Hannable: 5 potential concerns for Patriots in 2017

Ryan Hannable
July 11, 2017 - 9:40 pm

Kelley L. Cox/USA Today Sports

The Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champions and had a productive offseason by adding several key players. Certainly they are the favorites to win the AFC once again — just look at their odds courtesy of Bovada. 

New England has 1/30 odds to make the playoffs and 7/2 odds to win the Super Bowl, by far the best in the league.

While everything points to the Patriots having another terrific season, nothing is guaranteed in the NFL. Things could still go wrong and prevent the Patriots from having the type of season many expect them to have.

Here are five potential concerns for the Patriots going into the season. 

5. Tough road stretch towards end of year

Don’t sleep on the Patriots’ schedule. It certainly is more difficult than it was last year. The stretch that stands out most is a six-week stretch after the bye week beginning Nov. 12 when five out of the six games will be played on the road. Following the bye, the Patriots will play at Denver on a Sunday night and then likely stay out West before playing in Mexico City against the Raiders the following Sunday. After that, the Patriots will return home to take on the Dolphins on Nov. 26 before three straight road games — at Buffalo, at Miami and at Pittsburgh. Playing five out of six on the road is tough, but even more difficult because of the teams the Patriots will be playing. 

4. Lack of pass rush

Yes, we acknowledge sacks are not everything in the NFL, but it is important to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Last season, the Patriots finished with 34 sacks, which was tied for 14th in the NFL. The team lost Chris Long in the offseason and replaced him with Kony Ealy and rookies Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise. On paper, the production might just not be what it was last year, which was already fairly average. Trey Flowers is a wild card as he had a breakout season in 2016 and could potentially take his game to a Pro Bowl level, but nothing is a guarantee. New England’s secondary will certainly be one of the best in the league and force quarterbacks to hold on to the ball, but what good is that if there’s not an adequate pass rush?

3. Chemistry at cornerback 

The Patriots have some playmakers at corner in Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Cyrus Jones and even Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones. While the talent is there, it’s worth keeping an eye on the chemistry, particularly with Butler. The 27-year-old wasn’t too pleased when the Patriots signed Gilmore to a megadeal this offseason, especially when he’s making just $3.91 million as a restricted free agent in his final year with the team this season. What if Butler gets frustrated with the attention being on Gilmore and not him? What if Butler is asked to play the slot with Gilmore and Rowe, both bigger corners, on the outside? Would Butler show his frustrations and allow it to impact his play? This certainly is worth monitoring as the year progresses.

2. Depth at offensive tackle

One of the most underrated positions in football is offensive tackle, as they are the ones in charge of protecting the quarterback. It’s even more important for the Patriots and protecting Tom Brady, especially considering he will be turning 40 next month. Left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Marcus Cannon are among the best at their respective positions, but the depth behind them isn’t much. Behind Solder and Cannon is Cameron Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle and rookies Antonio Garcia and Conor McDermott. If Solder or Cannon were to get hurt, Brady and the offense could be in trouble.

1. Tom Brady getting hurt

Losing the starting quarterback is one of the biggest concerns for all teams, but even more so with the Patriots because of how good Brady is and given he will turn 40 years old before the season begins -- naturally increasing the chances he gets injured. The Patriots do have one of the best backups in the league in Jimmy Garoppolo, but there’s no doubt the team wouldn’t win as many games with Garoppolo at quarterback than with Brady. Brady getting injured and missing significant time would certainly impact the team in a negative way no matter how good Garoppolo turns out to be.