New England Patriots: Why team may lose one game or less in 2017

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has an unfathomable amount of offensive playmakers at his disposal in 2017.

This year marks no ordinary campaign for New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Coming off his second Super Bowl win in three years, he has accumulated enough talent at the wide receiver and running back positions to better the Patriots’ effort in 2016, when they ended the regular season with only two losses.

Yet, his leadership style — unconventional as it may be — remains the same. Here’s what he told CNBC about one of his mantras he preaches to his team:

“The only sign we have in the locker room is from ‘The Art of War.’ ‘Every battle is won before it is fought,'” says Belichick, who started breaking down films of opposing teams when he was 7 years old and hanging out with his dad, Steve, an assistant coach at Annapolis.

“You [have to] know what the opponents can do, what their strengths and weaknesses are … [and] what to do in every situation,” he says.

It starts with making Foxborough the place to be. Julian Edelman signed an extension in early June, while Danny Amendola took a pay cut in April. In addition, Belichick acquired the explosive Brandin Cooks through a trade, and veteran Andrew Hawkins took almost half the compensation he could’ve earned elsewhere to sign with New England.

Those wide receivers overmatch the Patriots’ unit from 2007. Obviously, you can view Randy Moss and Wes Welker as a more dynamic combination than Cooks and Edelman. But take a look at the depth in 2017: Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Amendola and Hawkins. Any of these guys can make big plays. For the 2007 Patriots, Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Kelley Washington and Chad Jackson detail a notable drop-off after Moss and Welker.

In 2007, Laurence Maroney was the Pats’ big-bodied back, with Kevin Faulk serving as the versatile runner-pass catcher. Sammy Morris also figured into the mix. But they don’t measure up to this year’s group, the best its been in a long time, which Belichick has put together in hopes of improving an average run offense.

The Patriots welcomed ex-Cincinnati Bengal Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, who wowed many when he got starting touches for the Buffalo Bills. The duo was among the most efficient backs in the league in 2016, per Football Outsiders. Belichick has major boosts from Super Bowl 51 hero James White and Dion Lewis as well.

Also, let’s not forget Brady isn’t suspension this season. He will take the field on opening day unless he gets injured, which rarely happens nowadays. NFL fans remember when he tore his ACL and MCL in 2008, but that was the last time he missed a game due to injury. In August, he sliced his hand with a pair of scissors, but it was not serious, via the Boston Herald.

The reason why depth is so important to the Patriots? They faltered in past year because injuries had struck. In 2013, the Patriots lost the AFC Championship to the Baltimore Ravens without Rob Gronkowski. Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez were his main targets, with past-their-prime backup options in Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch.

Edelman was Brady’s primary receiver against the Broncos in a 26-16 AFC Championship loss in 2014, during which he had little help from Austin Collie, Aaron Dobson and Michael Hoomanawanui. In 2016, Brady had Gronkowski, Edelman and Amendola — lacking Hogan, Cooks and Mitchell — in a 20-18 AFC Championship defeat versus the Broncos.

Even without a healthy Brady, the Patriots can feel comfortable with the backup quarterback Jimmy Garappolo based on the way he started 2016. That switch would change the season’s outlook, although the Pats collecting 12 wins in that scenario would not be hugely surprising.

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