Monday, December 9, 2013
By Mike Lowe email@example.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Normally, when Bill Belichick says he doesn't know something, it's because he doesn't want someone else to know something.
PATRIOTS at TITANS
WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday
SERIES RECORD: Patriots lead 22-16-1
LAST MEETING: Patriots beat Titans 59-0, Oct. 18, 2009
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES: The defending AFC champion Patriots have won eight straight openers, the longest active streak in the NFL. ... Tom Brady is 124-35 in the regular season -- the best record in the Super Bowl-era. He needs one TD pass to pass Hall of Famer John Elway (300) for fifth-most in NFL history. Brady has thrown at least one TD pass in 32 straight games. ... In the last three games vs. the Titans, Brady has completed 68.5 percent of his passes with eight TDs and no interceptions. ... Stevan Ridley averaged 5.1 yards per carry as rookie with the Patriots last season. ... Wes Welker needs four catches to pass Troy Brown (557) for most in New England history. Welker caught 10 passes for 150 yards in his last game vs. the Titans. ... Only Calvin Johnson (28) has more TD catches than Rob Gronkowski (27) since 2010. ... Titans QB Jake Locker will make his first NFL start.
-- The Associated Press
Trade secrets and such.
But when Belichick said last week he wasn't sure what to expect from his New England Patriots this Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in the season opener, he was being quite candid.
"I don't think you know anything right now," he said in his Wednesday press conference. "This hasn't been tested under fire. Things you think are going to be good might not be that great and things that you're worried about might be OK."
So, given that, should we be worried about the 2012 Patriots?
Tom Brady is healthy and the offense should still put up a lot of yards and points. The defense, fortified by some good young talent, should be improved.
Most media outlets pick the Patriots to win the AFC East (yawn) and go deep into the playoffs (yawn). Most Patriots fans (big yawn) expect such things.
But as you prepare to gather around the big screen today, we present, for your consideration, five keys to another Super Bowl run.
1. Let's start with the revamped offensive line.
A lot has changed since last Feb. 5, when the Patriots lost 21-17 to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. Left tackle Matt Light, Brady's blind-side protector, retired. Right guard Brian Waters never showed up at training camp. Right guard Logan Mankins, perhaps the best in the NFL, had knee surgery.
So the Patriots go into the season with a relatively untested offensive line. Mankins is back at his spot. Sebastian Vollmer will be the right tackle if he's healthy (which has always been a problem). If Vollmer isn't healthy, second-year tackle Marcus Cannon showed in the preseason he's not quite ready to step in there.
Nate Solder, the 2011 first-round pick, will replace Light at left tackle. He didn't look too secure in the preseason, but maybe that's because Mankins wasn't lined up next to him.
The center is likely to be Ryan Wendell, who was once cut from the Pats' practice squad but has improved significantly. Dan Connolly, last year's center after the now-departed Dan Koppen was injured, will be the right guard. At least for now. He might be the center if Wendell can't cut it.
The Pats like to rotate linemen at every position, so it is conceivable someone we haven't named will eventually become a starter.
Dante Scarnecchia is regarded as perhaps the best offensive line coach in the NFL. He might earn that title this year.
2. Defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower are not your average rookies. That's why Belichick is starting both of them.
They are frightening to look at, in a good sense. Physically imposing. Menacing. Athletic.
They are everything the Patriots want this new defense to be.
They aren't the only rookies to make the defense -- five others will line up at some point -- but the spotlight is shining most brightly on them.
Jones is a pass rusher and showed great skills in the preseason. He's being compared to the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, which is saying something, since everyone agrees that Pierre-Paul is one of a kind.
Hightower? Stood next to him once. Felt very, very, very small. I would not want to be tackled by him.
If these two play half as well as they look, the defense will take a huge step forward.
3. What can you say about Gronk?
Is Rob Gronkowski the best tight end in the NFL? Maybe unless Aaron Hernandez is.
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