With the 2013 regular season less than a week away, SB Nation asked each NFL Blogger a series of questions to help preview the upcoming season. My answers for the Patriots are below:
1. Who is the easiest player on the roster to root for?
Let's go with Kenbrell Thompkins. He overcame a lot of adversity to get to the NFL -- multiple arrests as a teenager, playing community college football before going to Cincinnati, going undrafted in April. He's a man who's overcome so much, has a huge chip on his shoulder, and is poised to be Tom Brady's #2 option at wide receiver in his first NFL game... as an undrafted free agent. How can you not root for this guy?
2. If you could buy a ticket to just one game this year...
Week 12 vs. the Broncos. It will be a chilly late-November game, on primetime, yet another Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady showdown, at Gillette Stadium, with possible playoff seeding implications on the line. If both teams are playing at expected, it could garner nearly as much hype as "Super Bowl 41.5" did back in 2007.
3. Who were the notable cuts for the Patriots?
The Patriots made two veteran pick-ups that were projected to play big roles for them in 2013 but ended up not making the team: Leon Washington and Adrian Wilson (injured reserve). They also released a trio of veteran defensive ends in Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis, and Marcus Bernard. Cunningham and Francis reverted to IR, but it was still a surprise to see not even one of those three make the active roster. Perhaps the most notable cut was on special teams, where the Patriots cut fan favorite punter Zoltan Mesko in favor of rookie free agent punter Ryan Allen. Allen has the stronger leg and comes at a lower cost, but Mesko was considered the better directional punter. He should land somewhere shortly.
4. Which second year player is going to make the biggest leap?
Chandler Jones is the top candidate here, with Dont'a Hightower being a close second. As rookie starters in 2012, both of these players flashed the potential to be great. Jones' rookie year was slowed by an ankle injury. However, he's healthy now, he's bigger, and he looks primed to break out. If he can develop into the bonafide pass rusher that we all know he has the potential too, the Patriots defense will become much more powerful.
5. What are the odds of your head coach getting fired?
Zero. The chances he retires after the year? Minimal. But if the Patriots were to win another Super Bowl, perhaps it's something he considers with two potential replacements waiting in the wings in Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia.
6. What franchise or NFL records could be broken this season?
For a Patriots team that has broken so many NFL records over the last decade, it's hard to say exactly what they may do in 2013. The offense won't seemingly have as much firepower as they have had in year's past, but you never say never when Tom Brady is at the helm. As for team records, I could potentially see them breaking the mark for turnover differential (28) or receptions by a player (Danny Amendola could actually break Welker's 123).
7. Which rookies will see regular playing time this year?
At receiver, the Patriots will have three rookies at 2-3-4 on the depth chart in Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, and Aaron Dobson. It's rather unheard of for a Bill Belichick team, but these three have shown they are ready to play and all can contribute in different ways/areas on the field. Rookie free agent tight end may be the "move" tight end in 2013, and could see a lot of targets. On defense, top draft pick Jamie Collins is projected to be the first linebacker off the bench and is a versatile piece who can be used in a variety of ways. Michael Buchanan was a seventh round pick at defensive end, but was dominant in the preseason and looks like the team's 3rd end heading into the regular season. Linebacker Steve Beauharnais, safety Duron Harmon, and cornerback Logan Ryan all also figure to contribute on defense.
8. Predict the order of finish in your division.
It would be hard not to pick the Patriots first. The Dolphins have shortened the gap between one and two however. They could certainly beat the Patriots in a single game, but over the course of the season, I'm going with New England. So I've got the Patriots one and the Dolphins two. After that, you could really pick either/or between the Bills and the Jets. I still think Rex Ryan is a coach, but I just don't know what he can do with a roster that has been completely gutted. The Bills have a player that can carry the load on offense in CJ Spiller, and they still have plenty of talent defensively. I'll go with the Bills at 3.
9. What do you expect your season-end record will be?
11-5. The Patriots will have some growing pains at the receiver position, but this is a group that has more size, athleticism and potential than it did a year ago. With an offensive line and running game that remain intact, along with some guy named Tom Brady playing quarterback, the Patriots will remain an elite offense. Defensively, the Patriots should continue to make strides in 2013. It's still a young unit, but if the secondary can remain healthy and players such as Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower can progress as hoped, the unit could surprise some people. The Patriots face a tough schedule, but should be jockeying for playoff position come December.