NFL: Don’t Count Out the New England Patriots Just Yet

The 2005 season didn’t go as planned for the New England Patriots. This finished the season with a 10-6 record, barely edging the Miami Dolphins for the AFC East division title. In the playoffs, the Patriots were able to get past the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round, but were knocked out the following week against the much stronger Denver Broncos. The Patriots lost Willie McGinest and David Givens via free agency. There are still playmakers on the team, but age is beginning to become a factor. Hope is still in the air, mainly because of the championship swagger that the Patriots bring to every game and the leadership of Tom Brady. New England may not be the same powerhouse they were two years ago. The Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Denver Broncos look to have the strongest squads in the AFC. However, there is not one team that would rather play the Patriots in the postseason.

WHY CAN’T MY TEAM FIND A TOM BRADY?

Tom Brady is not even 30 years old, but yet he already has three super bowl rings. That’s not fair is it? Most quarterbacks go an entire career without even reaching the big game. Some people may say that Brady is just a product of Head Coach Bill Belichick’s system (which may be true). Those same people can also call Brady champ and a true leader. Point blank, when Brady is behind the center, there is always hope for the New England Patriots. Last season, Brady threw for a career high 4110 yards. David Givens is no longer one of Brady’s targets and Deion Branch has yet to report to camp. Still, optimism is still present because Brady has the ability to put a no-name receiver on the map.

A HEALTHY DILLON IS A HEALTHY RUNNING GAME

In 2005, running back Corey Dillon missed four games due to injury. As a result, his rushing yards dropped from 1635 yards in 2004, to 733. If fully healed, expect to see Dillon back to form when the season begins. If his productivity isn’t any better than last season, we may see the Pats first round pick Laurence Maroney carrying the rock.

THE OFFENSIVE LINE IS STILL STABLE IN N.E.

The Patriots O-line gave up 28 sacks to opposing defenses in 2005, about average for all offensive lines around the NFL. Guard Steven Neal is the only linemen who started all 16 games for the Pats last season. Dan Koppen, Brandon Gorin, and Matt Light will be returning to the line-up after suffering injuries in 2005. Logan Mankins and Stephen Neal are solid back-ups that can hold their own in a tough battle. Rookies Dan Stevenson and Ryan O’Callaghan add depth to the unit in case more injuries occur. This is still a great unit has kept Tom Brady relatively clean so far in his career.

THE DEFENSE IS A CHAMPIONSHIP UNIT

Willie McGinest, one of the biggest names in Patriots history, is no longer with the team. However, the defensive line is a stout unit which consist of all-pro Richard Seymour, Vince Wolfork, and Ty Warren. Seymour did not the play the entire season due to a nagging knee injury, but was effective when he did play.

Linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who suffered a stroke during the 2005 season, returned to the team midseason and quickly picked up where he left off. Bruschi recorded 62 tackles and 2 sacks in nine games. Mike Vrabel is a stable on the Patriots defense and in 2005; he racked up 108 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Junior Seau recently retired from football, then un-retired to join the Patriots. Seau has loss a step, but he will add depth to an injury prone squad.

Safety Rodney Harrison is another one of the Pats defensive players who missed the majority of the season due to injury. The Patriots hope that Harrison can make a full recovery and contribute to a unit that desperately needs help in 2006.

A LOOK AT THE 2006 SCHEDULE

The first five games for the Patriots will be against the Bills, Jets, Broncos, Bengals, and Dolphins. On November 5th, the Pats will meet up with the Indianapolis Colts in New England and close the season with Jaguars (the team they beat in the Playoffs last year) and the Titans.

PREDICTION

New England is the strongest team in the AFC East division. If the Pats can stay healthy, they should have no problems winning the division for a fourth straight year. I expect to New England to win 11 or 12 games in 2006.

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