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Preliminary Predictions for 2009

by Nick Scofield

There are a lot of factors to take into consideration as the Patriots start to take the first steps towards what the team hopes will be a successful 2009 season. Will Tom Brady be fully-recovered and healthy enough to last through the season? Does the Patriots defense have enough talent to stop their opponents? Last season, the defense allowed 19.3 points per game (8th in NFL) and 309 yards of offense (10th in NFL). They also had help from Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau; three players who may not be back for this upcoming season. We already know Vrabel has gone to Kansas City, but we don’t know if Harrison or Seau have played their last games with the Patriots. On the plus side, the Patriots have signed veterans Joey Galloway and Fred Taylor on offense and Sean Springs on defense and drafted safety Patrick Chung, cornerback Darius Butler and defensive tackle Ron Brace. We still have three months to figure out who is coming back and who is hanging up the cleats, but we don’t have to wait to see who the Patriots will face in 2009.
The Patriots have two games against division rivals Buffalo, Miami and the Jets. They will also play against each of the teams in the AFC South (Jacksonville, Houston, Indianapolis & Tennessee) and will also face Denver and Baltimore. The Patriots will also face Atlanta, New Orleans, Carolina & Tampa Bay in the NFC South this season. New England will take part in the NFL’s annual London game, when they play the Buccaneers in Week 7. Hopefully, the scheduling of that game will be a blessing for the Patriots, instead of a curse.
What should we look for in 2009? Here’s a first glimpse:

Week 1 & Week 15 vs. Buffalo

The Patriots have won their past 11 games against the Bills, dating back to 2003. Buffalo has picked up running back Dominic Rhodes and wide receiver Terrell Owens, but they don’t have too much of a threat at quarterback with Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick or any truly outstanding defensive players. The Bills usually play the Patriots tough every time, so they shouldn’t be taken lightly, but I would be surprised if the Bills managed to win one against the Pats.

Week 2 & Week 11 vs. New York Jets

Even without Brett Favre at quarterback or Eric Mangini at head coach, the Jets still have a lot of weapons on offense and defense. Larry Izzo was signed as a free agent, Lito Sheppard was resigned to a four-year contract and tight end Bubba Franks was resigned. The Patriots beat the Jets 19-10 in New York and lost 34-31 at home. The Jets, under new head coach Rex Ryan, are going to be a tough team and the bad blood between both of these teams is going to make both of their match-ups worth watching. Right now, I predict the Patriots winning both of their games against the Jets.

Week 9 & Week 13 vs. Miami

The Patriots were shocked last season when the Dolphins rolled out the “Wildcat” offense and lit up New England for 38 points, but New England came back later in the season and beat Miami 48-28. The Dolphins are a strong team, with Jason Taylor coming back to the defense and linebacker Joey Porter as one of top defenders in the AFC. We also saw last season that Chad Pennington can be a dangerous offensive weapon when he’s on his game and Ronnie Brown is a significant threat either rushing or passing the ball. The home team will have a weather advantage as well, since the Patriots will play Miami in November and the Dolphins will play New England in December. I predict the Patriots will win at least one of the games, but they should be able to take both of the games.

Week 4 vs. Baltimore

The Ravens proved they belonged in the playoffs last season, making it to the AFC Championship game against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Quarterback Joe Flacco has adjusted well in his rookie season and has Willis McGahee and Derek Mason to help the offense. On defense, Samari Rolle has been resigned to help the secondary and as long as the Ravens have Ray Lewis, Baltimore will continue to have a feared defense. This one will be a tough contest.

Week 5 vs. Denver

Can you say grudge match? If Bill Belichick treats new Denver Coach Josh McDaniel the same way he greets (or doesn’t green) Eric Mangini, this game could turn into a war. The Broncos have a new quarterback in Kyle Orton and a new tight end in former Patriot Daniel Graham and Jabar Gaffney. The offense also has Brandon Stokley and on defense, Denver has Champ Bailey. The Broncos defense needs to improve from 2008, when they gave up 28 points per game and about 375 yards of offense a game. In this contest, the Broncos will have home field advantage and the Patriots haven’t won at Mile High since 2003, when New England had a deeper team. One of two things will happen in this game: either one team will blow out the other or it will come down to the wire.

Week 6 vs. Tennessee

The Titans finished the 2008 regular season with the best record in the AFC and started the season 10-0. Kerry Collins and Vince Young are two dangerous quarterbacks and both are capable of driving their offenses down the field and getting points. On defense, the Titans may have lost Albert Haynesworth, but they still have Jevon Kearse and Keith Bullock as two of the most feared defensive players in the conference. Tennessee’s defense was 2nd in the NFL in points allowed and 7th in yards allowed. The Patriots will have home-field advantage and they will have to play a perfect game in order to win.

Week 16 vs. Jacksonville

The Jaguars do not appear to have a strong roster in 2009, especially on defense. The Patriots have beaten Jacksonville in each of their last three meetings, including a wild card playoff game in 2005. On offense, David Garrard will likely be the starting quarterback for the Jaguars, unless a trade is made. Maurice Jones-Drew, Dennis Northcutt and Torry Holt lead the offense. New England will host this game as their home finale and with the Patriots either trying to make the playoffs or ensuring home field advantage for the post-season; New England will look to steamroll Jacksonville. I predict a victory in this contest

Week 17 vs. Houston

Even though the Patriots have struggled playing on the field at Reliant Stadium, the Patriots have beaten the Texans in both of their games. The Texans improved to 8-8 last season and had one of the strong passing games in 2008. They have gotten some help with the addition of quarterbacks Dan Orlovsky and Matt Schaub and they also retained wide receivers Andre Johnson and Andre Davis. On defense, the Texans acquired Eugene Wilson from the Patriots. New England will be looking to close out their regular seasons strong and I think they will in the Lone Star State.

Week 10 vs. Indianapolis

Here we go: Brady vs. Manning, Patriots vs. Colts; it’s a grudge match, a rivalry game and with the Sunday Night spotlight on the game, both teams will definitely want to perform at their best. The Indy offense is frightening, when you look at the number of weapons they have. Despite not having Marvin Harrison, they still have Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai and Anthony Gonzales. On defense, Indianapolis still has Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders. Both of them are capable of wreaking havoc anywhere on the field and if the Patriots are not careful, the game could get out of hand. I hope I’m wrong on this prediction, but I think the Colts could have the upper hand.

Week 3 vs. Atlanta

Matt Ryan led the Falcons from last place in 2007 to second place in the NFC South in 2008. Atlanta also has tight end Tony Gonzales and a pair of young running backs in Thomas Brown and Vernon Hayes. First year coach Mike Smith was also a big part in the team’s turnaround from 3-13 in 2007 to a birth in the playoffs the next year. If Smith can keep the success going, Atlanta could be a tough team and making things even tougher for the Patriots is the fact that they will be the visiting team in the Georgia Dome. The Patriots should not take this one too lightly.

Week 7 vs. Tampa Bay

The Patriots have the honor of playing the Buccaneers in London for this game, so neither team will be able to claim a home-field advantage. The teams will have to get used to flying on a plane for eight hours both ways, adapting their game on a different continent, taking care of injured players and dealing with a field that neither team is familiar with. Tampa Bay missed the playoffs on the last day of the season and Jon Gruden was fired from his coaching position. The Buccaneers are a team in transition, but they still have Michael Clayton, Kellen Winslow, Antonio Bryant and Cadillac Williams. The defense is in transition as well and I’m not sure how they will fare in 2009. If the Patriots can beat Tampa Bay in London, they can win just about anywhere. However, it’s important that New England can thrive in Old England.

Week 14 vs. Carolina

The Panthers are coming off a 12-4 record and an NFC South division title. Jake Delhomme is expected to lead the Panthers at quarterback and DeAngelo Williams is expected to leading Carolina’s rushing game. Mushin Muhammad and Steve Smith are two dangerous wide receivers and against New England’s young but undersized secondary, that could mean trouble for the Patriots. The Panthers defense finished 2008 12th in the NFL in points allowed and Julius Peppers has been anchoring the Panthers defense for the past few seasons. I have heard that the Patriots are trying to get Peppers to the Patriots and if that happens, it could be a huge swing in New England’s favor.

Week 12 vs. New Orleans

The Saints had the top offense in the NFL last season, averaging 28.9 points per game and 410.7 yards of offense. Drew Brees became just the second quarterback in league history to throw for more than 5,000 yards and along with newly-acquired fullback Heath Edwards and the versatile Reggie Bush coming out of the backfield, Belichick will have his hands full trying to stop the pass attack from the Saints. The Patriots will be on the road for this game, which will be their first trip to New Orleans since 2002, when they found a way to stop another great passing attack and win their first of three Super Bowls. The Saints also have Jeremy Shockey and Marques Colston. Here’s another interesting side note; in the past few seasons, the team that has finished in last in the NFC South has bounced back to win the division or make the playoffs. It’s good news for New Orleans and a troubling circumstance for New England. Needless to say, the Patriots could have their hands full.


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