Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell and I pick over or under for three players from each AFC East team, using 2010 statistical projections from ESPN.com's fantasy analysts.
It's time to bring you the New England Patriots.
BradyQuarterback Tom Brady, 30 touchdowns
Barnwell's take: OVER, but only slightly. If you plug Brady's historical touchdown rate (5.3 percent) into last year's total of 565 pass attempts, you get ... 30.1 touchdowns. I don't know if that's necessarily the right figure to use, though. Brady had 50 touchdowns in his legendary 2007 season. In 2009, Brady saw each of his top receivers get hurt, and his third guy was Sam Aiken for a good portion of the year. I think Julian Edelman and/or Torry Holt should be an upgrade as the third receiver. It might only be 32 or 33 touchdowns, but that would still be over.
My take: UNDER. Brady has surpassed 28 touchdowns in a season exactly once. Sure, Brady was transcendent in 2007. But he, Randy Moss and Wes Welker have accumulated a lot of scars since then. Nobody knows when Welker will return to form after knee and shoulder surgeries. Moss is 33 years old and has been slowed by injuries. Brady, a year after he tossed seven touchdown passes to tight ends Benjamin Watson and Chris Baker, will be throwing to rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. With all those variables, I have little reason to trust Brady will throw for more touchdowns in 2010 than he has in seven of his eight full seasons.
MossReceiver Randy Moss, 93 catches
Barnwell's take: UNDER. Even though I think Brady will hit the over on touchdowns, this is a really high total for a player that's struggled with minor injuries throughout his time in New England (even if those injuries have been swept under the rug at times). The Pats should also have more in the way of options for Brady, which should allow him to spread the ball out to a wider group of targets.
My take: UNDER. I agree with Bill. This number seems irrationally high to me. Perhaps the belief is that he'll pick up some slack while Welker recovers. But Moss has surpassed 83 passes just once in his past six seasons. He has shown signs of wear, playing a good portion of last season with a separated shoulder, a league source told ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss after the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs.
WelkerReceiver Wes Welker, 89 receptions
Barnwell's take: UNDER. This really comes down to how healthy you think Welker is. This sort of recovery timeframe from an ACL injury would not be unprecedented. Philip Rivers had a torn ACL and had surgery after the playoffs in 2007, and he was quite fantastic in 2008. Then again, Rivers wasn't playing wide receiver. If I knew Welker would be on the field Week 1 at 90 percent, I'd take the over. But I think it will take longer for him to heal than, perhaps, the Patriots have been playing up.
My take: UNDER. So much of Welker's game relies on cuts, stops and starts. Those are the types of activities that put so much strain on a player's knees. Welker averaged 8.9 receptions a game last year, so it's easy to do the math and see he could miss six games and still hit ESPN.com's fantasy projection at that clip. But we can't possibly expect Welker to maintain the same torrid pace he set when perfectly healthy. Edelman's emergence will allow the Patriots to bring Welker back cautiously and give Brady another option even when Welker gets back on the field.