RB LaMont Jordan, WR Sam Aiken, OT Oliver Ross, OT Barry Stokes, G John Welbourn, C Mike Flynn, DT Kenny Smith, OLB/ILB Victor Hobson, CB Fernando Bryant, CB Lewis Sanders, CB Jason Webster, S John Lynch, S Tank Williams.
QB Kevin O'Connell, DE/OLB Shawn Crable, OLB Bo Ruud, ILB Jerod Mayo, CB Terrence Wheatley, CB Jonathan Wilhite, KR Matt Slater.
WR Donte' Stallworth, WR Troy Brown, TE Kyle Brady, DE/OLB Rosevelt Colvin, DT Rashad Moore, NT Rashad Moore, OLB T.J. Slaughter, ILB Junior Seau, ILB Oscar Lua, CB Asante Samuel, CB Randall Gay, CB Chad Scott, CB Willie Andrews, S Eugene Wilson, S Mel Mitchell.
2008 New England Patriots Offense:
Hindsight is 20/20, so now it seems really bizarre that many of us didn't predict that the 2007 Patriots would set record numbers. Whether it was Tom Brady's 50 touchdowns (broke Peyton Manning's record of 49), Randy Moss' 23 scores (eclipsing Jerry Rice's mark of 22) or the 582 points the Patriots tallied in the regular season (passing the 1998 Vikings' 556), New England's offense was just absolutely fun to watch, assuming, of course, that I'm not talking to Bills, Jets, Dolphins or Colts fans.
Of all the records they shattered, every single Patriot will tell you that 16-0 was most important. No team has ever gone defeated in a 16-game slate prior to the 2007 campaign, and I have a feeling it's going to be a long time before that happens again.
That said, New England has unfinished business in the wake of its Super Bowl loss to the Giants. The team's offense will once again be unstoppable, as you have to look really hard to find any holes. Brady eliminated all doubt that he's inferior to Peyton Manning in any way by putting up Manning-esque numbers, including 4,806 yards, 50 touchdowns, eight picks and a completion percentage of 68.9. That's what happens when you match a top-three quarterback in the modern-day NFL history with the most dangerous receiver in all of football. In addition to Moss' 23 touchdowns, the All Pro wide out had 98 receptions for 1,493 yards. Wes Welker, meanwhile, benefited from the all the attention opposing defenses put on Moss, and was able to lead the league in receptions (112).
Deep threat Donte' Stallworth is gone, but Jabar Gaffney passed him as a tertiary receiver on the depth chart anyway. But Ben Watson and Chad Jackson need to step up. Watson is an inconsistent tight end who has talent, but often disappears in big games; he had just three receptions in the postseason. Jackson, meanwhile, will be entering his third year in the league. Jackson hasn't done much as a pro, but has looked exceptional in minicamps. There's a good chance he may displace Gaffney as a starter.
Laurence Maroney has durability concerns, but if he stays healthy, New England will have a shot at shattering its own records. Maroney started just six games during the regular season, and had only one game where he had more than 20 carries, but he really stepped it up in the Doggone Playoff, notching consecutive 122-yard performances against the tough Jaguars and Chargers. There really isn't anyone behind Maroney, so if he gets hurt again, someone like Travis Henry could be an option. Sammy Morris will take some of his carries, but he's not anything special. Kevin Faulk, meanwhile, will hoard all the receptions out of the backfield.
If you want one weakness on New England's offense, it's on the right side of the front. The line did an excellent job of keeping defenders away from Brady all year, but faltered miserably in the Super Bowl. Now, that's only one game and the Giants arguably had the top defensive front in the NFL, but one of the reasons Brady was banged up so much was Stephen Neal's absence. The starting right guard had to leave the championship because of a knee injury. Neal, who turns 32 in October, also had shoulder surgery this offseason. He's in his contract year, so that's why I thought the Patriots should have drafted Branden Albert as a replacement and a future left tackle.
Meanwhile, right tackle Nick Kaczur was arrested this offseason and could be suspended for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. There's a chance the league won't discipline him, but if it does, Brady could be seeing the turf more often than usual.
But don't count on him turning into David Carr or anything - the rest of the line is very solid. Left tackle Matt Light had problems in the Super Bowl, but he's a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle if you take away that performance. Left guard Logan Mankins and center Dan Koppen are among the best players at their respective positions in the league.
Will Brady throw for 51 touchdowns? Will Moss catch 24 scores? Will New England accumulate 600 points? Probably not, but barring a slew of injuries, they'll retain their status as the most potent offense in the NFL.
2008 New England Patriots Defense:
People called me crazy last year. When I refused to rank the Patriots No. 1 in my 2008 NFL Power Rankings late in the season, e-mailers wondered whether I was mentally insane or just absurdly asinine.
My reasoning: The Patriots' defense was terrible. They couldn't get off the field against teams like the Eagles (with A.J. Feeley), Ravens, Jets, Dolphins and Giants (before we knew they were amazing). Pedestrian quarterbacks like Feeley, Kyle Boller and Chad Pennington converted third down after third down against them. New England was just really old, thin and banged up in its back eight. In a sense, it was the same thing that happened against the Colts in the second half of the 2007 AFC Championship. The Giants only scored 17 points against them in the Super Bowl, but part of the reason the Patriots managed just 14 points was that their offense spent too much time on the sidelines. Eli Manning actually set a Super Bowl record for most third-down conversions on an opening drive.
At linebacker, Mike Vrabel (33 in August), Tedy Bruschi (35) and Junior Seau (39) were just too slow to keep up after a grueling 16-game season. Rosevelt Colvin was out. Bruschi remains a starting inside linebacker and figures to be positioned next to Jerod Mayo, the 10th overall pick in April's draft. Mayo was projected as a second-round prospect by some, and others thought he was a better fit for the 4-3. New England doesn't exactly have a great track record in the draft, as some recent first-day choices include Chad Jackson, Dave Thomas, Ben Watson, Guss Scott, Bethel Johnson and Daniel Graham. I'm not saying Mayo is going to bust; I just feel New England reached for a guy who would have been better in another system.
And while we're on that subject, I don't understand the Victor Hobson acquisition either. The Patriots are hoping Hobson pushes Bruschi out of a starting job, but Hobson was essentially run out of New York because he didn't fit in well with Eric Mangini's 3-4 scheme. Hobson thrived in the 4-3, so I expected him to sign with a squad that would have been a good situation for him. Maybe Bill Belichick can coach him up.
Vrabel, meanwhile, starts outside across from Adalius Thomas, as the two combined for 18 sacks and seven forced fumbles. Not bad, but Vrabel has reached the age of regression at 33. Pierre Woods and third-round rookie Shawn Crable figure to challenge for playing time. Woods has no career sacks, but has shown some promise. Crable's strength is getting to the quarterback, though he may have to wait until 2009 to see significant playing time.
As for the secondary, let me give you some numbers. Feeley and Boller combined for 555 yards, five touchdowns and four picks in back-to-back weeks. David Garrard threw for 278 yards and two scores. Manning, who set the record for third-down conversions on an opening drive in a Super Bowl, tossed for 255 yards. My point: The linebackers weren't the only ones to blame. The secondary was very poor, save for Ellis Hobbs and Asante Samuel (six interceptions), who signed a massive contract with the Eagles this offseason. Hobbs, meanwhile, tore his labrum and needed surgery on a hernia this offseason. It's unclear whether or not he'll be ready for training camp, which is a huge problem for New England, as its other corners are either unproven quantities or bums management picked off the street.
Assuming Hobbs even starts on Kickoff Sunday, 31-year-old Fernando Bryant is penciled in across from him. Bryant was cut by the Lions, who had the 31st-ranked pass defense in 2007. Ouch. Battling for the right to suck across from Hobbs are Jason Webster, Lewis Sanders, Terrence Wheatley, Jonathan Wilhite and Mike Richardson. Webster, 31 in September, has missed 23 games the past two years. Sanders was cut by the Falcons, another squad that couldn't stop the pass. Wheatley and Wilhite are both rookies, and won't be ready until 2009 or later. Richardson was a sixth-round selection last April but has yet to play an NFL game.
At free safety, I find it a bit worrisome that Brandon Meriweather has yet to beat James Sanders out of a job. Not that Sanders is terrible or anything; you would just think that a highly touted first-round prospect like Meriweather would have been able to establish himself by now. As for strong safety, that gig remains Rodney Harrison's despite the fact that he's almost 36. There's no one behind the injury- and suspension-prone Harrison other than Tank Williams, another reject from a miserable pass defense (Minnesota; 32nd).
Luckily, the Patriots will be able to mask the secondary's ineptness with solid pressure on the quarterback. New England had 47 sacks in 2007, as the linebackers were able to make plays with the help of the team's defensive line. The Patriots' front three is arguably the best in football. Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren are all young and at the top of their game. Seymour missed seven contests last season with a knee injury, but appears to be completely healthy.
Excluding the front line, I've made it seem like New England's defense is going to be terrible. I'm just piling on because it's the only thing holding this squad back from winning its fourth Super Bowl in eight years. Mediocre and disappointing would be better words.
2008 New England Patriots Schedule and Intangibles:
Super Bowl Loser Curse? Only Seattle has qualified for the postseason the year after losing the Big Game this decade. It'll take a torrent of injuries to keep New England out of the postseason though.
The Patriots are nearly unbeatable at home, possessing a 39-6 record the previous five seasons. Of course, they couldn't lose anywhere prior to the Super Bowl last year.
I was concerned when the Patriots let Adam Vinatieri go, and so far my worries have been warranted. Gostkowski managed 21-of-24 field goals in 2007, but was just 3-of-5 from 40-49 and didn't even attempt a kick from 50 yards. Gostkowski was 1-of-2 in the postseason, missing from 35 yards out against Jacksonville.
Punter Chris Hanson had a miserable average of 41.4 when you consider that he had just 13-of-44 kicks inside the opposing 20.
Ellis Hobbs set an NFL record for the longest kick return in NFL history, taking one back 108 yards to the house. Willie Andrews also scored on a kickoff. Wes Welker, meanwhile, averaged a solid punt-return average (10.0), though he didn't get a touchdown. New England allowed a score to an opponent.
Can the Patriots go 16-0 again? Major roadblocks include: at San Diego (Week 6), Denver (Week 7), at Indianapolis (Week 9), Pittsburgh (Week 13) and at Seattle (Week 14). The Bills have also improved, but I don't see them knocking off New England just yet.
2008 New England Patriots Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2008 New England Patriots Analysis: I refuse to rank the Patriots No. 1 in my power rankings. Off the top of my head, I think I have them third or fourth. I love their offense of course, but the back eight of their defense will continue to be a huge liability, as management hasn't made the proper upgrades to ensure that they'll be able to get off the field when it's late in the year and the players are tired.
So, am I saying the Patriots can't win the Super Bowl? Definitely not. They have a great shot. But it's not a guarantee as some believe it to be.
Projection: 15-1 (1st in AFC East)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Tom Brady: I doubt Tom Brady breaks records again, but he will definitely put up monstrous numbers as long as Randy Moss is healthy. He's the only quarterback worth taking in the first round of your fantasy league.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 4,400 passing yards. 37 passing TDs. 80 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 456.
Laurence Maroney: Laurence Maroney could put up huge numbers if he stayed healthy. He totaled 835 yards despite the fact that he started just six games, had only 185 carries, and received more than 20 rushes in just one game. A good sign is that all six of his touchdowns came in between Weeks 11 and 17.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,000 rushing yards. 75 receiving yards. 8 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 155.
Ben Watson: Overrated. Ben Watson disappeared at times last season. For example, he had only three receptions during New England's entire playoff run. I know he was hampered with an ankle injury all year, but it always seems like he's hurt. Watson had 389 receptions and six touchdowns in 12 games.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 500 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 80.
Randy Moss: Randy Moss was unstoppable during the early stages of his record-breaking season. In his first four games, he had 31 receptions, 505 yards and seven touchdowns - which put him on pace for 124 catches, 2,020 yards and 28 scores. Crazy stuff. Moss wore down late in the year, so it's no surprise that thesportingnews.com reported that the Patriots will hold Moss to a rep count so that he doesn't wear down again. Still, Moss is the No. 1 receiver this season.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,325 receiving yards. 16 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 228.
Wes Welker: I didn't project Wes Welker to do well in my original 2007 Fantasy Football Rankings, but after watching Tom Brady go to him early and often in the preseason, I made note of it on my site and drafted Welker in all of my leagues. I don't expect him to lead the league in receptions again, though he should have close to 95, making him even more valuable in PPR leagues. He might be overvalued otherwise.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,025 receiving yards. 7 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 144.
Chad Jackson: Chad Jackson has yet to do anything in this league, but he has been lighting it up in minicamps. I'm not sure what that means, but the Patriots will give him every chance to knock Jabar Gaffney out of the lineup.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 650 receiving yards. 5 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 95.
Stephen Gostkowski: Not worth drafting until he proves he can consistently hit long field goals.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 22-29 FG (1-2 50+). 48 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 119.
New England Defense: The Patriots were a top fantasy defense because they forced a lot of turnovers when they jumped out to huge leads against weak opponents. Asante Samuel is gone, but the fact remains that the opposition will be forced to play catch-up early and often.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 3 Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
Whoops - so much for not taking linebackers and corners early. Bill Belichick bucked his own trend, which is something I didn't expect ... Good to see Belichick found some cornerback depth with Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite. Mr. Hoodie has an eye for talent for corners. He's the one who drafted Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs ... Shawn Crable was solid value and a good fit at No. 78.
Jerod Mayo? Really? Guess Bill Belichick knows something I don't. First of all, Mayo was a reach at No. 10. Second, Mayo's a great fit for a cover-2 defense; not a 3-4. But like I said, I guess Belichick knows something I don't ... Kevin O'Connell? Ugh. I know about the need for a backup quarterback, but not in the third round. How about a right guard to replace Stephen Neal? What about a solid backup for the oft-injured Laurence Maroney? The way quarterbacks were slipping, Belichick could have obtained O'Connell in the fifth round ... Speaking of reaches, how about Matt Slater? The Patriots could have drafted him in the seventh.
By the way, I'd give the Patriots a C- if they didn't acquire a 2009 second-round pick from the Chargers.
Grade give on 4/29/08: C+
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
10. Jerod Mayo, ILB, Tennessee
Bill Belichick shocked me by taking an inside linebacker earlier than the fifth round. I don't get it... first of all, Jerod Mayo doesn't seem like a great fit for the 3-4. Second, Mayo was a reach at 10. At least the Patriots traded down a bit. (Pick Grade: C)
62. Terrence Wheatley, CB, Colorado
This is also the earliest Belichick has drafted a corner during his tenure in New England. I can't find anything wrong with this choice. (Pick Grade: A)
78. Shawn Crable, DE/OLB, Michigan
Bill Belichick continues to buck his trend and acquire young players in his back seven. Shawn Crable is a welcome addition to the linebacking corps. (Pick Grade: A)
94. Kevin O'Connell, QB, San Diego State
Yeah, quarterback was a HUGE need for the Patriots and Kevin O'Connell was definitely a third-round prospect. (End sarcasm) (Pick Grade: F)
129. Jonathan Wilhite, CB, Auburn
More back-seven help for the Patriots. Wow, I was way off in thinking Bill Belichick wouldn't address corner or linebacker until the third round. (Pick Grade: B)
153. Matt Slater, WR, UCLA
If Matt Slater's related to A.C. Slater, I like this pick. If not, it sucks. Who is Matt Slater, and why does NFL.com list his height as 0'0"? He's a bit small, aint he? (Pick Grade: A)
197. Bo Ruud, OLB, Nebraska
More depth at linebacker. I didn't have Bo Ruud drafted, and I don't think many others did either. (Pick Grade: C)
Prior to New England's field-goal victory over the Eagles, I thought the Patriots could be the best team of all time. But then Adam Joshua Feeley and Kyle Boller combined for 51 points at the beginning of a stretch where New England was just 2-9 against the spread, failing to distance themselves from the likes of the Jets, Ravens, Eagles and Chargers (who were missing LaDainian Tomlinson). They were extremely flawed, and that's one of two reasons I said I wouldn't be surprised if the Giants won the Super Bowl. The other was Eli Manning's emergence in the playoffs. Sam's Club-caliber.
Patriots sign C Mike Flynn
Patriots cut TE Marcus Pollard
Patriots sign S John Lynch
Patriots sign G John Welbourn
Patriots sign OT Barry Stokes
Patriots sign RB LaMont Jordan
Patriots announce retirement of G Gene Mruczkowski
Patriots cut CB Willie Andrews
Patriots sign G Gene Mruczkowski
Patriots sign OT Oliver Ross
Patriots cut OLB T.J. Slaughter
Patriots sign TE Marcus Pollard
Patriots sign DT Kenny Smith
Patriots sign P Scott Player
Patriots sign OLB/ILB Victor Hobson
Patriots re-sign DE/OLB Pierre Woods
Patriots re-sign OT Wesley Britt
Patriots sign CB Fernando Bryant
Patriots re-sign DE Mike Wright
Patriots re-sign ST Raymond Ventrone
Patriots sign CB Lewis Sanders
Patriots sign SS Tank Williams
Patriots re-sign WR Jabar Gaffney
Patriots sign CB Jason Webster
Patriots sign WR Sam Aiken
Patriots re-sign WR Randy Moss
Patriots cut TE Kyle Brady
Patriots re-sign ILB Tedy Bruschi
Patriots cut DT Rashad Moore
Patriots cut DE/OLB Rosevelt Colvin
Patriots cut ILB Oscar Lua
Patriots nullify the contract of WR Donte' Stallworth
Two Cornerbacks: I thought Asante Samuel was gone for sure (to the Jets, more specifically), so it really surprised me to hear rumors that he could be returning to New England. But even if he is re-signed, the Patriots must acquire a top-notch cornerback and another one for depth to prevent guys like Feeley and Boller from lighting them up. Leodis McKelvin could be theirs with the seventh-overall selection, but why take a corner so high when this class is laden with immense talent at the position? The Patriots could go right tackle No. 7 and perhaps Dwight Lowery or DeJuan Tribble at the bottom of the second round. That just seems to make more sense to me - and even more so if Samuel returns. Drafted Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite, signed Jason Webster, Fernando Bryant and Lewis Sanders
Right Tackle: Nick Kaczur is a decent tackle, but he was simply overwhelmed in the Super Bowl. It sounds bizarre, as the Giants are coming off a huge upset, but if the Patriots want to beat the Super Bowl champs, they'll need to bolster the right tackle slot. Ryan Clady is a serious option at No. 7 overall. Signed Oliver Ross and Barry Stokes
Inside Linebacker: Tedy Bruschi has been an incredible linebacker for many years with the Patriots. Unfortunately, he turns 35 this summer, so it wouldn't shock me if he has a more limited role next season. New England needs help here. Bill Belichick will likely trade or sign a veteran in the coming months. Re-signed Tedy Bruschi; drafted Jerod Mayo; signed Victor Hobson
Right Guard: Stephen Neal suffered a serious knee injury in the Super Bowl. Given that he's turning 32 in October, there's a good chance he may never be 100 percent ever again. The Patriots could use a third- or a fourth-round selection on a replacement. Signed Gene Mruczkowski and John Welbourn
Strong Safety: I mention below that a certain Patriots running back is reaching the age of regression soon. Well, Rodney Harrison is about to eclipse the age of fossilization. A young, talented strong safety is needed right next to Brandon Meriweather. Signed Tank Williams and John Lynch
Tight End: Ben Watson had no catches in the Super Bowl and just three receptions throughout the "Doggone Playoff." Though athletic, Watson is way too inconsistent for my liking. I could see the Patriots going after a tight end in the third round like Brad Cottam or Martin Rucker. Signed Marcus Pollard
Outside Linebacker: One of the main reasons for New England's horrendous play down the stretch was Rosevelt Colvin's season-ending injury. Colvin was consequently released. Drafted Shawn Crable and Bo Ruud; re-signed Pierre Woods
Running Back Depth: Kevin Faulk has been an extremely underrated player for the Patriots ever since their dynasty commenced in 2001. However, Faulk turns 32 in June, as he's just one year away from the age of regression. A replacement isn't a need this offseason, but it's something New England should think about. Signed LaMont Jordan
New England Patriots Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 12): $10.93 million
Randy Moss, WR. Age: 31. Re-signed with Patriots (3 years, $27 million)
Yeah... I think this guy is somewhat talented, but I'm not sure. What do you think? The Patriots MUST re-sign Randy Moss; letting him go would be foolish. I don't think he's going anywhere though. Said Brady of Moss' free agency: "Wherever Moss goes, I go."
Asante Samuel, CB. Age: 27. Signed by Eagles (6 years, $54 million)
I seriously doubt the Patriots are going to re-sign Asante Samuel. Look for the Jets to throw barrels of cash his way.
Tedy Bruschi, ILB. Age: 35. Re-signed with Patriots
I feel like a n00b giving a 35-year-old four stars, but I'd love to have Tedy Bruschi on my team. He's a winner, and one of the smartest linebackers in the NFL.
Rosevelt Colvin, OLB. Age: 31. Signed with Texans
Rosevelt Colvin was released because he carried a high cap number ($5.5 million) and was coming off a foot injury. The Patriots didn't have a lot of cap space, so the move had to be done. Colvin would be a welcome addition on any defense.
Donte' Stallworth, WR. Age: 27. Signed with Browns (7 years, $35 million)
The Patriots elected not to exercise the option of Donte Stallworth's contract, thus voiding it. Stallworth is unquestionably a talented receiver, but he's a bit lower on this list than he should be because he's so injury-prone. Caveat emptor.
Pierre Woods (ERFA), DE/OLB. Age: 26. Re-signed with Patriots (1 year, $445,000)
If the Patriots don't sign anyone in free agency, they might give Pierre Woods a shot as a starter.
Eugene Wilson, FS. Age: 28. Signed with Buccaneers (1 year, $1.8 million)
Injuries have really slowed down Eugene Wilson, who was once one of the better free safeties in the NFL. Wilson has missed 18 games the past two years.
Randall Gay, CB. Age: 26. Signed with Saints (4 years, $17.6 million)
One of the better reserve cornerbacks in the NFL, although he had a miserable game against the Jaguars in the playoffs.
This guy's like Robert Horry. He does nothing during the regular season, and somehow emerges in the playoffs. I don't know about you, but I'd like to have someone like that on my squad.
Mike Wright (RFA), DE. Age: 26. Re-signed with Patriots (1 year, $1.4 million)
A solid reserve who can play multiple positions in the 3-4.
Junior Seau, ILB. Age: 39.
It's amazing that Junior Seau's still getting it done at age 39.
Mel Mitchell, S. Age: 29.
New England's version of Matt Giordano.
Larry Izzo, ILB. Age: 33. Re-signed with Patriots
Larry Izzo has been the captain of New England's special teams unit since 2001. Ineffective on defense.
Troy Brown, WR. Age: 37.
I find it hard to believe Troy Brown can't play anymore. That said, he will retire in all likelihood.
Chad Scott, CB. Age: 34.
Oscar Lua, ILB. Age: 24.
Rashad Moore, NT. Age: 29. - Signed with Falcons
Kyle Brady, TE. Age: 36.
Marcus Pollard, TE. Age: 36. - Signed with Falcons
Willie Andrews, CB. Age: 24.
T.J. Slaughter, OLB. Age 31.
Scott Player, P. Age: 38.
Divisional Rival History: Buffalo Bills: Poor Bills. The Patriots have beaten them in 14 of the last 15 meetings. Miami Dolphins: It's amazing how much the visiting team struggles in this heated rivalry (host has won nine of 13). New England always melts in the Miami sun, while the Dolphins have a habit of freezing to death at frigid Foxboro. New York Jets: Poor Jets. The Patriots have beaten them in 10 of the previous 11 matchups.