In a perfect world, the New England Patriots' opponents would be handicapped prior to each game, leveling the playing field and allowing the New England rookies to grow and the injury list to shrink. After all, the Patriots' W-L record has missed nary a beat as they've had the incredible fortune of playing rookie quarterbacks in back-to-back weeks when they've dealt with some unique struggles of their own.
It was looking like the Patriots would be the beneficiaries of Lady Luck once again on Sunday when the league announced they were suspending S Dashon Goldson for one game following a helmet-to-helmet hit on Darren Sproles. Fortunately for Goldson, the NFL justice system moves a little more expeditiously than American courts and his suspension was immediately lifted on Tuesday. The league did fine Goldson $100K, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to his on-field impact.
The Patriots need all the help they can get as their rookie wideout contingency of Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce and others struggle to stay on the same page as QB Tom Brady. Needless to say, a secondary featuring a healthy Darrelle Revis and a wrist-slapped Dashon Goldson is more than a little intimidating, The learning curve has certainly been increased on Sunday, and the Patriots defense will need to maximize on some consistently subpar play from QB Josh Freeman if the offense again struggles to put up points.
Goldson has built quite the reputation as of late, also having been fined $30K during week one for an illegal hit on New York Jets TE Jeff Cumberland. Dating back to 2010, Goldson has been flagged for a league-leading 15 personal fouls--a statistic that certainly raises some eyebrows, and gives some context as to why the Patriots parted ways with someone like Brandon Meriweather. Aside from putting other players at risk, an ill-timed penalty can completely deflate a defense on a must-win drive.
It's unclear how Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano will assign coverage on Sunday, but Rex Ryan was typically fond of placing Revis on Wes Welker and forcing the Patriots' passing game to beat them in other ways. It's possible Schiano could design a similar scheme around Julian Edelman, daring Dobson and Thompkins to beat them deep and attempting to rattle their poise. Tampa Bay is certainly far from unbeatable as they possess some offensive ineptitude of their own, but New England's goal to start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2007 became much tougher.