There is no way to beat around the bush: the Patriots' defense won't be as good as last year.
Fortunately, that doesn't mean that they can't be damn close. The defensive line looks to be even better than last year, with the key additions of Texas standout Malcom Brown and former-Brown Jabaal Sheard. While losing Vince Wilfork is tough, the previously mentioned Malcom Brown and the sudden emergence of second-year-standout Dominique Easley should provide a daunting task for most running backs in the National Football League.
The secondary will be significantly weaker, but with Malcolm Butler's continued growth coupled with a couple of gritty veterans, they should be relatively competitive.
However, this group of linebackers is what should keep opposing offenses up at night.
Each linebacker brings something unique and complimentary to this team. Jerod Mayo's season was cut short last year, but, when healthy, he has been one of the best run-stuffing linebackers in the NFL. He racks up tackles and is in on almost every play. Mayo's health is what, in my opinion, will make or break the 2015 Patriots defense.
Jamie Collins had a breakout season last year and is probably the most freak-athlete that the Patriots have. His unique blend of speed and strength will help him hopefully have an even better sophomore campaign. Collins' ability to defend the pass will compliment the Patriots' new philosophy of rushing the quarterback.
And then there is my favorite defensive player on the Patriots: Dont'a Hightower. Hightower played the Super Bowl last year with a torn labrum in his right shoulder and made the key tackle on Marshawn Lynch to save a touchdown in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter. He may be the most complete linebacker that the Patriots have and will only get better the more snaps he gets. While he isn't the best in pass coverage, he more than makes up for it in almost every other facet of the game.
If they can all stay healthy, the Patriots possess one of the best linebacking cores in the entire NFL. With a healthy combination of run-stopping and coverage protection, look for the Patriots linebackers to hold this team together.
By Pete Packowski @Pete_BBS