SAM DONNELLY

STAFF WRITER

NFL football is back and the people can finally rejoice. We’ve beaten “DeflateGate” and Goodell. Finally there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Brady’s back and the Patriots are prepared to defend their title. With a veteran offense, the Patriots should march up and down the field this season. The question, as it has been almost every season except last year, is the defense. This defensive line is stacked with talent starting with Chandler Jones on the outside and Dominique Easley on the interior. The linebackers are solid as well and a healthy Jerod Mayo bodes well for a young defense. Jamie Collins is a rising star and Dont’a Hightower is a run stopping machine. The question is at defensive back. The Patriots lost Brandon Browner, Darrelle Revis, and Kyle Arrington, leaving them thin in the secondary. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler will get his chance to shine, but we’ll get to him a little later. So sit back on Thursday night, and enjoy yourself as banner number four is dropped. The Patriots are back. Football is back.

Biggest Game: There are plenty of big games on the Patriots’ schedule. The away game in Denver is intriguing and so is the game in Miami in Week 17. But I think the most anticipated game is obvious. It will be the game Week 6 in Indianapolis against the Colts. Obviously there will be plenty of animosity due to “DeflateGate,” not to mention the two times the teams met last season, we won by a combined score of 87-27. Indianapolis fans will be out in force to show their disdain for Tom Brady and the Patriots organization in general. Other than this game being hyped up, it will be important for a young team to play in an extremely hostile environment. We all know Brady will be ready, but with young defensive backs and defensive lineman, the Patriots might struggle against a talented Indianapolis aerial attack. It will be interesting to see how the team reacts, and if they can move past the hype and just play Patriot Football.

Key Defensive Player: Malcolm Butler. Simple as that. We all remember the interception on the one-yard line to seal the win at the Super Bowl. That’s over now, and although it will forever be remember as one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history, the Patriots are always about the future. Last year Butler played 11 of the 16 regular season games and recorded 15 tackles. During the postseason he tallied just four tackles, three in the Super Bowl. Now he is listed as our number one cornerback. Meaning he will match up with guys like Brandon Marshall, Antonio Brown, and Demaryius Thomas. Pretty big step up from a guy who barely saw game time last year. Defensive back is clearly the biggest question mark on this year’s team. Revis was our number one last year. He was a proven Pro-Bowl cornerback who is headed to the Hall of Fame. Butler made one good play and is now being thrust into the fire. Is he capable of doing it? I don’t know, but his teammates gave him the nickname “scrap” because he always seems to be around the ball and making a play. That’s just practice. He will need to do that week in and week out for the Patriots to make another Super Bowl run.

Key Offensive Player: Danny Amendola. With Brandon LaFell out until week sevenon the physically unable to perform list, an argument could be made that he is the most important offensive player the first half of the season. I know people are probably expecting to see Julian Edelman or Rob Gronkowski here, but Amendola is just as important. Without the deep threat of LaFell, the focus falls on Edelman and Gronk. The Steelers have already said their plan to stop Gronk is to jam and get physical. Whether it will work or not is beside the point—Gronk will get a ton of attention. Edelman will as well because he killed teams over the middle last season. That leaves Amendola. He ended the season really strong, tallying 11 receptions for 137 yards and two touchdowns in the Patriots three post-season games. He had a pivotal touchdown in the Super Bowl to bring the Patriots within seven points. I think he could break out. With all the attention on Gronk and Edelman, Amendola will be charged with finding gaps in the defense and making some plays. If he can stay healthy (fingers crossed on the big “if”) I think Amendola could have a 700-800 yard receiving year.
 
Prediction: 13-3: The Patriots have a relatively easy schedule compared to last season. I think they start off with three wins over Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Jacksonville. After the bye week they head to Dallas, a team with a long history for starting strong and choking down the stretch. I think the Patriots lose a close game in Dallas. The Colts game in Week 6 is up in the air for me. Either they are inspired by the fire of Brady and Gronk, or the anger the Colts have from last years beat down(s) over powers the Patriots.
After a close game with the Colts, the Patriots won’t lose a game until Denver in week 12. I think they will struggle with the Texans on the road, but will squeak out of there with a win, leaving just the Jets and Miami, both on the road. The Patriots will beat the Jets, sit their starters, and lose to Miami in a hopefully meaningless game. I will make post-season picks later in the season, but in terms of a return to the Super Bowl… unless these defensive backs are much better than expected… I’m not so sure banner number five is raised in 2016.

Executive Editor