Predictions: Forecasting the Pats' defense

Today we continue our weeklong Patriots prediction series, in which we ask our experts to forecast individual performances for offensive skill players and overall team defensive statistics. Today’s focus is the new-look defense.

The Patriots ranked 31st in total defense last season, giving up an average of 411 yards per game (117 rushing, 294 passing), but were in the middle of the pack (15th) in points given up per game (21.4). Where will they rank in those categories this season?

• Mike Reiss’ breakdown: The Patriots were in their sub defense 63 percent of the snaps, and that’s what they were most often playing on third down, where they ranked 28th in the NFL last season (and 32nd the year before). The sub defense projects to be better this season, because of a combination of better talent/depth in the secondary and more dynamic pass-rush potential up front. First-round pick Chandler Jones, who projects as an opening-day starter at right defensive end, is a big part of that.

So from an overall perspective, that’s why I made the choice to improve the rankings in yards and points allowed over last season.

Consider that opponents had 70 completions of 20 yards or more against the Patriots last year, and also had 41 rushes of 10 yards or more. Way too high. Those are numbers that should come down in 2012 with better safety play.

That’s not to say there aren’t questions, but the arrow seems to be pointing up for the defense.

• Mike Rodak’s breakdown: I just don't see the overall improvement in the defense here. The Patriots could get a boost from a more consistent safety group with two impressive rookies, while first-round picks Dont'a Hightower and Jones could also play big roles.

Although the draft investment may be unprecedented, the secondary remains largely the same. The front seven could hinge on depth, as it lacks depth across the board.

This projection essentially calls for more of the same. The Patriots' defensive woes since their Super Bowl-winning years have been well-documented. This prediction includes slightly lower yardage totals and a slightly higher points-per-game figure.

Just can't buy in until the status quo has changed for this unit. It has a lot to prove.

• Field Yates’ breakdown: If the Patriots are one thing on defense in 2012, it's faster than a year ago, as the team added athleticism in the form of first-round picks Jones and Hightower, who should help as they settle into a defense that looks to be largely predicated upon a four-man front.

With a pair of space-clogging interior presences in Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love to free up space for the Patriots’ trio of tough-minded linebackers, stopping the run should prove to be a strength of this group in 2012.

The Patriots should see improvement across the board in the secondary because of improved personnel and execution. The total yardage the secondary relinquishes will still be high, but not because of a lack of improvement. The Patriots' high-octane offense will force other teams to play from behind, thus turning their focus to driving the football down the field. That could result in some chunk passing plays, but expect the Patriots to be strong again in terms of points allowed.

• Your turn: Where would you rank the Patriots’ defense in terms of points and yardage allowed? Share your predictions in the comments section. At the end of the season, we’ll recognize the reader who was closest to the actual numbers.