It's time again for ESPN Boston writers to check their crystal balls and make some bold predictions for 2014. Here are three for the Patriots:
1. Patriots will play in Super Bowl XLVIII. Our boldest prediction of the bunch, we’ll put our confidence behind the Patriots making it to New York (technically East Rutherford, N.J.) for an appearance in Super Bowl XLVIII, which would be their sixth trip to the ultimate game under Bill Belichick. The path won’t be easy, as there is a very real possibility that they’ll have to play at least one road playoff game, but this team has shown itself to possess a certain resilience that can make the difference between an early exit and an extended postseason run. We’ll reserve judgment on whether the Patriots will take home the Lombardi Trophy until we find out the opponent.
2. Patriots will open the 2014 season at home against the Bears. After three straight years starting on the road, the Patriots will begin next season in Foxborough. The Patriots are slated to play Chicago at home as part of the NFL’s rotating schedule, and though the two don’t have any sort of recent history, it’s a compelling matchup against an improving NFC team that has generated buzz this season under new head coach Marc Trestman. The Patriots are also due to play the Broncos at home next season, but the league may prefer to reserve that game for later in the season so as to promote the game more in the weeks leading up to it. The Brady-Manning angle is always one worth maximizing with a well-timed matchup.
3. Talib, McCourty will highlight player extensions. The Patriots' secondary has played well throughout the 2013 season, led in particular by the play of safety Devin McCourty and cornerback Aqib Talib. Talib, 27, set to become a free agent this offseason, has become the team’s go-to option to shadow opposing wide receivers and a popular player in the locker room. McCourty, 26, a captain this season, is among the most dependable players on the roster. While he isn’t due for free agency until next offseason, the Patriots will ensure that both secondary players stick around for multiple seasons by inking them to new deals. They represent ascending players entering the prime of their careers.
4. Pats address interior defensive line with first-round pick. Bill Belichick has often said that a team can never have enough good defensive linemen. With Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly both coming off of lower-body injuries that landed them on injured reserve, the Patriots could stand to address the depth on their interior defensive line and will use their first-round pick on a bulky defensive tackle. With the draft still more than four months away, it’s too soon to prognosticate which defensive tackles will be available when the Patriots pick, but that’s a position to keep on the radar.
Check out ESPN Boston's 14 predictions for 2014 by clicking here.