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2017 NFL preview: Are the Patriots as close a Super Bowl lock as they can get?

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We’re previewing the NFL heading into training camp, moving on to the rest of the NFL. Today, we look at the New England Patriots.

The San Francisco 49ers are wrapping up their offseason, with training camp set to get going on Thursday, July 27. With the help of SB Nation’s other NFL sites, we have been previewing training camp for the 49ers 13 regular season opponents, and four preseason opponents. You can view all of them here.

Since we still have some time before the preseason gets going, I thought it would be fun to keep going and look at the 15 NFL teams that are not on the 49ers regular season or preseason schedule. The 49ers will play four of them in the preseason, while the remaining 15 will not appear on their schedule outside of a potential playoff appearance. But, it is helpful to continue getting a better handle on the NFL this season.

We opened looking at the Cleveland Browns, and today, we move to the opposite end of the spectrum with the New England patriots. Our friends at Pats Pulpit put together a look at the various roster changes and storylines to track heading into camp.

The Patriots are sizable favorites to win Super Bowl 52, and there is already some talk of whether or not they can go unbeaten. They lost some important pieces, but as is often the guy, they’ve replenished in a big way. Additions like Stephon Gilmore and Mike Gillislee via free agency, and Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen, and Kony Ealy via trade have stocked this team up considerably.

The Patriots’ 2017 win total number opened at 12.5. The OVER was installed at -130, while the UNDER was at even money. That means the OVER was favored slightly (bet $130 to win $100, as opposed to bet $100 to win $100). The wager remains the same at Bovada, but given the talent influx, the OVER seems like the logical pick.

With that in mind, rather than look at that, let’s go with something a little higher. If I set the win total at 14.5, would you be prepared to go with the OVER? Logically it makes sense to bet the UNDER at that high a number, but the Patriots just seem like they should be pretty great this year. Even with the Super Bowl under their belt, it seems hard to see them taking their foot off the gas.

Poll

How many regular season games will the Patriots win this season?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Over 14.5
    (118 votes)
  • 59%
    Under 14.5
    (172 votes)
290 votes total Vote Now

Notable free agent additions: RB Mike Gillislee, RB Rex Burkhead, DT Lawrence Guy, LB David Harris, CB Stephon Gilmore

Notable free agent departures: RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Martellus Bennett, EDGE Chris Long, EDGE Jabaal Sheard, CB Logan Ryan

Trades: WR Brandin Cooks, TE Dwayne Allen, EDGE Kony Ealy

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies: EDGE Derek Rivers, EDGE Deatrich Wise Jr. (OT Tony Garcia hopefully won’t play)

Biggest offseason addition: WR Brandin Cooks deservedly gets all the attention because of his ability (2,359 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons), his age (still 23), and his physical traits (4.33s 40 yard dash, 3.81 short shuttle), but the Patriots offense was already going to be great. I think the signing of CB Stephon Gilmore is the bigger acquisition this year because of money he received (the second-most guaranteed for a cornerback in the league) and the role he’ll have.

The Patriots lost CB Logan Ryan to the Tennessee Titans and hope they have added an upgrade in Gilmore. Gilmore has all the physical traits, but the Buffalo Bills failed to provide him with a supporting cast at the safety position. Now, Gilmore gets to play across from All Pro CB Malcolm Butler and alongside All Pro FS Devin McCourty. The Patriots secondary might have improved at a time where talent at cornerback is needed.

Last year, the Patriots faced a laughably weak slate of opposing quarterbacks. This year, the Patriots will not just face better quarterbacks, but a series of incredible wide receiver duos. Gilmore will be in the spotlight a lot.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: There aren’t too many storylines for the Patriots. There are some competitions (ex: will Mike Gillislee see more time than Rex Burkhead? Can David Harris hold off both Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts at linebacker?) but these aren’t very big storylines in the sense that they’ll make or break a season. It’s like choosing between a donut or a cupcake; the Patriots will have a delicious dessert no matter the outcome.

To me, a big storyline requires a team to have a core-shaking outcome should the alternative take place. So my biggest storyline is whether the Patriots will reach an extension with CB Malcolm Butler.

Butler was shopped this offseason and no team took a bite. He’s an All Pro cornerback that will be 28 years old next year; he’s in his prime. If Butler doesn’t reach an extension with the Patriots prior to the start of the season, it’s likely that Butler will play out the season, enter free agency, and cash in elsewhere, leaving the Patriots to move forward with Gilmore, Eric Rowe, and Cyrus Jones at cornerback.

Or, the Patriots and Butler reach a reasonable extension and the Patriots will have the best secondary in the league for the next five years. This will be fun to watch.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: How do the Patriots edge defenders look? Rob Ninkovich is long in the tooth and could be playing his last season. Kony Ealy is an inconsistent import from Carolina. Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise are rookies. Trey Flowers is the assumed superstar.

Many hope that the Patriots edge defenders will play at a high enough level in 2017, but it’s easy to overlook that the Flowers, Ninkovich, Chris Long, and Jabaal Sheard quartet were pretty okay. There’s a chance this 2017 group takes a step backwards and the Patriots could struggle to generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: TE Rob Gronkowski is returning from his back surgery, but he’s been 100% at camp and looks as good as ever.