Going into the offseason, the Patriots had one objective: improve the defense, but specifically the secondary. Last season, the Pats’ secondary was in the middle of the pack, but was unable to stop the best quarterbacks. The Patriots defense’s stats were inflated because they faced the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills six times last season. During the playoffs, it became obvious that they could not win another championship without a drastically improved defense. During their two postseason games against Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning, the unit allowed over 700 yards of offense and 6 touchdowns. Also, the Seahawks’ performance in the Super Bowl against the greatest offense of all time solidified the Patriots’ belief about the importance of physical and talented cornerbacks. Although they did not have a lot of room under the cap, they signed All-Pro Darrelle Revis and Pro-Bowler Brandon Browner. Even though many assume that Richard Sherman is the best corner in the league, it should not be forgotten that Revis played like the best corner since Deion Sanders during his time with the arch rival Jets. Last season, Revis did not post the same numbers because he was recovering from a torn ACL and the Bucs did not allow Revis to play on an island. In New England, the Pats have stated that they will put Revis on the best receiver in order to take him out of the game. Similar to Revis, Browner was suspended for the second half of the 2013 season and will be suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season due to drug use. Browner is a physically imposing corner at 6’4″ and 220 pounds. The Pats will ask him to matchup against the opposing team’s tallest receiver as he has the size and strength to compete for jump balls. Browner plays like a ball-hawk in the secondary and recorded 9 interceptions over the previous two seasons. With the addition of Revis and Browner to an already solid safety core, Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, the Patriots should possess a secondary that could compete with any team’s secondary, besides the Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots did not feel the need to drastically address the front seven, besides Dominique Easley, because Vince Wilfork and Jared Mayo will return from injury. On offense, the Pats are set to return every starter from last season. Bill Belicheck must have a lot of confidence in Aaron Dobson and Kembrell Thompkins because Tom Brady needs more consistent options on the outside.
The Patriots’ offense and ultimately their season revolves around the health of Rob Gronkowski. When Gronk is on the field, he is the best tight end in the game and one of the most dominating players in the entire NFL. Over the past two seasons, Gronk has constantly been battling injuries, which have held him to only 18 games. When Gronk plays, the Patriots’ offense is drastically improved. Without Gronk in the rotation, Tom Brady has to rely on players such as Kembrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, and the oft injured Danny Amendola. Although Tom Brady has shown in the past that he can lead a team without top receivers, he is nearing the end of his career and he is coming off of his worst season since 2006. Gronk is a great weapon in the red zone because he is a huge target and neither corners nor safeties are able to cover the behemoth. Before this past season, Gronk recorded double digit touchdowns in his previous three seasons. With the enhanced defense, it will be critical for Gronk to stay on the field because they will have a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl.
The most important player on the Patriots’ defense is Chandler Jones. The 24 year old defensive end is the Pats’ X-Factor because he is the only dynamic pass rusher on the team. In today’s NFL, it is imperative that defenses are able to apply constant pressure on the opposing quarterback. Besides Jones, the Patriots do not have any players that have the potential to record double digit sack numbers. Although the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom is given all the credit for their success, the secondary’s job would have been exponentially tougher if the Seahawks’ front four was unable to dominate the line of scrimmage. Jones has a lot of talent and physical skill, which allows him overpower and blow by the opposing left tackles. If Jones does not produce at least 12 sacks and constant pressure, the skill in the secondary will be useless because quarterbacks will have “all day” to find receivers.
The Pats have been the class of the AFC East for the past decade and nothing is set to change this season. Although the talent on the roster does not seem intimidating, the Pats are a lock for 10 as long as Tom Brady is the starting quarterback and they play in the same division as the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins. Unlike the past few seasons, Brady will not have the responsibility to carry the entire team. Similar to last season, Brady’s stats will likely take another dip due to the lack of talent on the outside and the Patriots’ improved running game. Also, the Pats will not be playing in as many shootouts as their defense should contain the opposing offense. On defense, the Patriots look like a significantly improved unit. If healthy, Revis has the potential to totally change and enhance a defense. During his time in New York, Revis showed how a defense can be built around him and his ability to shut down the best wide receivers in the league. Revis and the Patriots’ improved secondary must play well because their front seven will not apply enough pressure to stop the top quarterbacks. The secondary should force a lot of turnovers because they have a few great ball hawks including Brandon Browner and Devin McCourty. Along with Revis, the Pats should be one of the best rush defenses in the NFL with Vince Wilfork, Jared Mayo, Donte Hightower, and Tom Kelly. The Pats should make the playoffs again and attempt to add another ring to Brady’s and Belicheck’s collection.
First in the AFC East
The Patriots D/ST should be one of the best D/ST this season. The addition of the great corners and the return of Devin McCourty should allow the Pats to record a lot more interceptions and maybe more touchdowns. If Jones stays on the field, fantasy owners will also reap the benefits of his production.
Pics and Stats from ESPN.com