It seems like just yesterday I was stuffing my face with chicken wings, pizza, meatballs, and cold drinks watching the Seattle Seahawks completely expose Peyton Manning and the record-setting, high scoring Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. As a Patriots fan, it was tough watching after getting knocked out in the AFC Championship game by the Broncos. I am positive I speak for the entire Patriots Nation when I say that I am extremely excited for the 2014-2015 season! For the first time in what seems like forever, the Patriots made some noise in the off-season. It's no secret that our glaring weakness was our secondary. Despite losing Aqib Talib, we went out and signed cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Browner won't be eligible to play until week 5, as he is facing a 4 game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Regardless, Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan should be worthy replacements for the number two corner position. While it appeared as though long time DT Vince Wilfork was on his way out of New England, the Patriots and Wilfork were able to agree on a new restructured 3 year deal worth $22.5 million, with $3 million guaranteed. Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Jerod Mayo, Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and Devin McCourty will anchor a defense that should find itself amongst the league's best.. This, along with a Tom Brady led offense featuring a (finally) healthy Rob Gronkowski, should have the Patriots as serious contenders for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Barring injuries, which for any team is practically inevitable, I can see this team finishing 13-3, winning the AFC East and either finishing 1st or 2nd in the AFC. If they finish 2nd, it will be the Broncos who edged them out. In the next part of this preview, I am going to break down the Patriots schedule game by game.
Week 1: The Patriots travel to division rival Miami. With a healthy Gronkowski expected to play, I see no reason why the Patriots lose this game. (1-0)
Week 2: The Patriots travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings. Aside from Adrian Peterson, nothing is certain in Minnesota. They have yet to name a starting quarterback, which is expected to either be Matt Cassel or 1st round pick Teddy Bridgewater. Regardless of who is under center, I think they lack the fire power on both sides of the ball to beat the Patriots. Chalk this up as another W. (2-0)
Week 3: The Patriots return to Massachusetts for their home opener at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots rarely lose. They will play host to the Oakland Raiders. I can see this one as getting out of hand very early. You can expect to see some of the Patriots reserves make their season debuts in this one. (3-0)
Week 4: The Patriots head out to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. This is the first real test I see them facing. The Chiefs started out really hot last year, but seemed to fizzle out towards the end. However, they still possess one of the league's best defenses and a MVP contender at RB in Jamaal Charles. Alex Smith is a good game manager. If the Chiefs are up at half time, the Pats may be in trouble. With that being said, I still think New England is the better team, even on the road so I'll take them in a close one. (4-0)
Week 5: The Patriots return home to host Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals. I don't know what it is, but the Bengals always seem to give Tom Brady a hard time. The Bengals have a great defense and have one of the league's premier wide receivers in A.J. Green on the other side of the ball. Last year, the Bengals beat the Patriots 13-6. With a healthy Gronkowski and a receiving corps with a year under their belts, I see the Patriots as being able to score more than 6 points this time. This one could really go either way. It will be Brandon Browner's first game as a Patriot and I think his return will be the spark that puts New England on top in a nail bitter that will come right down to the last play. (5-0)
Week 6: The Patriots hit the road for Buffalo to take on EJ Manuel and the Bills. In 2013, the Bills and Patriots split. The Bills were victorious in the team's first meeting in Buffalo 30-28. The Patriots rebounded 2 months later and won 34-20 at home. I can see these teams splitting this season as well, however, I think that loss will come in week 17 when the Pats have little to play for. I'm taking New England in the first meeting. (6-0)
Week 7: This is a date that is marked on every Patriots and Jets players' calendar, as the two teams square off in New England. It is no secret these two teams hate each other. This will be the game for Geno Smith, Dee Milliner, and Calvin Pace to walk to walk. Unfortunately, the Jets bark is a lot bigger than their bite and I think New England will crush the Jets with no problem. (7-0)
Week 8: The Patriots play host to Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears. Despite losing Brian Urlacher, the Bears defense will still be very formidable. On offense, they are lead by arguably the league's best wide receiver tandem in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jefferey. If that isn't enough, they have a top 5 running back in Matt Forte. I can see this as a great game with Revis on Marshall and Browner on Jefferey. Matt Forte may be the difference, but I think Tom Brady leads the troops to victory. (8-0)
Week 9: In their last game before their bye week, the Patriots play host to the defending AFC Champions, the Denver Broncos. The Broncos had themselves a respectable off-season. They lost Eric Decker to the Jets, but still have the “Thomas Towers” with Julius and Demaryius expected to lead the way offensively. They also added ex-Cowboy DeMarcus Ware on defense. This game is going to be the game of the season in my opinion. I expect a packed Gillette Stadium on a chilly, November Sunday. A healthy Rob Gronkowski gives the Patriots the edge in this game. Assuming he will play, I'll give this one to New England. (9-0)
Week 10: Bye Week. If the Patriots are 9-0 at their bye week, I am sure coach Belichick will be extremely happy, but not satisfied. My predictions assume a healthy Patriots roster, which has been a major problem the past few seasons. A key injury or two early in the season, and this team may only be 6-3.
Week 11: The Patriots couldn't have asked for a more challenging first game back from their bye week as they head to Indianapolis to take on Andrew Luck and the Colts. Luck is the real deal. In just his 2nd season, he showed everything that he was hyped to be. Since his arrival to the NFL, no quarterback has more 4th quarter game winning drives. He knocked off both Denver and Seattle last year. I think this is the game where the Patriots lose their undefeated season. I like Luck and the Colts at home. They added Hakeem Nicks in the off-season to go along with Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener. I think Indy wins with a score somewhere in the ball park of 21-17. (9-1)
Week 12: After the tough loss to Indy, the Patriots return home to take on Matthew Stafford, Megatron, and the Detroit Lions. There's no doubt the Lions are a good team and could very well win this game, however, I don't think Bill Belichick lets this team lose two in a row. They will make the necessary adjustments in practice leading up to Sunday to fix what went wrong against the Colts. The Lions can bring it on offense. Johnson, Bush, Stafford. They are high profile players. I can see this being a high scoring affair. I still like New England to land the last punch. (10-1)
Week 13: While I believe the Patriots will right the ship in week 12, I think they have their hands full when they head to Lambeau Field to take on Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. You'll want to grab your popcorn for this one folks. Two of the league's best quarterbacks square off in a game that may come down to a field goal as time expires. While the Patriots may look better on paper, Lambeau Field is one of the toughest places for opposing teams to play at. The game is November 30th and it will be cold. I can see Cobb and Nelson doing Lambeau Leaps as I write this. I'm going to go with the Packers by a Mason Crosby field goal. (10-2)
Week 14: The Patriots will look to regroup in sunny San Diego against Philip Rivers and the Chargers. It's a shame that San Diego never seems to add to their team as Rivers is a top 10 quarterback in this league. He has shown signs of excellence throughout his career, yet has never seemed to have the team around him. Top target Antonio Gates is passed his prime and is always battling a nagging injury. I see New England taking this one fairly easy. (11-2)
Week 15: The Patriots play host to Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins. While I think this will be a much better game than Week 1, I just don't think the Dolphins are good enough to beat New England at home. Like I said, it will probably be a close game (7-10 points), but I think New England has their sites on big things and the Dolphins are just another stepping stone. (12-2)
Week 16: The Patriots travel to MetLife Stadium to take on their pesky division rival, the Jets. For some reason, no matter how out matched the Jets are by the Patriots, Rex Ryan always seems to find some way to make things interesting. While it's possible Ryan and his Green Army pull off the upset, I just think this year's New England team is too good. I'm gonna take New England on a game winning 4th quarter drive by Tom Terrific. (13-2)
Week 17: It's likely at this point the Patriots will be fighting Denver, and maybe even Indianapolis for the top seed in the AFC. Playing at home in Foxborough will be comforting, but playing against the Buffalo Bills, who will likely be playing for each other and bragging rights, is not. As I mentioned earlier, I can see this team splitting with New England. For a young quarterback, EJ Manuel is the type of player who seems to find a way against New England. You can't forget about rookie stud WR Sammy Watkins or RB C.J. Spiller. I think this is the week that despite the Patriots being the home team fighting for a first round bye, that the Bills find a way to close out their season on a high note. (13-3)
So there you have it. Those are my 2014 regular season predictions. I could be 100% right or I could be 100% wrong. That's the beauty of it. My predictions are based on a lot of things that may or may not actually be true. I am assuming the Patriots key contributors stay healthy all year. That's a lot to assume, considering that's rarely the case, especially with Rob Gronkowski. Nevertheless, I've always been an glass half full kind of guy and tend on the side of optimism. I hope you enjoyed my 2014 New England Season Preview. For the sake of New England, I hope I am right! Go Pats! -Lance