This Patriots team is loaded heading into 2016, if they can stay healthy, I don’t think anyone can stop them…
Listen, this is the case every year with the Pats. If they can stay healthy, they will win the championship. They have been to five straight AFC Championships dating back to 2011, and injuries dragged them down every year except for 2014, when they stayed healthy and won it all.
On paper, this offense is going to be the best offense the Pats have had since at least 2012, possibly even 2007. Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett will form one of the most dominating duos at tight end in the history of the league, and the quickness of Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola will really hurt team in the middle of the field (they also have Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell at their disposal).
The big question will be the offensive line. They have plenty of talent and depth along the interior, but if either Sebastian Vollmer or Nate Solder go down on the edge, they could be in trouble. When they are both healthy, Brady is generally well protected.
However, if either of them go down, Marcus Cannon is forced into action, which usually ends with Brady flat on his back. Of all the injuries the Patriots suffered last year, it turned out to be Solder going down that ended up hurting them the most. I pray they both will be good to go come January 2017.
THE FRONT SEVEN
On the defensive side of the ball, they are loaded at every level. Chandler Jones was traded to Arizona, but they brought in Chris Long to help ease the pain of his departure. Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard will likely start on the outside, but having someone like Long that can rotate in will really help them in the long-run.
There was also quite a bit of turnover at defensive tackle this offseason for New England, as they lost Dominique Easley and Akiem Hicks. But, they will return starters Malcom Brown and Alan Branch, and they added Terrance Knighton and rookie Vincent Valentine. Brown and Branch were excellent last year for the Pats, particularly against the run. Knighton and Valentine will only help in that facet of the game, and more importantly, they can all give each other rest so no one gets too tired at any point in the season.
At linebacker, the Pats have two of the three best in the game in Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. The fact that neither of them made the NFL ‘Top 100’ list is just a flat out joke. Hightower is terrific against the run, and is also a great leader for this unit.
Early in his career he was also a liability in pass coverage, and while he still isn’t great, he has worked very hard to bring that part of his game up. As for Collins, there isn’t anything this dude can’t do. He is an absolute freak of an athlete, which allows him to play the run, rush the quarterback, play coverage and get matched up 1-on-1 against some of the best athletes in the game.
Finally, we have the secondary. Devin McCourty is one of, if not the best free safety in the game. His range is unreal, and as a former cornerback, he has great ball skills and can drop down and play man coverage if needed. Patrick Chung is an elite strong safety in every sense of the word. He can play down in the box and be tough against the run, he is AWESOME in man coverage against tight ends, and he even found himself singled up on receivers at certain points throughout the season last year. The versatility these two have is a big reason why New England’s defense was elite last year, and will be elite once again this upcoming season.
(And that’s not even mentioning Duron Harmon, who is one of the most underrated “centerfield” free safeties in the league.)
Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan both had huge years last year as the two outside corners, and I expect them to do the same in 2016. Newcomer Cyrus Jones seems to be the front-runner to take the nickel corner job, but I wouldn’t count out Justin Coleman or Darryl Roberts. The depth at cornerback this year looks to be very good.
My point is this: top to bottom, the Pats have, in my opinion, the best overall team in the NFL. Obviously you can never stay completely healthy, but if they can stay away from the catastrophic ailments, I don’t think New England will be stopped in 2016.
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