As the 2013 NFL Season creeps closer, the Place to Be Nation staff has you covered with complete team by team coverage and predictions. Visit the full archive here.
New England Patriots
Despite an uncharacteristically rocky offseason, the Patriots are still in the pole position of the AFC East. While their competition got moderately better, none of the teams can match the key cogs in the Patriot system: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. However, for the first time since 2006, Brady will not have a high-octane cache of weapons to chuck the ball around to. In the past he has been able to make marginal talent better, but he is now 36 and has a serious knee injury on his medical record as well. However, he is still really damn good. Belichick made a few curious moves this offseason but the young defense has now gained some experience and should be a solid, formidable group this year. The Pats were also able to finally build a running game last season and that should carry over as well, with Stevan Ridley set to receive the bulk of the carries. As long as Brady remains healthy and upright, this squad should walk to yet another division title and playoff berth for the fifth straight year.
Key Additions & Losses
Additions: Danny Amendola (WR, STL), Tim Tebow (QB, NYJ), LeGarrette Blount (RB, TB), Tommy Kelly (DL, OAK), Adrian Wilson (S, ARZ)
Losses: Wes Welker (WR, DEN), Aaron Hernandez (TE, Life in Prison), Brian Waters (OL, FA), Brandon Lloyd (WR, FA)
The Patriots lost some key talent but they also bought low on a few players that could really pay dividends if they stay healthy. With Wes Welker off cracking jokes in Denver, Danny Amendola steps into the slot where Tom Brady’s slant passes should keep him plenty busy. Nobody has ever questioned Amendola’s talent, but he is constantly dinged up, most recently missing time last season after a fractured collarbone nearly killed him right on the field. If he stays on the field, there is no doubt Amendola will catch a ton of passes and make Pat Patriot quickly forget about Welker. How Belichickian. They also added to their crowded backfield with an under the radar trade for former Tampa RB LeGarrette Blount. If Blount can return to form after losing his gig last year, he could be a steal for the Pats. The team also picked up a pair of veterans in Tommy Kelly and Adrian Wilson. Along with Blount, all three could end up being steals if things break correctly. And of course, we must quickly mention Tim Tebow. Belichick has always had a crush on the Holy One, so it was inevitable that he end up in red, white and blue at some point in his career. There has been no straight answer as to what role Tebow would play and rumors seem to swirl and change daily, oscillating between backup QB, third string QB, tight end and jack of all trades. If Tebow gets any live game action at QB this season, then things have gone seriously wrong in Foxboro.
The team (and Kyle Forchetti) can downplay it all they want, but losing Wes Welker will be a pretty severe blow to the Patriot offense. His relationship with Brady was a sight to behold and that is not something that can be cultivated overnight. Welker has been back in the news in New England after taking some shots at Belichick in Sports Illustrated so it definitely seems like his strained relationship with his coach played a role in his departure. Another big part of the Pats’ offense the last two years has been their dominant two tight end set, featuring the beastly duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Well, to start 2013, Gronk is on the sidelines with yet another injury and Hernandez has a better chance of playing for the Massachusetts State Penal League than he does the Patriots next season. Unless Burt Reynolds is stalking around the Walpole State Pen, odds are Hernandez has played his last game of pigskin. The Pats hope Gronk can get back on the field sooner rather than later but if he can’t, they will be relying on Jake Ballard and…Tebow? With the lack of depth they feature at WR, the team must really dislike Brandon Lloyd, because he is still sitting in free agency without a home and has an intimate knowledge of the offense. I can’t believe they haven’t brought him back into the fold yet.
ATLANTA (Week Four); Cincinnati (Week Five); Pittsburgh (Week Nine); Denver (Week Twelve)
As we mentioned above, the Pats are highly likely to capture another division flag. Therefore, their biggest games tend to center around playoff seeding and tiebreakers, so home matchups against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Denver will be big ones as the season moves along. Their biggest non-conference game comes early on when they travel to Atlanta in week four. Outside of these games, they will need to ensure they dominate the AFC East as usual and their first test will come in week two against the Jets.
Player to Watch
We talked about Amendola above, but he is clearly the player to watch on this team. With so many holes and no evident depth at WR, Amendola’s health could be the key to success for the Pats. If he goes down early before Gronk returns, Brady may start to really struggle and Belichick and OC Josh McDaniels will be forced to go heavy on the run, something that the Patriot faithful haven’t seen since the turn of the century. Amendola has played just twelve games over the last two seasons, however even with that limited duty, he still managed to haul in 68 passes and over 700 yards since the 2011 season kicked off.
Better or Worse
2012 Finish: 12-4, AFC East Champions, Lost in Conference Championship
2013 Predicted Finish: 11-5, AFC East Champions
Blessed with a fairly soft schedule, the Pats should win double-digit games and the division once again. If they don’t, then Brady probably got dinged up and missed some time. The true question is whether or not the offense can deliver come playoff time. Brady has fairly pedestrian playoff numbers since that infamous Super Bowl loss to the Giants (the first time) and the team has not won a ring since 2005. Belichick will look to turn that around and will be able to spend the back half of the season prepping his team for January.
Expectations are high as usual in New England and it is hard to believe that anything short of a Super Bowl ring will be looked at as another disappointing campaign. Fans in Foxboro have gotten spoiled, and rightly so, and just winning eleven or twelve games and bowing out early in the playoffs won’t quench that thirst for a championship. The Patriots have the talent, the experience and the leadership. The one question that remains is whether they can shake off the losses on offense and if Brady can turn back the clock and hang up his usual gaudy numbers with a massive downgrade in weaponry that not even Aaron Hernandez could do damage with.
– Justin Rozzero
The Broncos are coming off a magical season which saw Peyton Manning – coming off of four neck surgeries and being released by his former team the Indianapolis Colts – having one of his best years and leading the team to a 13-3 Record. The season ended on a sour note in a brutal double overtime loss to the future Super Bowl Champion Ravens. After fortifying both the offense and the defense this past offseason, Broncos fans are hoping head coach Jon Fox can guide this stacked team to another playoff run, this time with a happier ending.
Key Additions & Losses
Additions: Wes Welker (WR, NE), Louis Vasquez (G, SD), Shaun Phillips (DE, SD), Sylvester Williams (DT, 1st Round), Montee Ball (RB, 2nd Round, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (CB, PHI)
Losses: Elvis Dumervil (DE, BAL), Brandon Stokely (WR, BAL) Willis McGahee (RB, FA), Dan Koppen (C, Torn ACL)
As if Peyton Manning, coming off one of his best years, didn’t have enough weapons in his receiving core, the Broncos added one of Tom Brady’s former favorite targets in Wes Welker. Welker represents a huge upgrade in the slot, and along with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas stands to form what could easily be the most productive trio of receivers in the league. The loss of Center Dan Koppen for the season is a major blow to the offensive line, which Coach Fox hopes will be offset by the signing of top guard Louis Vasquez from San Diego, to provide Manning with some extra protection in the pocket. A Peyton Manning offense requires a strong running game, which is why the Broncos chose Montee Ball in the 2nd round of the draft. Ball, along with named starter Ronnie Hillman and the occasionally productive Knowshon Moreno are expected to provide Manning with the ground game he needs to run his offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Broncos hope to make up for the loss of Elivs Dumervil by signing Shaun Phillips to pair up with the beastly Von Miller at Defensive End. They’ve also shored up the interior defense by drafting Defensive Tackle Sylvester Williams in the first round of the draft. The biggest question on the Broncos defense remains the secondary, where they are hoping Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can recapture some of the skill he showed with the Arizona Cardinals before a disappointing couple of seasons with the Eagles. If he can put in the effort to really channel his talent alongside sure-fire Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, it will be difficult to find a major flow on the Broncos defense.
Baltimore (Week 1), Chiefs (Week 11), @New England (Week 12)
The Broncos kick off the NFL season, hosting the Super Bowl Champion Ravens in a rematch of their instant classic AFC Divisional Playoff matchup. The Ravens have suffered numerous offseason losses, and a win over the former champs on the prime time Thursday night season opener would be about as perfect of a beginning to the season as a Broncos fan could dream up. The Broncos face their toughest stretch from Weeks 11-13, when they will face arch-rival and Wes Welker’s old QB Tom Brady and his New England Patriots. This huge game will be sandwiched between a home and away matchup with the much-improved Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos performance in these three weeks will tell us a lot about how far they will be able to go in the playoffs.
Player to Watch
Despite Ronnie Hillman being listed at the top of the Broncos’ running back depth chart, they didn’t use a 2nd round draft pick on Montee Ball to have him be a 3rd down back. Ball is a workhouse, having run for nearly 4,000 yards in his final two years at Wisconsin. He is also a dynamic player, with the ability to catch balls out of the backfield as well. In other words: the ideal type of Running Back for a Peyton Manning offense. If Peyton Manning can make Knowshon Moreno into a productive back as he did for a stretch of games last year, just wait until he gets acquainted with his new weapon in Montee Ball. I expect Ball to be a major force for the Broncos offense (and fantasy football players as well.)
Better or Worse
2012 Finish: 13-3, 1st in AFC West, Lost in AFC Divisional Playoff
2013 Predicted Finish: 12-4, 1st in AFC West, AFC Championship
Despite losing Dumervil and Koppen, the additions that the Broncos made to their offense and defense over the offseason make them an even more balanced team than last year’s 13-3 powerhouse. In Peyton Manning and Fox’s 2nd year together, and new weapons in Welker and Ball, the offense should be just as good as last years. The defense is just as talented, adding Phillips, Sylverster and Rodgers-Cromartie to stalwarts Von Miller and Champ Bailey. The Broncos appear to have one of the most balanced teams into the NFL, and with a great head coach in John Fox fans can feel good about the prospects for this team in 2013.
That being said, this is the NFL, where it is nearly impossible to maintain the same level of success from year to year. It is incredibly difficult to win 13 games in an NFL season, let alone two seasons in a row, so I’ve pegged the Broncos to win 12 games, a record that should still have them walking away with the AFC West. After last year’s bitter playoff loss to the Ravens, I believe this is the year things come together for the Peyton Manning Revival, the Broncos will take advantage of the loss of talent from the Ravens and Patriots, and take the AFC Championship in 2013.
A favorable schedule, a great head coach, a Hall of Fame quarterback and cornerback, the best trio of wide receivers in the game, extremely talented rookies…what more could a Broncos fan ask for? Well, a Super Bowl ring for one! I won’t go as far as trying to predict a Super Bowl winner today, but the Broncos in the elite group of teams who should be considered a heavy favorite going into the season. As I indicated above, I do believe they are the best team in the AFC this year, and if things go right, this team might finally bring the Lombardi trophy back to John Elway’s team for the first time since Elway himself last won one in 1999.
– Marc Clair