EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


April 12, 2007

Pats' schedule screams 10-6 Unless draft impact is huge, Pats aren't looking Super

The New England Patriots optimist takes a look at the 2007 schedule released yesterday by the National Football League and points to the ease of travel in the season ahead.

The Pats only cross into another time zone once, heading to Dallas and no farther West than that.

The pessimist realizes that the Pats take a double-hit on opponents, trading the pathetic NFC North for the power-packed NFC East and the mediocre AFC South for the always-physical AFC North.

The Patriots' 2007 opponents went 114-94 a year ago, a winning percentage of .548. Compare that to the Super Bowl champion Colts' opposition coming up (110-98, .529), and you realize things could get mighty dicey.

It's only April, but Bill Belichick and the boys still are rife with question marks.

No void is deeper than the secondary, where Rodney Harrison's status and potential return from knee problems is clandestine.

Is Eugene Wilson healthy again? If he returns, will he be the promising Wilson of 2004 or the out-of-synch Wilson of 2006?

Will Asante Samuel play here ever again? And who can hold down the other corner?

Is the signing of Adalius Thomas enough to hide the aging linebacking woes?

Are journeyman Wes Welker and underachieving Donte Stallworth simply two more Band-Aids for the deep gash at the receiver spots?

And is second-year man Laurence Maroney ready for prime time as the No. 1 back?

You get the picture, right?

That said, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick - plus the defensive front three and the anemic status of the AFC East - assure at least 10 wins a year.

But have the Patriots done or will they do enough to earn one of the top two seeds in the AFC?

Right now, the answer is no. It says here a 10-6 ride is in the works unless their draft is special.

Here's how the season breaks down:

Sept. 9, at New York Jets - Opening day is the wrong time to tackle Eric Mangini's crew. Fragile Chad Pennington is healthy, and the New Yorkers will get the jump on the Pats, who lose the opener for the first time since 2003.

Sept. 16, San Diego Chargers - The perfect short-term remedy for a New England sports fandom angered by yet another August-September Sox swoon and panicked by Week 1's defeat to the Jets. A hungry Belichick defense emasculates LaDainian Tomlinson and shackles the Chargers to ease the flow of leapers off the Zakim Bridge.

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