Friday, September 1, 2006

Patriots 2006 Season Preview (9/1/2006)

Hi all,

This is going to be a shortened version of what I usually send around before the season (I can hear the applause from here).

Quickly, here are the important changes the team underwent this off-season.

The Draft

The draft brought improvements at running back and tight end. Laurence Maroney stood out all preseason, running, catching, and blocking. And even undrafted rookie Patrick Cobbs is threatening to make the team. And with Ben Watson's improvement and two draftees to join him and Daniel Graham, tight end could be one of the strongest positions on the team. Lastly, kicker might not be better than when Automatic Adam strolled the sidelines, but rookie Stephen Gostkowski hit one from 54 yards last night and his kickoffs have been consistently deeper than Adam's were.

The Offense

It'll be more running and less passing than last year; you can bank on it. They've got the horses to run (though Maroney missed last night's game with a reported knee injury) and don't have the horses to pass all the time. Of the significant 2005 receivers, only Troy Brown returns -- that is until Deion Branch comes back.

The O-line kept its most important component, coach Dante Scarnecchia. There will be some plug-and-play with lineman moving in and out; but the team ran pretty well and protected Tom Brady very well in the preseason. The balance on offense and depth at running back will help keep Brady healthy, which is important since the plan appears to be to have only two quarterbacks on the roster.

The Defense

Junior Seau played in only a few plays in the preseason -- and he ran himself out of about half of them -- so he'll have to buckle down and play his role to be of much help. Rosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel kicked hiney so far, but the team really needs Tedy Bruschi to return to form. Monty Beisel just hasn't worked out (and he could reportedly be cut by Saturday) and Tully Banta-Cain hasn't improved enough yet.

The D-line is dominant when they all play (as they should be -- they were all drafted in the first round). They completely stymied the Giants run and pass games last night, right up until they took out Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour. Seymour remains the most important player on defense, but with Wilfork's play improving and no backup, he is getting to that same status.

The secondary hasn't improved much, and they will depend on the front seven to slow down or stop other teams. Asante Samuel continues his solid play, and with Rodney Harrison back at strong safety, Eugene Wilson looks more confident back at free safety. But Ellis Hobbs hasn't improved over last year and Randall Gay looks lost out there.

Special Teams

I don't want any whining about Adam leaving. I think he wanted to leave, so he got what he wanted (and is reportedly nursing a broken bone in his left foot, injured on the turf at Indy -- does that define "karma" or what?). The coverage teams have been very good in the preseason, and we will just have to wait and see how Gostkowski performs in the clutch.


They named an Offensive Coordinator (Josh McDaniels) and a new Defensive Coordinator (Dean Pees). McDaniels had some fun with multiple tight end sets in the preseason and Pees called a good enough game to shut down the first offense of every team they played so far.

Time will tell on this one, too.

The Schedule

The Pats start off easy, with Buffalo at home and the Jets in NY. The Buffalo game could be dangerous because it's a new coaching staff and offensive and defensive systems; but I give the win to the Pats, who have 10 days to prepare against a team with a bad quarterback. The Jets are rebuilding, and I don't expect them to beat the class of the division right away. I'm a little iffy about Denver, because they play so well against the Pats. Let's just say the Pats will go 1-1 against Denver and Cincinnati, but I can't decide which game they lose. Denver has an easy schedule prior to this one, but the Pats have revenge and home field on their side. Cincy's balanced offense has given the Pats fits recently, and the game in in Cincinnati. But the Bengals have two division games leading up to the game in New England, including an emotional roller coaster at Pittsburgh the week before.

The Pats should handle Miami at home. I'm not sold that the Dolphins are as improved as many say they are; and the Pats nearly beat them with second stringers last year. And Buffalo has the unenviable task of playing the Pats with 10 days to prepare (to start the season) and 14 days to prepare (after the Pats bye week). At Buffalo? still no problem -- pencil in another W. At Minnesota? Again, no problem. The Vikings are a trainwreck of a team, with uncertainty at just about every offensive position. Indy at home should be a good game. Pats have a short week, but the Colts play in Denver the week before. Pats haven't improved the secondary since getting waxed 40-21 by Indy last year, but the Colts lost Edgerrin James (and now James Mungro). My gut tells me the Pats will win, even though it might be time to put them down for a loss. Okay, it's a win ::crossing my fingers and holding my breath::

On November 12, it will still be 2006, so the Jets will still be rebuilding, so that's another win. At Green Bay should not be any problem, the Packers have been bad lately and the weather there won't be to the extreme yet. Chicago at home gives Belichick something he loves -- a one-dimensional offense to stop and a small-but-quick defense to plow through. That sounds like a win to me. Detroit at home? Try again next year -- it's a W.

The home stretch begins with a game in Miami. Given the easy games they should have had prior to this one, I'll give the Pats the nod. Houston hasn't improved enough to make things tough on the Pats in Foxboro, so that should be a win. But something tells me the team might finish with two losses. The Patriots destroyed Jacksonville at home in last year's playoffs, but that was with a hobbled Byron Leftwich in freezing Foxboro. This one is a home game for the Jags and they will have revenge on their side, so I can see the Pats dropping this one. Furthermore, if form holds, the game in Tennessee against the Titans won't mean anything by this point in the season. If it counts for something (playoff position or a bye week), then the Pats will win. If not, I think Tennessee will pull it out.

One last piece of information; something tells me the Pats will lose a game somewhere between the Indy game and the second Miami game. Beyond the Colts, the teams in that stretch shouldn't give the Pats too much trouble; but something is telling me they'll lose one. Maybe it'll be the Colts and that will end the suspense.

So with one loss mid-season, that makes the Pats 12 - 4 (or 13 - 3 if they can avoid the letdown). That will easily give them another division title and put them in the running for a playoff bye week.

My personal schedule in September is very busy, and I'll be semi-incommunicado for the next two weeks. So there won't be any summary after the season opener in Buffalo and might not be one after the Denver game. I could always send out an archival summary those weeks, just to keep you on your toes. Let me know if you want that, and I'll let popular demand decide the issue :)

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Announcer: 'Deion Branch, your holdout netted you nothing and you're far from being in football shape, what are you going to do now?' Deion Branch: 'I'm going on injured reserve!'"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 0-0!

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