The New England Patriots’ Week 1 matchup is four days away, so you know what that means:
It’s bold prediction season.
We gave you nine bold predictions last season, and we batted .333. That’s pretty bad, but these are BOLD predictions, after all. We told you Tom Brady would win MVP (he did), the Patriots wouldn’t relinquish a third-round pick for cornerback Eric Rowe (they didn’t) and that a rookie would finish at least third among the team in sacks. (Thanks, Deatrich Wise Jr.)
We overrated the Patriots’ defense and offensive line and didn’t account for injuries to Malcolm Mitchell, Rex Burkhead and Chris Hogan.
But we’re back for more. And hopefully, we’ll hit at least .444 this season.
THE WEEK 1 PUNT RETURNER ISN’T ON THE ROSTER YET
The Patriots need someone to return punts while Julian Edelman serves a four-game suspension. The current options are Burkhead, wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Hogan and safety Patrick Chung.
Do you know how many punts they returned during the preseason? Zero. Riley McCarron fielded eight punts during the preseason, while Cyrus Jones fielded seven and Braxton Berrios fielded three.
Do you know how many punts Burkhead, Patterson, Hogan and Chung have fielded in their NFL careers? Four combined for 20 total yards. Patterson has one career return for 9 yards, and Chung has three career returns for 11 yards.
Our safe prediction is either Burkhead or Patterson returns punts until Edelman returns. Our bold prediction is New England signs McCarron off the practice squad before Week 1.
ALL TOP RECEIVERS ARE ON THE ROSTER
The Patriots are suffering from shallow receiver depth, but we don’t think they’ll add a significant piece to this group before the season is over. We expect the receiver corps to be Hogan, Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, Chad Hansen and Matthew Slater through four weeks, after which they’ll add Edelman to the group.
AN UNEXPECTED PLAYER WILL START IN WEEK 1
The Patriots do some wacky stuff in Week 1 of the regular season. Remember when Jordan Richards started on defense last season? Or when Jordan Devey started at guard in 2014? Or when Malcolm Butler, an undrafted rookie, played 36 percent of defensive snaps in 2014?
We don’t know who will start opposite Trey Flowers at defensive end against the Texans. Standard thinking says it’s down to Wise or Adrian Clayborn. But what if it’s Geneo Grissom? He has better mobility to chase after quarterback DeShaun Watson.
JEREMY HILL LEADS TEAM IN A KEY RUSHING STAT
No, we don’t think Hill will be the Patriots’ leading rusher. But we do think he has a chance to lead the squad in rushing touchdowns. Burkhead and Sony Michel both have injury histories and already are banged up. Even if they stay healthy, Hill might wind up being the better short-yardage option.
Hill also is a special-teams contributor, so it’s likely he’ll be active even with Burkhead, Michel and James White.
PHILLIP DORSETT TRIPLES HIS 2017 OUTPUT
He had zero touchdowns last season, so that will be easy. But he also caught 12 passes for 194 yards in 2017. We think Dorsett can catch at least 36 passes and put up at least 582 yards as he begins the season as New England’s No. 2 receiver. That would be a career year for Dorsett.
CHRIS HOGAN FINISHES YEAR AS TOP 15 FANTASY RECEIVER
This might be our boldest prediction. He’d have to stay healthy all year and put up most of his production through the first four weeks with Edelman out.
What’s in his favor is Brady seems to love targeting Hogan in the end zone. He was on pace for 66 catches, 876 yards and 10 touchdowns before getting hurt in Week 8 last season. That would have placed him as the 15th-ranked fantasy receiver last season in standard-scoring leagues.
TREY FLOWERS FINISHES WITH DOUBLE-DIGIT SACKS
Surprisingly, he’s never done it. Among edge defenders in 2017, 20 players were charted with at least 60 total pressures by Pro Football Focus. Flowers was one of just six players on that list who didn’t record double-digit sacks. (He had just 6.5.) With overall pressure expected to increase this season in New England, we think Flowers can start piling up more sacks.
DANNY SHELTON DOUBLES HIS CAREER SACK TOTAL
The big defensive tackle has just 1.5 sacks in his NFL career. That was after putting up nine during his senior season at the University of Washington. We think he can get at least three this season.
PATRIOTS FANS WILL BEGIN COMPLAINING ABOUT THEIR DEFENSE WITHIN THE FIRST QUARTER OF WEEK 1
Whoops, sorry. This one isn’t bold at all.
Patriots fans love complaining about their defense even more than they like imagining their team trading for every big-name wide receiver, though it is close.
We don’t know how the Patriots’ defense will look in 2018, but they’ve always had a tendency of starting games slow.
Thumbnail photo via Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports Images
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