The NFL released the 2013 regular season schedule and the New England Patriots (see schedule) and their fans are looking forward to a prosperous and victorious season. The road to the Super Bowl is steadily being paved while the roster is improved based on the best interest of the team. Being left with a bitter and sour taste in the mouth after a devastating 28-13 loss in the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens, the rivalry is stronger than ever before as the loss, in a way, has motivated the resilient and defiant Patriots to play better and win.
Make no mistake – the list of opponents is by no means an easy one, nor is the schedule an impression that we can just add a “W” without much sweat.
As the game of football is constantly involving, so it is many of challenges that lay ahead. And while some have the habit of comparing a game played weeks ago as if it is the same “team” playing next Sunday, that is absolutely not the case this season – if there’s such a case in any season for that matter (absolutely not). No game is ever the same, even if the roster remains unchanged.
- Baltimore Ravens – I’ll get this one out the way and start with the match against our “favorite” rivalry. Oh yes, the Super Bowl champions are far from being the same team. This year the Ravens reminded me of why I love the implementation of a cap system in this league – if you pay Joe this much, you have to take from Doe this much – perfect and simple. Although the Ravens defense were outstanding, even without Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs in the beginning of the season; making the proper positions adjustments and movements late in the season paid off. And while defensive coordinator Dean Pees did a great job, it’s defensive line coach Clarence Brooks I give the most credit. On the offense, in my opinion, it was Joe Flacco’s offense linemen that really deserve the credit. By protecting Flacco in the pocket, maintaining him upright and buying him more time than time can actually be bought, there’s no doubt a receiver will get open and the play will be executed. So far, Flacco’s o-line is quite the same and if they can keep the flow going, the Ravens can still be a menace even without their high-profile stars – Ray Lewis, Anquan Boldin, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Bernard Polard, Ed Reed and Cary Williams.
- Denver Broncos – not sure which match will have an extra dose of “revenge” – Ravens or Broncos? Peyton Manning new pal, Wes Welker, will be in town in his new white, orange and blue uniform. While the Broncos lost their key linebacker Elvis Dumervil to the Ravens for not getting his contract on time due to a spotty fax machine, the Broncos found themselves revamping their defense with the signings of Stewart Bradley, Kevin Vickerson, Terrance Knighton, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. But it was on the offense that I think the Broncos did the most improvement with the addition of Wes Welker – great option for Manning to throw short passes and not in an interception, and the addition of the second highest-paid guard in the league, Louis Vasquez. If there’s anything the Broncos can do to keep Manning from injuring his four-time surgically repaired neck and keeping him tall and upright in the pocket; well then, they just did. Welker said in his first media interview after becoming a Bronco that he just wants to “Win”. Guess, what? So does Tom Brady and co.
- Houston Texans – although I wanted to pass on Houston Texans, I could not ignore the fact of their Ed Reed addition. Also the return of Brian Cushing after suffering a season-ending torn ACL injury in the mid-season last year will make the difference in their defense and with a healthy J.J. Watt in the mix, their defense can be a tall hurdle to jump. Playing at home in December, Houston will want to reverse last year’s results.
- Miami Dolphins – don’t let a “sweet” dolphin fool you. Since the start of free agency, the Miami Dolphins is a team that showed to be very proactive among the AFC East division teams. I think the New England Patriots did what they usually do – being conservative, but smart, and allowing time to be on their side. Although, I think that in order to secure Emmanuel Sanders, the offer sheet should have been for $3 million (the same amount that Brandon Lloyd was due in bonus). But, I believe that if it wasn’t for Ben Roethlisberger’s lobbying the coaching staff and front office to keep Sanders, the Steelers would have Sanders go. Miami Dolphins addition of Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler, Dustin Keller, Bent Grimes, Vaughn Martin and Lance Louis is a big plus. Losing free agents Reggie Bush, Chris Clemons, Anthony Fasano, Jake Long and Sean Smith is probably an opportunity for a fresh start as the Dolphins currently hold 11 draft picks – five picks in the first three rounds alone.
Also, let’s not forget that we have a new rule in place – the Crown of the Helmet Rule. The rule will penalize ball carriers and defensive players with a 15-yard penalty if he initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). And here’s the best part, the rule can’t be challenged or reviewed.
Since it’s a judgment call, the game will be decided at the officials’ discretion whether the hit was “forcible” or not – a know-it-when-you-see-it standard that could leave plenty of room for interpretation. I have a tremendous respect for our officials and they do the very best on the field, but we all know they are only humans and miscall happens. So, in my book, the new rule could be a “tough opponent” and a 15-yard penalty could win or lose the game.
Follow Celia Westbrook on Twitter @celiawestbrook