1. Do you think the Patriots offense can return to their recent dominance?
No. The Patriots have given me very little evidence to think they will be able to snap out of their offensive funk. Whether it’s total yards, first downs or third down conversions, the Patriots totals in almost every offensive category are down this year. The offense has not been able to find a regular cadence and have struggled to score more than 20 points a game. Last year they average well over 30. I do think they will improve when Gronkowski returns from injury, but they will not return to the offense we have seen in the past, especially not this year.
2. How big of an impact do you think Gronkowski will have when he comes returns from injury?
I think Gronkowski will have an immediate impact when he comes back. Their has been no production from the tight ends in his absence, but I expect that to change. Even though he probably will not be in the same shape fans are used to seeing him in, Tom Brady trust him as a receiver. He is a big target, good blocker and a touchdown machine. Just last season, in limited time, he had 11 touchdown catches. The Patriots have been horrible in the red zone this year—expect that to change when Gronk returns.
3. Do you think the Patriots will make the Playoffs?
The Patriots should barely make the playoffs this year. Despite their offensive problems through the first five weeks of the season, they have a record of 4-1. They now are going to get a healthy Ridley, Amendola and Gronkowski to return to the lineup, which should significantly improve the offense. The rookie receivers should get better over time as they get more comfortable with Tom Brady. The defense has been the strongpoint of the team, but with Wilfork going down to injury, I do not expect the defense to continue to put up such solid numbers—especially when stopping the run. They do have a fairly easy schedule and the AFC is weak this year, so that should help them. They are not much better than the average AFC teams, but I still expect them to get a lot of ugly wins. It will probably take about 10 wins for them to make the playoffs this year. They need to go 6-5 in order to achieve that. Looking at their schedule, I think they can manage to win six of those games to squeak into the playoffs.
4. Can the Patriots make a run to the Super Bowl?
No. I expect the Patriots to stagger into the playoffs by only beating teams they are expected to beat. Their offense is no where near as good and efficient as it was last year, even when they get all their players back. Their defense has done well, but I do not expect them to continue to hold teams to under 20 points every week. Without Wilfork, they will have difficulty on early downs stopping the run, which will increase their opponent’s first downs and time on the field and they do not have enough offensive firepower this year to compensate. They would also have to get through the Denver Broncos, who have proven they are by far the NFLs best team. There is no way the Patriots will make it to the Super Bowl without a miracle.
5. Will Amendola be able fill the void Welker left?
During the pre-season, I though Amendola would be everything Welker is, plus more. He has a little more speed and even better hands. We found out in the last few weeks why Welker was so important to this offense—because he was dependable. Brady could always rely on him to be in the line-up, produce, and be where he was supposed to be. Welker is one of the best route runners in the league. Amendola has better intangibles, but the jury is still out as to whether he will ever be as dependable as Welker is.
6. Why do you think the Redsox did so well this season?
The Redsox as a team embodied everything it takes to win in a team sport. They had a great mixture of talent, chemistry, depth, and health. All the players were talented, got along and could trust each other to do their job. Therefore, everybody was able to go out there, have fun and focus on themselves. As a result, a lot of players were able to have breakout seasons.
7. In your honest opinion, did you think the Redsox would be able to win 97 games at the beginning of the season?
No. The Redsox truly impressed me this year. I knew they would have a great offensive season, since they had a lot of returning starters and free agent signings, but I was worried about the pitching. The pitching, ever since John Farell left for the Blue Jays, has not been the same, and it was at its worst last year. I was hoping since he returned, it would improve but I wasn’t so sure. Last year, Jon Lester looked like a washed-up has been, Lackey looked like he didn’t belong in the Major leagues and Bucholtz could not stay healthy. Dempster and Dubront in my eyes were both solid players, but they couldn’t be relied on. Therefore, I thought they would just have an average season because their starting pitching would hold them back. I could not have been more wrong. The starting pitching ended up being the best part of their team. Both Lackey and Lester emerged as dominant pitchers and Bucholtz when healthy was the best pitcher in the MLB. I am very surprised at their success, but I had a feeling each player still had it in them to have a dominant year.
8. Do you think the Redsox can win the World Series?
Absolutely. Their starting pitching has been solid. Lester, Lackey, Bucholtz and Peavey have been strong this year. Each one of those players will keep the Redsox in the game, and right now, I would take Lester and Bucholtz against anybody in the league. Lester by the end of the year had great command and was topping out his fastball at around 97 mph—faster than it has ever been. The offense has been spectacular too. They led the MLB in runs and are solid one through nine. All the hitters are very patient, will work the opposing pitcher and will capitalize on any mistakes. I think the Sox have the best offense in the league. They have also been very resilient. They win a lot of come-from-behind victories and are hungry to prove they can be champions. I also think they are the deepest team with the least amount of weakness, thus could beat the A’s, Tigers, Dodgers, or Cardinals (I will post series previews before each series with one of these teams, so please stay tuned).