest come back in Super Bowl history. Now they could shut down any debate on who was the better team.
Week 8: Los Angeles Chargers
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: at Denver Broncos
Week 11: at Oakland Raiders
Week 12: Miami Dolphins
Week 13: at Buffalo Bills
Week 14: at Miami Dolphins
Week 15: at Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 16: Buffalo Bills
Week 17: New York Jets
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