New England Patriots
Head Coach: Bill Belichick
2014 Record: 12-4
Postseason: Super Bowl Champions
Odds to win Division: -165
Odds to win Conference: +390
Odds to win Super Bowl: +1000
Season Wins: Over 10 (-165); Under 10 (+145)
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The New England Patriots might be the biggest cheaters in the NFL, but that won’t stop the club from continuing its deception as a shady franchise in seek of yet more undeserved glory.
Everyone has kind of said their two cents over Tom Brady and the entire “Deflategate” scandal, and to dwell upon it at length here would not fully realize the purpose of a team preview. Suffice it to say Brady and his pack of cheaters will miss his presence over the first four weeks of the 2015 season but once its full contingent is intact and ready to screw opposing teams out of the legitimacy of a good football game, expect this pack of cheaters to be right back in the hunt for another Super Bowl title.
Oddsmakers at 5dimes have set the O/U at ’10’ wins for the Pats this year, and while it will be playing with Jimmy Garoppolo at QB for the first four games, it might not make too much of a difference.
Because at the heart of all of this, the Patriots are still a very talented football team, whether it plays fair or not. Brady is now 38 years of age, but he has shown few signs of slowing down. On the contrary, Brady and his mates will likely be further looking to stick to the legions of Patriots haters league wide. Surely that will be frustrating from a fan’s perspective, but from a handicapper’s it is hardly relevant.
New England has one of the most versatile offensive units in the NFL and it is still a league largely driven by offense. If the Pats are not deflating the football this year, it may go back to its 2007 “SpyGate” controversy technique, because there is really no reason to pretend New England is going to play a fair game. That is not how Bill Belichick and his team operate.
Brady threw for 4,109 yards last season with 33 TDs and a 64.1 percent completion ratio, elite by any standards. He also only threw nine INTs and was clutch throughout the postseason once again, as he also became the first QB to overcome two 14-point deficits in defeating the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks.
Brady’s replacement at QB Garoppolo was a second round pick from FCS Eastern Illinois (Tony Romo’s alma mater, too) and he threw no INTs his rookie season. He should demonstrate enough competence that the Patriots do not miss a beat, much to the dismay of fans that want to see this team come out of the gates 0-4. It likely will not happen.
The RB position is something of an unknown for the Patriots with a group that is very good but has little track record to base it on. Running backs typically fare so well under Belichick that it does not matter a ton who is going to be carrying the football, and he will likely use a backfield by-committee approach this season.
LeGarrette Blount is a beast of a back at 250 pounds and he rushed for 148 yards and three TDs in the playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts, so he can get the job done. The Pats will rotate the likes of Travaris Cadet, James White, Brandon Bolden and Tyler Gaffney to handle the rest of the carries. It will be the scheme and the OL that drives the success of the rush game, not that the talents doing the carrying are necessarily bad in any way.
The OL does not have any super dominant blockers but it is a strong unit that is very good at doing what it is supposed to do, which is really all Brady needs from it. Brady was sacked just 21 times despite the OL lacking any Pro Bowl talents, and that will be much the case this year, most likely.
Defensively the Patriots can be very good, and last year the team ranked No. 8 in points allowed (19.6 per). It was No. 9 rushing yardage surrendered (104.3) and No. 17 in passing (239.8). Replacing Darrelle Davis and Brandon Browner may prove challenging and the Patriots did not make any major free agent signings nor big draft picks to do it.
Instead the team is counting on Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler to step up, and the front seven should also be much better with Jabaal Sheard and Malcom Brown both being strong pass rushers. The Patriots will shift between a 4-3 and a 3-4, and DC Matt Patricia has been pretty skillful at matching his scheme appropriately to the Patriots’ opponent. While the defensive unit lacks a lot of defining talents, it is more than competent and the Patriots are mostly carried by its offense.
Belichick and company also excel in special teams. Stephen Gostkowski is about as good as a kicker can be, and he was 35 of 37 FG last year including 13 of 14 from 40-plus yards. Ryan Allen was No. 12 in net punting average in the NFL (39.9 yards).
The Patriots also have a great punt returner in Julian Edleman who finished No. 6 in return yardage (12.0) while also returning an 84-yard TD, the fourth TD-return of his NFL career.
The Patriots might be America’s most loved and most hated team. It is a polarizing team that adds intrigue to the NFL, for better or worse. And while many may be quick to decry the Patriots as a pack of cheaters, few will deny that the team is loaded with football talent and guided by a legendary coach. There will be many citing a number of reasons that the Patriots fall off this year, but Brady has not slowed down, and age is just a number.
The Patriots have won 12 AFC East titles in the last 14 years and this year may only be different if the Pats cannot get it done in Weeks 1-4 while Brady sits out. The team is going to come in motivated to prove to a hating public that it is still the team to be dealt with, even if no one believes it is done honestly.
Prediction: 11 wins