2006 New England Patriots Preview
By Robert Ferringo of Doc's Sports Journal
During their four-year mini-dynasty, the most distinguishing characteristic of the New England Patriots was that they were cunning beasts that could smell fear and desperation. They lived for it. Those Patriots preyed on weakness. They waited for you to make a mistake or put yourself in a position of vulnerability and then they would rip your heart out, show it to you, then feast on it.
But the hunters have become the hunted. And the 2006 Patriots have the look of a wounded animal. Most of the heavy hitters and cold-blooded hunters from those teams are gone. Even the signing of recently retired Junior Seau reeked of desperation.
But the good news is that they still have the guts of Tom Brady and the guile of Bill Belichick to rely on. Brady was more the beneficiary of The Greatness of those Super Bowl teams, but last season he turned the corner and became an elite quarterback on his own. Belichick is, well, Belichick. He understands the game and will always put his troops in a position to win games.
Another boon to New England's cause is that they play in the worst division in football and they have a very favorable schedule. The Jets and the Bills are both road kill. The Pats' cross-over games are against the NFC North. Also, they get their three toughest non-divisional opponents, Denver, Chicago and Indianapolis, in Foxboro.
Is the dynasty over? Yes. But will the Patriots still be a factor in the AFC playoff situation? Of course. Remember, an animal is at its most dangerous when it's wounded and backed into a corner.
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Here's Doc's 2006 New England Patriots Preview:
- 2005 Record: 11-7 (6-3 home, 5-4 road)
- 2005 Rankings: 7th offense (2nd pass, 24th rush); 26th defense (31st pass, 8th rush)
- 2005 Against the Spread: 9-9 (4-5 home, 5-4 road); 9-8-1 vs. total (4-5 h, 5-3-1 r)
- 2006 Odds: 9/1 to win SB, 4/1 to win AFC, 1/2 to win AFC East, 10.5 wins O/U
- 2006 Strength of Schedule: 26th (.473 opp. win %)
- Key stat: New England had the worst rush offense and second-worst total defense of any team that made the playoffs.
Returning starters: 18 (9 offense, 9 defense)
Key acquisitions: Reche Caldwell, WR (from S.D.); Laurence Maroney, RB (draft); Chad Jackson, WR (draft); Martin Gramatica, K; Eric Warfield, CB (from K.C.); Barry Gardner, LB (from NYJ).
Key departures: Adam Vinatieri, K; Willie McGinest, LB; Chad Brown, LB; Tom Ashworth, OT; David Givens, WR; Duane Starks, CB; Tyrone Poole, CB; Christian Fauria, TE; Tim Dwight, WR.
Offense: A depleted line and injured Dillon are the causes of last year's poor rush offense. But whatever the reason, New England needs to improve its 3.4 yards per carry to protect its defense. I liked that they drafted Maroney and Jackson to give Brady some young, athletic playmakers. Look for Ben Watson to have a Ben Coates-type year. But as long as Deion Branch continues his holdout the Patriots are critically thin at receiver. As long as the offensive line stays healthy - Dan Koppen and Matt Light ended last year on IR - I think the Pats can move the ball.
Defense: This unit was pathetic last year. So much depends on the return of Harrison, who hasn't seen any action this preseason while he tries to recover from surgery to repair all of the ligaments in his knee. If he can't play I don't see how their pass defense can improve that much. Also, Bruschi broke his wrist and is still iffy after recovering from a stroke. Richard Seymour is an animal, but he can only do so much. Guys like Mike Vrabel, Vince Wilfork and Asante Samuel need to perform at a Pro Bowl level for them to have a chance.
X-factor: Steve Gostkowski. The rookie kicker beat out Martin Gramatica for the right to replace Vinatieri, a New England sports legend. The Pats don't attempt a ton of field goals but the ones the do kick are usually pressure-packed.
Outlook: This is still a savvy team, but they are nowhere near the juggernaut that owned the AFC from 2000-2004. Fortunately for them they have a cupcake schedule, which means that 10 wins isn't out of the question. However, I expect Miami to overtake New England for the East's throne.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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