AJ Spirito – Pats Militia
As the Patriots get ready to unveil banner number five at Gillette Stadium in just a few weeks after a “unequivocally sweet” 2016 season it’s time to look ahead to the 2017 season.
The expectations have never been higher for the Patriots than they are for this upcoming 2017 season and that’s saying something.
There’s been several occasions where New England has been heavy favorites to claim another Super Bowl title but this year they are actually projected to go 16-0 by many.
Analysts predicting 16-0 for a team is something we’ve never really seen but it seems fitting for a Patriots team that’s not only hot off a fifth Super Bowl victory but has also stacked their roster with great talent on both sides of the ball.
I, however, do not have the Pats getting a perfect season. Don’t get me wrong, I hope they can achieve it after what happened in 2007 but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Too many things need to go perfectly right and every bounce will need to go New England’s way. Tom Brady is hands down the GOAT but at age 40 it’s a lot to ask to for number twelve to carry the Pats to a perfect season.
I’m more worried about the front seven of this team and the worries keep getting worse. Rob Ninkovich has retired, top draft pick Derek Rivers is out for the season, Elandon Roberts is now banged up, and even Dont’a Hightower hasn’t come off the PUP list yet. Besides Trey Flowers there isn’t really a lot of trust in the rest of the defensive line just yet, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens there.
The defensive backs for the Patriots should be one of the better groups they’ve ever had. The duo of Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler may be one of the best corner duos in the league, add that to the veteran pair of safeties in McCourty and Chung and this could be a tough team to pass on in 2017.
Offensively there isn’t a worry in the world. Tom Brady is surrounded by an elite group of weapons and he’s going to have some fun with them this season. Brandin Cooks will give the Patriots a deep threat once again and he’s going to torch some defenses with his lightning like speed. I see offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels getting crafty with Cooks as well, possibly running some end-arounds or other trick plays here and there. They’ll certainly put that speed to good use.
The stable of running backs is deep for New England this year. Fan favorite LeGarette Blount may be gone but the Pats have added Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead to the mix. Burkhead plays a similar role to Lewis and White so it’ll be interesting who gets the playing time. Gillislee, who played for Buffalo last season, gives the Patriots a combination of speed and power in the backfield. It’s assumed that he’ll take over the role for Blount but with all these other backs we don’t know who will be in what role just yet.
Now let’s see what the Pats are up against.
The AFC East is a joke yet again this season so it’s safe to say the Patriots will get their ninth consecutive AFC East title. The Bills and Jets are NFL bottom dwellers and while the Dolphins have a lot of talent they still do not have the right QB to threaten the top of the division (especially now with Jay Cutler). A division game could always throw off the Patriots so let’s say they win at least five of those six games.
Tough games that appear on the schedule for New England come against Oakland, Denver, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and even the Kansas City opener. Out of those games they’ll likely only lose one.
Denver, Oakland (Mexico City), and Pittsburgh all come on the road too. Denver and Oakland being back to back, that will be a tough stretch. Another notable game could be a Thursday night road game in Tampa Bay. The Bucs are on the rise but they likely won’t have the answers for beating Belichick and Brady.
This year’s regular season is sure to be more entertaining than last year’s. It seemed the Pats didn’t really play any worthwhile regular season games besides the Seattle and Pittsburgh games. It will be great to see Brady duel off with those other top quarterbacks around the league.
When it’s all said and done I think the Patriots will finish at either 15-1 or 14-2 (not far off from 16-0). They will snag their ninth straight AFC East crown without breaking a sweat and they’ll get another first round bye. From there anything can happen in the playoffs but the Patriots should have no issue getting back to the Super Bowl with a fighter’s chance at adding banner number six.