NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (17-2)
OPEN CAMP: July 27, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts.
LAST YEAR: Nothing stopped New England in 2017. Not Tom Brady finally serving his four-game “Deflategate” suspension to begin season. Not Rob Gronkowski’s season-ending back surgery in December. Not even its 28-3 Super Bowl deficit to Atlanta, which it overcame to complete largest comeback in Super Bowl history and capture franchise’s fifth ring. Lots of things went right along way. Brady continued to defy his age at 39 to throw 28 TDs and just two INTs. RB LeGarrette Blount finally put injuries behind him to post league-best 18 rushing TDs and anchored Patriots’ potent ground game. Bill Belichick also got most out of defense that allowed league-low 15.6 points during regular season, with LB Dont’a Hightower and S Devin McCourty earning Pro Bowl nods.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: CB Stephon Gilmore, WR Brandin Cooks, RB Mike Gillislee, TE Dwayne Allen, DE Kony Ealy, rookie DE Derek Rivers.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: TE Martellus Bennett, RB Blount, DE Jabaal Sheard, CB Logan Ryan, DE Chris Long
CAMP NEEDS: Patriots made decision to give Gilmore big money, while opting not to lock up Malcolm Butler long term. How duo coexists in secondary this summer will be scrutinized. What happens on defensive line and linebacker is also worth watching. Trey Flowers’ strong 2017 season, combined with trade acquisition of Ealy, should lessen sting of Sheard and Long’s departures. At linebacker, how Patriots use newcomer David Harris could take some of burden off Hightower.
EXPECTATIONS: Even with Brady turning 40 early in camp, there are no signs he is showing his age. Patriots improved mightily on offensive line last season and were able to shield Brady from punishment he incurred two years ago. They’ll have top eight players returning from that group. How will departure of Blount affect offense? Lots riding on addition of Gillislee and Rex Burkhead to fortify strong group that already includes Super Bowl hero James White and Dion Lewis.
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