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2006 PATRIOTS PREVIEW
New England is 5:1 to win the Super Bowl, 10:3 to win the AFC Championship, and 4:7 to win the AFC East. Their Over / Under win total is 10.5.
The Patriotsí 2006 opponents had a record of 121-135 in 2005. That is the 3rd easiest in the AFC. New England will play all the teams in the AFC South and NFC Central this year, providing many relatively easy games. The Patriots also get the Jets and Bills four times, and should go 4-0 in those games.
Looking at their schedule, New England is fortunate to get both Denver and Indianapolis at home. Their toughest road games are at Miami, Jacksonville and Cincinnati. The Cincinnati game is in the 4th week of the year and New England will catch a break if Carson Palmer is still less than 100%.
The Patriotís offense will always be dangerous with Tom Brady in charge, but his receiving core is a little in tatters. David Givens was allowed to leave via free agency, and that means either Reche Caldwell or rookie Chad Jackson have to fill the second receiver role. Deion Branch is the number one receiver, but he is currently unhappy about his contract situation.
The running game may also depend on a rookie as Laurence Maroney was drafted in the first round to supplement an aging Corey Dillon. The offensive line is solid, but is dependant on Dan Koppen and Matt Light to come back from injuries.
On defense, New England fortified their defensive line for years to come with the signing of Richard Seymour. He anchors a 3-4 base unit that is young, fast, and may be the best in the entire NFL. The linebackers need to replace Willie McGinestís pass rushing ability and they also have some age issues there.
The cornerbacks have a lot of bodies competing for spots, but they lack a true number one guy. Free agent, Ty Law could be the answer, but he is looking for another big payday and there is a question as to whether he is really better than New Englandís current starters of Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs.
Eugene Wilson is back at free safety, but the team desperately needs Rodney Harrison back in form and recovered from last yearís knee injury. Current indications are that he is getting close to 100% and will be ready to start the year.
Special teams were a problem last year with kick and punt returns. This year, they will also have to deal with the loss of kicker Adam Vinatieri to the Colts. Rookie, Stephen Gostkowski looks promising as his replacement, but you donít know how he will respond to his first game winning kick.
The Patriots went 10-6 last year and could have easily been 11-5 if they didnít bench their starters for the final game against Miami. That was after suffering tremendous injuries on both sides of the ball.
This team keeps losing key free agents every year, but they still have the NFL's best head coach in Bill Belichick, the best personnel guy in Scott Pioli, and the best quarterback. Look for Belichick to plug in the holes they have and cruise to a 12-4 regular season record. After that, they have a good shot at their fourth Super Bowl in the last six years.