Patriots Preview Capsule
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (17-2)
New faces: CB Stephon Gilmore, WR Brandin Cooks, RB Mike Gillislee, TE Dwayne Allen.
Key losses: TE Martellus Bennett, RB LeGarrette Blount, DE Jabaal Sheard, CB Logan Ryan, DE Chris Long.
Strengths: QB Tom Brady has little to prove after winning fifth Super Bowl ring last season, but he doesn’t look to be slowing down as he prepares for 18th NFL season at age 40. He will also benefit from having intact offensive line from 2016 that did much better job protecting him than in 2015. New England won’t have Blount, last season’s rushing touchdowns leader, but is hoping to get solid production from trio of Super Bowl hero James White, Dion Lewis, and Gillislee. Same is true for Cooks, expected to provide spark to already potent offense. Plus, star TE Rob Gronkowski is healthy after truncated 2016 season.
Weaknesses: Patriots were dealt biggest blow of preseason when Julian Edelman was lost for season to right knee injury. But they added depth by trading third-string QB Jacoby Brissett to Colts for receiver Phillip Dorsett. New England also has issue to address at punt returner after Cyrus Jones joined Edelman on injured reserve with own right knee injury. Defensively, there is void to fill on edge, where Sheard and Long provided production last season.
Fantasy Players To Watch: With so many weapons to throw to even without Edelman, Brady should be numbers producer in 2017. Even with his four-game “Deflategate” suspension he managed 3,554 yards passing and 28 touchdowns. Cooks is also in position to keep producing at high rate coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard receiving seasons.
Expectations: New England shouldn’t have any issue in weak AFC East, where it has won eight straight division titles and 13 of last 14. Patriots have some issues to sort out defensively, but will get early idea of how big those are, facing two 2016 playoff teams in their first three games.
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