It is the doldrums of the NFL offseason. With the spectacle of the draft finally over, fans must wait until training camp to truly get a taste of their team. The good news is, once training camp hits, football won’t end until February.
If we know anything about the Patriots, its more probable than not that they will be playing in that final game in Minnesota. But what will happen between now and then?
With the aforementioned doldrums of the offseason in full swing, here is a fruitless attempt to predict what will happen between now and February. Be sure to react however you feel like, as long as you use #cover32PatsTalk on Twitter and get involved in the conversation! Without further ado, here are the 10 things that will happen for the Patriots this year.
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Trey Flowers will lead the Patriots in sacks with 13
Flowers led the Patriots last year with seven sacks but will nearly double his production in 2017. He came on strong in the second half of the year, recording five of his seven sacks after the bye week. His strong end to the regular season translated to the postseason. It culminated with a 2.5 sack and four-tackle performance in the super bowl.
After playing in only one game his rookie season, Flowers made tremendous strides as his workload got bigger. The emergence of Flowers in the Patriots’ defense allowed them to walk away from Jabaal Sheard in free agency, the original successor to the Chandler Jones’ role. Now, going into his second year of regular minutes, look for Flowers to make even larger strides.
The addition of another defensive lineman who starred in a super bowl, Kony Ealy, improves this defensive unit, especially in the pass rush. With an improved secondary, expect more pressure to come from the Patriots defenders. Don’t be surprised to see players like Dont’a Hightower line up on the edge more and more as the Patriots become more aggressive.
All this will only help Flowers, the Patriots best pure pass rusher. In a surprise of sorts, Flowers could wind up being the Patriots best defender.
The Patriots will go 16-0 in the regular season
Yes. They will do it again. They will run-the-table and do so in a very dominant fashion. Fittingly, it will be the 10-year anniversary of the last time the Patriots went 16-0, only this time the ending will turn out a bit differently. More on that later.
The difference between now and 2007 is that in 2007 they were coming off a devastating collapse in the AFC Championship Game to Peyton Manning’s Colts. In that game, the Patriots led 21-6 at halftime and walked away an AFC finalist and nothing more. The Colts would go on to beat the hapless Bears and the rest is history.
The Patriots loaded up in the offseason in response to that loss. They acquired Randy Moss and Adalius Thomas and several other players that keyed the run to perfection. However, they fell just short and just a couple years later the Patriots were in full rebuilding mode.
The difference this time around is that they loaded up AFTER winning the super bowl. The Patriots were clearly the best team in the AFC before the roster turn over. They are overwhelmingly favorites now, despite the improving teams around the AFC. Last year, this team only lost two games, one of which was a game against Buffalo, minus Brady. If he had played, they most certainly would have won, so is it really a big stretch to say they could win one or two more? Nope. And they will. Then a few more after that.
Tom Brady will throw his 500th career touchdown pass
Brady will become either the third or fourth player, depending on Drew Brees’ season, to surpass 500 career passing touchdowns. Presently, he sits at 456, which means it takes 44 to get him there. He will throw 46 touchdowns this year and only 8 interceptions.
Unlike any other year, even 2007, Brady has an embarrassment of riches. From the roster that won the super bowl in February, the Patriots added Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen and a healthy Rob Gronkowski. In 2016, he threw 28 touchdowns to only two interceptions in 12 games.
The team will likely surpass 500 points again this year and lot of it will be on the arm of Tom Brady. Look to see more of a quick-strike offense as the mismatches across the board will open up holes for all of the Patriots’ playmakers. And they have plenty of those on the roster.
Assuming they stay relatively healthy, 46 touchdowns from Brady in 2017 is not that outrageous. He would end the year at 502 career touchdown pass, putting him 37-shy of Peyton Manning’s record 539. That will be saved for the 2018 edition of this column as Brady’s onslaught on the record books continues.
Three players will have at least 10-recieving touchdowns
And those players will be Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, and Malcolm Mitchell. It seems crazy considering Martellus Bennett led the team last year with seven touchdowns. However, the addition of Brandin Cooks, a healthy Rob Gronkowski, and a full-season of Tom Brady at the helm can do wonders for receiving statistics.
Gronkowski and Cooks seem like reasonable options to break the 10-touchdown barrier. Mitchell on the other hand would be a surprise member of that list. But it will happen. Mitchell became a go-to receiver for Brady in some of the most crucial moments throughout the playoff run. This will translate to a much bigger role for Mitchell, despite the depth at the position.
Mitchell’s emergence has gone under the radar with the other additions, but so far he looks like a slam-dunk pick at receiver in just his second year. Last year, Mitchell had 32 receptions for 401 yards and he caught four touchdowns. Look for him to go over 40 receptions and 650 yards en route to a 10-touchdown season.
Malcolm Butler will sign an extension with the Patriots
Just a couple months ago, this would be laughable. It still may be. However, this situation has been hard to predict from the get-go. First, he already had his bags pack to New Orleans and then quiet. Nothing. Butler remained a member of the Patriots. He signed his tender. The draft came-and-went and Butler remained.
Then Butler showed up to OTA’s and things changed. He didn’t have to be there and he wouldn’t lose any money if he did skip out. He showed up ready to work, focused on football and not the noise surrounding him in the weeks following the super bowl.
Butler will go out and have another Pro Bowl year for the Patriots in 2017. As the season goes on, what tension there was between team and player will be water under-the-bridge. At the end of the year, Butler will get his money and it will be from the Patriots.
Tom Brady will throw over 5,000 yards, including two 500-yard games
Tom Brady’s historic season continues as he breaks the 5,000-yard mark for the second time in his career. Two 500-yard passing games this season will go a long way towards reaching that goal.
The first 500-yard game will come week-two against the New Orleans Saints in Louisiana. To call the Saints’ defense a liability would be an under statement. On top of that, Brandin Cooks returns for the first time as a member of the Patriots and will remind the Saints what they had. That’s a recipe for a near-200 yard receiving game from Cooks and over 500 yards from Brady.
The second comes just four-weeks later against the Jets at MetLife Stadium. The Jets had one of the worst defenses in the league last year and it hasn’t got much better. Brady will shine on the road and toss five touchdowns and 500 yards against their division rival.
Rob Gronkowski will play 16 games
It’s unfortunate to think that this would need to be predicted but it is. Gronkowski has only played two full-seasons since since he came into the league and that was in his first two-years. Granted, he did play in 15 games in both 2014 and 2015, he only played in seven-games last year.
Gronkowski will go wire-to-wire this year, playing in all 16 regular-season games and all three postseason games. He will have a bounce-back year, reminding everyone that he is the most dominate force in the NFL.
His resurgent season will play a huge role in Brady’s massive year. Gronkowski will easily reach double-digit touchdowns and approach 1000 yards receiving. When he is fully healthy, no tight end comes close to what Gronk does on the field and this year we will see it with our own eyes.
Tom Brady will buck-the-trend and win league MVP and the super bowl
Sure, this could be included as part of other predictions for this year, but it is worth noting that the NFL MVP hasn’t won the super bowl since Kurt Warner in 1999. This will continue the theme of setting the 2007 season right. In that year, Brady won the NFL MVP when he threw a then-record 50 touchdowns to only eight interceptions.
Brady more than likely missed out on his third MVP this past season because he missed the first four-games. The fact that he was very-much in the running is a testament to the season he had. This year he will not be denied. As mentioned previously, he will throw 46 touchdowns to only eight interceptions, making him the runaway MVP winner. The strong play will continue into the playoffs and Brady will add a fifth super bowl MVP to his trophy case.
Cyrus Jones will have two special teams touchdowns
The second-year player out of Alabama had a tough rookie year after winning a National Title in his final-year in school. Ball-security problems lead to an extended-stay on the bench throughout the year.
The talented corner will have an opportunity to get some time in the slot as a third corner, but he will be competing with Eric Rowe and Justin Coleman. Therefore, Jones will have to make some noise on special teams as that most certainly will be where he gets his first chance to make things right.
Bill Belichick does not want to use Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola as return man if he can help it. The hope was that Jones would fill that role, but the team could not trust him to hold on to the ball. This year that will change. Jones will fumble just once and will score twice in the return game. The first will come early and become the catalyst to his resurgent year.
The Patriots will beat the Giants in Super Bowl LII, completing the 19-0 season
Call it fate. Call it redemption. Whatever it is, it will be the sweetest victory in Patriots history. Unlike in 2007, this team will get stronger down the stretch. In the final weeks of the 2007 teams began to figure out the Patriots. If they could limit Randy Moss’ ability to burn them, then they could manage the Patriots other offensive weapons. The Patriots fatal-flaw on offense that year was being too top-heavy.
This year is a different story. The Patriots are stacked top-to-bottom. This team also knows how to win, evident by the fact that they are the defending super bowl champions. However, this is only half the equation.
During the Patriots first run of three out-of-four super bowls they first played a team from the NFC West (St. Louis). Then the NFC South (Carolina) and finally the NFC East (Philadelphia). In the game against the Rams, they stopped a team looking for their second super bowl win in three years. A budding dynasty. Against the Panthers, they were up against an upstart team that made a surprise run to the Super Bowl. Finally, against the Eagles, the Patriots were expected to win and won reasonably easy, despite the three-point difference.
Fast forward to this current run. In 2014, they took on the Seahawks, of the NFC West, who were looking for their second super bowl in-a-row. Again, they stopped a budding dynasty. In February they took on an upstart team from the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons, in a wild game from start-to-finish. Their second super bowl win in three years.
So if you believe in symmetry, then when the Patriots play in the super bowl this year, their opponent would be a team from the NFC East. Why not the Giants? They have a team capable of making a run, with the potential to have a top-5 offense. The Giants remain the only real blemish on this Patriots run. They will avenge a loss, complete the perfect season, and win their sixth super bowl in one of the most dominating season’s in NFL history.