NFL season predictions: Playoff success will rely on defense of Patriots

The NFL kicked off its season on Thursday, Sept. 8 with a rematch between the two Super Bowl 50 competitors. The New England Patriots had a fantastic showing in their season opener against the highly ranked Arizona Cardinals, on Sunday, Sept. 11, despite not having Tom Brady at quarterback.

Jimmy Garoppolo will do a decent-enough job throughout the next three weeks as a starter while Brady is suspended for ‘deflate-gate’. As he proved in the first game, not only can he avoid mistakes to give his team a chance, but Garoppolo can make key plays under pressure.

The Patriots should handily win their division this season, as the other teams in the AFC East have no standout quarterbacks. The AFC East teams’ defenses are fairly good, but not good enough to compensate for their terrible offense, poor coaching, and in some cases the age of the players. The Patriots have two obvious competitors in the AFC: The Denver Broncos and Pittsburg Steelers. Ultimately, the dynamic offense of the Steelers may end up being injury prone again and that could take them out of the conversation of being a Super Bowl contender.

While the Broncos quarterback situation seems to be less than ideal, they won the Super Bowl with sub-par quarterback play last year; a rare feat for the decade as the NFL has become an offense-heavy league. The Broncos will win regular season games this year with their revolutionary defense and decent quarterback play. The Patriots fell to the Broncos in the AFC championship game last year, but this year that should not be the case.

The difference for the 2016-2017 season is the Patriots should grow on defense. Many former rookies are entering their second year; generally the most improvement and progress is made during this time. The Patriots were also injury-prone on offense last year, something that will hopefully not be the case. This may continue into the upcoming year as standout tight end Rob Gronkowski already is having hamstring problems, along with several other injured linemen.

The key to success this season will be the Patriots defense’s ability to help the offense, or even bail them out. Over the past decade and a half the team has been extremely reliant on their offense, even to a fault. The balance of the team is promising as well as the pure talent, with players like Malcolm Butler, Jamie Collins, and Jabaal Sheard. The team will likely go 12-4 or even 13-3 in the regular season, but only due to a challenging schedule and potentially Brady’s suspension. Injuries as always will be an important factor. If the team can stay healthy during the regular season then they should clinch home field advantage in the playoffs. While health is important, the necessary improvement this season will be the team’s ability to move from a good defense to an exceptional one. Despite the porous offensive line the Patriots had last year, if the defense shows an ability to bail the offense out of games, then the Patriots should be able to make it to the Super Bowl.

Some seemingly innocuous teams in the AFC that could prove to be challenging matchups are the Oakland Raiders and especially the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens always prove to be a challenge to the Patriots, despite the tough division that they are in.