2005 preview: Patriots

Charles Robinson
Yahoo! Sports

AFC East predictions

1.

New England

2.

N.Y. Jets

3.

Buffalo

4.

Miami

AFC East predictions

1.

New England

2.

N.Y. Jets

3.

Buffalo

4.

Miami

AFC East predictions

1.

New England

2.

N.Y. Jets

3.

Buffalo

4.

Miami

New England Patriots
Head coach: Bill Belichick, sixth season
2004 record: 14-2
2004 rankings: Offense, seventh (357.6 yards/game); Defense, ninth (310.8 yards/game)
2005 strength of schedule: 17th
From SportingNews.com: AFC East overview

What more can be said about New England's third championship in four years?

The Patriots overcame injury problems on defense and justified all of the hyperbole typically lavished on a defending Super Bowl champion. But it took a heavier toll than past title years, with the eventual departures of both defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel (new head coach of the Browns) and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis (new head coach of Notre Dame).

With last year's Super Bowl roster mostly intact, continuity on the coaching staff will loom large this season.

OFFENSE

With Weis gone, Belichick will serve as offensive coordinator. While that might sound like an odd fit for a coach with a defensive background, he's going to be overseeing a veteran unit that knows Weis' playbook inside and out. And it certainly doesn't hurt to have one of the NFL's best veteran backfield tandems in quarterback Tom Brady and running back Corey Dillon.

The primary concern on offense is how rookie guard Logan Mankins will fare replacing free-agent loss Joe Andruzzi, who was a dependable starter and locker-room leader. He will be one to watch.

Two other unknowns are wide receiver David Terrell and tight end Ben Watson, who both have the potential to make New England's offense better than last season. Their emergence would easily compensate for the loss of free-agent receiver David Patten. Terrell could be this season's Dillon – a talented player with a bad reputation who flourishes under the Patriot umbrella.

DEFENSE

Defensive backs coach Eric Mangini steps into the defensive coordinator role. He was a hot commodity over the offseason but chose to stay in New England. Now he has to justify the predictions that he's the next great assistant from the Belichick tree. But after the job he did keeping New England's secondary together last season, it's hard to doubt him. Then again, most scouts say that secondary is only as good as the linebacking corps, which will have to contend with the absences of Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson.

Many in the league still doubt Bruschi will ever play again after suffering a stroke in the offseason. The loss of such a pivotal leader and arguably New England's best defensive player is going to put pressure on several aging veterans. Cornerback Duane Starks and linebacker Rosevelt Colvin need to emerge as pivotal pieces, and it would help a great deal if Vince Wilfork takes the next step toward becoming one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker Adam Vinatieri is great, but punter Josh Miller – and his coverage unit – got a lot of emphasis in the offseason. New England ranked 29th last season in net punting, and a lot of work was done to improve the speed of the coverage units. The Patriots are also hoping wide receiver Tim Dwight gives the team some added pop on punt returns, where a host of players (primarily Kevin Faulk and Troy Brown) produced average results last season.

PREDICTION

The Patriots will finish 12-4 and first in the AFC East.

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