Over the next month, "SportsCenter" will put every NFL team ... On The Clock. Scouts Inc. will break down each team and look at what questions still need answering. The Patriots are up now...
Let's face it, the Patriots have positioned themselves to run away with the AFC East and go deep into the playoffs. "Super Bowl or Bust" should be the slogan in New England this season. As long as head coach Bill Belichick is in charge of this organization, along with quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots will always be in the hunt for the ultimate goal of winning Super Bowls. Brady is easily one of the top players at his position in the NFL. He is a terrific leader who has the ability to make all throws in the passing game, which places a lot of pressure on opposing defenses. The Patriots are deep and talented along the defensive line, and they have an experienced linebacker corps, as well. They traditionally boast one of the league's top special-teams units, and the addition of Wes Welker should continue to improve this area. For the first time since 2004, the Patriots have not had significant coaching changes. So they'll have true continuity among their coordinators.
The Patriots have been one of the most aggressive teams in free agency. After placing the franchise tag on starting LCB Asante Samuel, the Patriots jumped right into the market by signing the best player in free agency -- OLB Adalius Thomas (Ravens). Thomas is a great addition based on his versatility and playmaking skills. He should pay huge dividends in Belichick's defensive systems. After that, Belichick addressed the offensive side of the ball with the addition of wide receivers Donte' Stallworth (Eagles), Kelley Washington (Bengals) and Welker (Dolphins). Stallworth will the give the Patriots' offense an explosive vertical threat, while opening up the short and intermediate areas for TE Benjamin Watson and the remaining cast of playmakers.
The biggest offseason losses were clearly TE Daniel Graham and RB Corey Dillon. Although he struggled with consistency, Graham was well respected in the locker room and easily the Patriots' best blocking tight end. Dillon led the Patriots in rushing in 2006. Dillon's skills are rapidly diminishing, but he was excellent in red zone/goal-line situations. The Patriots were one of the best teams in 2006 in that area and Dillon was a big part of that success. Another thing to watch will be the health of SS Rodney Harrison. Harrison has had three major injuries in two seasons. Can the Patriots continue to rely on Harrison to run the back end of the secondary? Also, will the Patriots re-sign fan favorite and 14 year vet Troy Brown?
As the Patriots move closer to the draft, they have positioned themselves to address the back end of their secondary while continuing to get younger at linebacker. With two first-round picks, the Patriots can aggressively address these needs with impact players. Also, the Asante Samuel situation will get interesting. Samuel is the Patriots' franchise player and is coming off his best season as a pro. However, will the Patriots sign the cornerback to a long-term deal or will Samuel be a distraction (as Deion Branch was last year)? Two different situations, but definitely worth watching as we move toward training camp in 2007.