Source: Michael Reaves/Getty Images North America
After a 10-0 start to begin the 2015 campaign, it was right around this time last year that Patriots nation was already planning a parade and firing up the duck boats for another Lombardi to take its rightful spot at 1 Patriot Place.
That’s when it all started spiraling out of control for New England.
Injuries took their toll, the offensive line couldn’t block anyone and Brady and company limped to the finish line with a 2-4 record in their final six regular season contests.
What once looked like a definitive one seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs was gone and given right to the Denver Broncos, which ended up being the difference between Belichick and Brady heading to their seventh Super Bowl together.
I was a true believer that even with the second seed, the Patriots could go on the road to Denver and beat the Broncos and a decrepit Peyton Manning but ultimately that’s not the way it worked out. There is no denying there were higher aspirations for last year’s Patriots and I think that feeling of having things crash and burn at the end of the season will ultimately help this years team get over the hump.
As I’m sure almost all of you know by now, Rob Gronkowski is set to undergo his third major back surgery of his career, which should sideline him for two months or in reality, probably the rest of the season.
In a tweet sent out from the official Patriots twitter account on Thursday night, they said, “We do not expect that he will be able to play for the remainder of the 2016 season, but will await the results of tomorrow’s surgery before making a final determination.”
It’s fairly obvious that losing Gronkowski is a devastating blow to New England but don’t think for even a second that this team can’t make it to the Super Bowl. They can and I think they will.
The Patriots will have to adjust on offense but who’s better at handling adversity than Belichick, McDaniels and Brady? Nobody. We won’t see as much of the two tight end formations but there are still lots of other options for the Patriots.
With arguably one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, it’s a safe bet that you will probably see more three and four wide receiver sets. Edelman and Hogan will be on the field just as much but with the emergence of Mitchell and the always-reliable Amendola, the Patriots have more than enough at the receiver position to get the job done.
Aside from the impressive depth at receiver, the Pats still have Martellus Bennett who has far and away been the most impressive addition to the 2016 Patriots. He’s been battling a nagging ankle injury for a large majority of the season, but if he can stay healthy going forward the loss of Gronk won’t feel as bad as it does now.
When Gronk has been hurt in the past, the Patriots haven’t had much of a run game to lean on but that’s a completely different story this season. LeGarrette Blount is sixth in the NFL is rushing with 869 yards and tied for first in the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns. Aside from Blount being an animal this season, James White and Dion Lewis give the Patriots a two-headed monster of receiving backs in the backfield. These running backs will be pivotal down the stretch if the Patriots want to right their wrongs from 2015.
There is no shortage of weapons for Brady this time around and with an offensive line that has seen a huge improvement in play since the return of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, I think the Patriots are much better prepared to keep Brady upright, something they couldn’t do at the end of last season.
The Patriots definitely don’t have an easy remainder of games but after the next five weeks, there is no doubt they will be battle tested heading into the playoffs. The next five weeks go as follows:
12-4 vs. Rams at 1:00 PM
12-12 vs. Ravens at 8:25 PM
12-18 @ Broncos at 4:25 PM
12-24 vs. Jets at 1:00 PM
1-1 @ Dolphins at 1:00 PM
That three game stretch of the Ravens, Broncos and Jets all within two weeks of each other is going to really show what this Patriots team is made of. I think if the Patriots can finish 4-1 down the stretch they will be able to hold of the Raiders for the #1 seed in the AFC.
If the Patriots can lock up the #1 seed, I really, really, really like their chances of heading to Houston for Super Bowl LI. Even if they get the #2 seed I still like their chances.
The end of last season was grueling for the Patriots but I truly think it’s going to be different this time around. The rest of the AFC seems down and I’m still not 100% sold on Oakland just yet. The loss of Gronkowski evens the playing field but it definitely doesn’t make New England an underdog.
Belichick, Brady and the rest of the Patriots let a golden opportunity slip through their hands last year, they won’t let that happen this time around.