Ahead of the 2018 NFL season, we’re bringing you a series outlining which teams are getting too much hype and what rosters are sneakily going under the radar.
Disclaimer: I hate your favourite team, regardless of who they are. Please bear this in mind if it makes you feel better after hearing about how your team aren’t half as good as they think they are.
Read more of our NFL previews here:
- What’s not to love about the New York Giants?
- The Minnesota Vikings should be Super Bowl favourites
- Are the San Francisco 49ers overrated?
New England Patriots
Projected Win Total: Under 11 – 11/10
Is there any franchise more detestable than the New England Patriots? In much the same way we all despised Alex Ferguson and his band of merry perennial winners, it’s very easy to feel done over by Bill, Tom and Robert. Really, the ire they inspire is a hat-tip to their continued success and a reflection on the failings of our own teams.
It’s worth pointing out now that the Patriots have only won fewer than 11 games once in the last 12 seasons, so this should be a foregone conclusion.
But as we all do, every single year, looking at their roster leads us to thinking they’re not primed for a Super Bowl run.
So, against my better judgement, here we go.
They’re going to be right around the eleven-win mark, but I can’t envisage them winning twelve games. We’ll get back to that later when we discuss schedules.
Talent levels are at an all-time low – which is exactly what we’ve said for the last four years. There’s little or no point discussing Tom Brady’s decline because even at 41, he’ll be an MVP candidate and that annoys almost as much as it amazes.
Their running back corps is oddly-compiled. They’ve countless third-down receiving backs in the shape of Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, James White and new recruit Sony Michel. Hill could well be favourite to nail down the primary halfback role as his frame of 230lbs would mirror the success they’ve had with big backs in the past.
In that department, they look strong. But that’s about as good as it gets.
Kenny Britt has had one season with over 800 yards receiving. He’s 28. Eric Decker is 31 and he looked off-colour in Tennessee last season. Phillip Dorsett was the hopeful arrival from Indianapolis last year, but he has yet to come to life, while Cordarrelle Patterson will be exclusively used as a returner.
It does seem like Brady is going to be relying, once again, on 32-year-old Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan, who has yet to hit 700 yards in a single season. Of course, all this means little when you consider New England’s offence works solely on mismatches from running backs and tight ends.
Earlier in the off-season, it seemed like they would struggle to scheme Rob Gronkowski into a one-v-one situation against a cornerback as Josh McDaniels looked destined for a head coaching vacancy, but he’s back and this means the Patriots probably won’t be exposed for their lack of stand-out offensive talent.
Brady has lost his trusty pal Nate Solder but the acquisition of Isaiah Wynn means they’ve got another long-term piece for their offensive line. He’s equally talented in run blocking and pass protection – and can play at tackle or guard – or eligible receiver, knowing McDaniels’ tricks.
But this is not the issue. The issue is losing Matt Patricia. His fingerprints were plastered across this overachieving unit. Now, they’re laid bare and new play-caller Brian Flores has a lot to learn, and quickly.
Danny Shelton will help this defence. He’s got a lot of talent that probably wasn’t adequately treated in Cleveland.
Wouldn’t be like them, eh?
Slotting him next to Malcom Brown, and sandwiching that pair between Adrian Clayborn and Trey Flowers provides a very solid base D-line for run-stuffing, but relying on Dont’a Hightower for your blitz efficiency is once again rolling the dice.
A pairing of Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts doesn’t exactly strike fear into opposing offences. They’ll likely be a zone-heavy defence for this reason – but unpredictability will be their biggest strength for the coming season, as nobody is quite sure what Flores is going to run, or what looks he’ll present pre-snap.
Stephon Gilmore is a star corner, but their lack of depth behind him could really be tested when opposition teams go into four-receiver sets – which I expect most will. This will be particularly tested against Green Bay, in Tennessee, against Minnesota and in Pittsburgh.
Right now, I don’t have New England winning any of those games. So, do they win the other twelve? Let’s see.
Houston will be tricky, but they should get by. Going to Jacksonville should be tougher as the chip on their shoulder following the AFC title game will be huge. My gut instinct tells me they could split those games and land exactly on the 11-win projection.
The problem, of course, is that they’ll find some way to win a Super Bowl despite going 4-4 over the last eight weeks of the season. This is New England – we know how it ends – we’re just trying to figure out how they get there.
That season opener at home to JJ Watt and co could well be their biggest game of the season.