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2007 Season Previews
New England Patriots (Last Year: 12-4)
Veteran Additions:
RB Sammy Morris, WR Randy Moss, WR Donte' Stallworth, WR Wes Welker, WR Kelley Washington, TE Kyle Brady, OLB Adalius Thomas, CB Tory James.
Draft Picks:
OT Clint Oldenburg, DT Kareem Brown, ILB Oscar Lua, CB Mike Richardson, S Brandon Meriweather.
Major Subtractions:
RB Corey Dillon, RB Patrick Pass, WR Troy Brown, TE Daniel Graham, OLB Tully Banta-Cain, ILB Don Davis, P Ken Walter.

Offense This Year: ProFootballTalk.com is one of my favorite Web sites and I read it every day. However, they recently wrote something that left me speechless. While I certainly respect their opinion, because unlike most of the so-called experts on TV, they actually know what they're talking about, I have to completely disagree with their assessment of Tom Brady.

They recently said that Kurt Warner had a better resume than Brady in terms of being ranked in the top 25 players in the past 25 years, because Warner won a regular-season MVP, and Brady had the luxury of having an excellent defense behind him. Here's my problem with that statement: Warner had Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. When Brady won his first Super Bowl, he was surrounded by the likes of Antowain Smith, Troy Brown and David Patten. Even Brady's top weapons - Deion Branch, David Givens and Corey Dillon - were nowhere even close to Warner's arsenal. The fact that Brady has three rings and nearly defeated the Super Bowl champion Colts with Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell puts him over every quarterback in the past 25 years, with the exception of Joe Montana and perhaps John Elway.

Brady won't have to worry about Gaffney's inconsistency and Caldwell's butter fingers anymore. After watching the latter botch the AFC Championship Game, Bill Belichick decided to trade for Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and sign Donte' Stallworth and Kelley Washington. Moss is still one of the top wide outs in the NFL, and is clearly underrated right now because he's had Kerry Collins, Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter throwing to him in Oakland. While he's had his share of off-the-field and work-ethic issues, New England is one of two places (Indianapolis) in the NFL where Moss can thrive without getting into trouble. Stallworth, who played well for the Eagles last year, will be an exceptional No. 2 option.

Brady still has Ben Watson and Kevin Faulk as a safety valve, but the player I'm most intrigued by is Laurence Maroney, who compiled 745 rushing yards on only 175 carries. With Dillon gone, Maroney will get most of the workload. I wouldn't be surprised if he records 1,500 yards on the ground this season. It helps that he'll be running behind one of the top offensive lines in the game; Brady was sacked only 26 times in 2006. Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Steve Neal and Nick Kaczur will all be together for another year.

Defense This Year: Other than Caldwell's dropped passes, the reason why the Colts were able to mount a comeback against New England was the Patriots' lack of depth on the stop unit. The entire defense was gassed during the most crucial moments of the AFC Championship, allowing Peyton Manning to piece together a memorable fourth quarter that silenced his critics about his inability to win in the postseason. In response, Belichick adopted the adage, "If you can't beat 'em, sign players who can."

I already talked about the additions New England made on offense. One of its biggest signings was at the linebacker position, as the team agreed to a deal with Adalius Thomas, a Pro Bowl-caliber defender who has been with the Ravens since 2000. Thomas will be a welcome addition to a corps that is already comprised of Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin. Junior Seau will be a solid reserve, but I still think New England could use one more quality backup at the position. They better hope no one suffers a serious injury.

Another acquisition the Patriots made will help the secondary; they added cornerback Tory James from the Bengals. At age 34, James is way too old to start, but he can still be an effective backup. However, there's a problem which I'm sure you're aware of. New England's No. 1 corner, Asante Samuel, who often steps it up in the playoffs, has threatened to hold out. Hopefully Samuel is aware of what happened to Deion Branch, and that everyone on the Patriots, with the exception of Brady, is expendable. If Samuel follows Branch's path, the secondary could be exposed, given that James or Chad Scott will be asked to play more than they should. At least the safety position's not an issue; Eugene Wilson's a solid defensive back, Rodney Harrison has recovered from injury-ridden campaign and rookie Brandon Meriweather will be able to start if someone gets hurt.

One area Patriots fans won't have to worry about is the defensive line. Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour are as good as it gets. While the team will undoubtedly miss the late Marquise Hill in more ways than one, the front is still packed with talented reserves who can step in at any moment.

Schedule and Intangibles: I was concerned about Adam Vinatieri's departure. Rookie Stephen Gostkowski hit 20-of-26 attempts in 2006, but only 3-of-5 were from beyond 40 yards. Hopefully Gostkowski will give Belichick a reason to believe he can hit field goals more accurately from that distance. ... New England surrendered two touchdowns on special teams and only scored one themselves, which is why it signed Wes Welker, one of the top return men in the league. ... The Patriots are nearly unbeatable at home, possessing a 31-6 record the previous four seasons. ... New England has one of the toughest schedules in the NFL; Brady and Belichick will battle San Diego, Cincinnati, Dallas, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the Jets twice.

Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.

Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Quarterbacks
Offensive Line
Secondary
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams
Receivers
Linebackers
Coaching


Divisional Rival History:
Buffalo Bills: Domination. The Patriots have won 12 of the last 13 meetings.
Miami Dolphins: It's amazing how much the visiting team struggles in this heated rivalry (host has won eight of 11). New England always melts in the Miami sun, while the Dolphins have a habit of freezing to death at frigid Foxboro.
New York Jets: Despite the Jets' 17-14 victory in Foxboro last season, the Patriots have claimed eight of the past nine matchups.

Fantasy Football:
Tom Brady: Over the past three seasons, Tom Brady has averaged 3,775 yards and 26 touchdowns. With much better weapons at his disposal, it's not unreasonable to expect those numbers to experience a significant increase.
Projected Stats: 4,100 passing yards. 28 passing TDs. 70 rushing yards. 0 rushing TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 380.

Laurence Maroney: An excellent mixture of power and speed, Laurence Maroney rushed for 745 yards at a 4.3 clip. Now the full-time starter, Maroney's stats will also improve tremendously.
Projected Stats: 1,450 rushing yards. 250 receiving yards. 19 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 284.

Ben Watson: Ben Watson experienced a surge in yardage (643) but only scored thrice in 2006. A second-tier tight end.
Projected Stats: 700 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 94.

Randy Moss: After beginning his career with six 1,200-yard seasons, the closest Randy Moss has come to hitting that plateau is 1,005 yards in 2005. Keep in mind that Kerry Collins, Andrew Walter and Aaron Brooks were throwing him the ball the past two years.
Projected Stats: 1,200 receiving yards. 10 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 180.

Donte' Stallworth: If Donte' Stallworth can stay healthy, he'll be an incredible No. 2 option for Tom Brady.
Projected Stats: 750 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 99.

Wes Welker: Unless your league counts points on special teams, Wes Welker's not worth drafting; his actual value is far greater than his fantasy value.
Projected Stats: 500 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 68.

Stephen Gostkowski: Not worth drafting until he proves he can consistently hit long field goals.
Projected Stats: 22-29 FG (1-2 50+). 48 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 119.

New England Defense: The Patriots accumulated 44 sacks and 22 interceptions in 2006. Both figures will rise with Adalius Thomas on board.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 10 Defense.

Analysis: It seems like everyone in the media is picking the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. Will my season previews differ? You'll be able to see my playoff projections in two weeks. For now, I'll just say that a division championship and a first-round bye are more than likely.

Projection: 13-3 (1st in the AFC East)


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