NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
2015 Record: 12-4-0
Head Coach: Bill Belichick
New Faces for 2016 - DL Chris Long, TE Martellus Bennett, LB Shea McClellin, WR Chris Hogan, DL Terrance Knighton, TE Clay Harbor, RB Donald Brown, WR Nate Washington, CB E.J. Biggers
OFFENSE: Once his four-game suspension from the NFL is complete, Tom Brady will be the starting quarterback for the team. Brady passed for 4,770 yards last season with 36 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. In the interim, Jimmy Garoppolo will be the starter.
The running game has three able backs in LeGarrette Blount (703 yards, 4.3 ypc average and six TD), Dion Lewis (234 yards, 4.8 ypc, two TD and 36 receptions for 388 yards with two TD in six games) and James White, who scored two rushing touchdowns while catching 40 passes for 410 yards and four scores.
The receiving corps are led by tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is Brady's go to guy and had 72 receptions for 1,176 yards and eleven touchdowns. Danny Amendola (65, 648, three TD), Julian Edelman (61, 692, seven TD) and Nate Washington, who had 47 receptions for 658 yards and four scores with Houston in 2015, will be the primary wide receivers.
Tight End Marcellus Bennett comes over from Chicago, where he had 53 catches for 439 yards and three touchdowns last season. Wide receiver Chris Hogan is another option in the passing game and he had 36 receptions for 450 yards and two scores with Buffalo last season.
DEFENSE: Playing the 4-3 defense, the Patriots will have Terrance Knighton and Alan Branch at the tackle positions along with ends Jabaal Sheard (eight QB sacks) and Rob Ninkovich, who had 6 1/2 sacks. Chris Long and Malcolm Brown add depth in the trenches.
The linebackers have Jonathan Freeny in the middle with Jamie Collins (5 1/2 sacks) and Dont'a Hightower (3 1/2 sacks) while Shea McClellin will spell the tandem.
The secondary features corner men Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler along with safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty. Rookie Cyrus Jones (Alabama) and Justin Coleman, along with Duron Harmon (three interceptions), E.J. Biggers and Jordan Richards will provide back up in the defensive backfield.
OUTLOOK: With Brady out for the first four games, opponents will be licking their chops to knock the Patriots down in the standings. However, Head Coach Bill Belichick is a master at getting the most out the 53-man roster.
As long as Brady and Belichick are around, the New England Patriots are always in the hunt for another Super Bowl title.
Look for the team to continue to light up the scoreboard (Pats were third in the NFL is scoring last season, averaging 29 points per game. However, they need the running game to get back in gear after ranking 30th overall last year. The health of their backs is crucial to that as they look to come back from injuries.
The passing game is solid and Brady-to-Gronkowski is synonymous with pro football. Wideouts Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola provide even more targets for Brady.
The defense was in the top ten overall in 2015, giving up 339 yards per game and also ranked ninth against the run, yielding 98.8 yards per game. The pass defense was so-so, giving up 240 yards a game. The Pats only gave up an average of 19.7 points per game, so they played stronger in the red zone.
Look for New England to cruise to another AFC East division title again and advance deep into the playoffs, possibly reaching and winning the Super Bowl.
This team (and the fan base) expects nothing less.
Fearless forecast - 11-5 this year (playoff team)
2016 TEAM SCHEDULE
Week 1 - at Arizona
Week 2 - vs. Miami
Week 3 - vs. Houston
Week 4 - vs. Buffalo
Week 5 - at Cleveland
Week 6 - vs. Cincinnati
Week 7 - at Pittsburgh
Week 8 - at Buffalo
Week 9 - BYE
Week 10 - vs. Seattle
Week 11 - at San Francisco
Week 12 - at NY Jets
Week 13 - vs. Los Angeles
Week 14 - vs. Baltimore
Week 15 - at Denver
Week 16 - vs. NY Jets
Week 17 - at Miami