Pats Predictions: What to expect this season

 Yes, it’s that time.

No more Brian Hoyer throwing to Buddy Farnham.

No more Darius Butler getting burned by another receiver.

It’s game time.

After months of preparation, grueling practices, a lockout and the additions of Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth, the Patriots are only a day away from their first step to a fourth championship.

With reigning MVP Tom Brady at the helm, and a wealth of weapons around him, the Pats offense shouldn’t lose a step.

What’s more exciting is the change to the 4-3 defense, which is only enhanced by some great veteran additions in Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis and Haynesworth.

That said, here are some of my predictions for this year.

1. Tom Brady will not throw more than 30 touchdowns.

This isn’t a reflection of Brady as much as it is the diversity of this offense. With a strong stable of running backs and more depth on the offensive line, I see the Patriots maintaining a strong balance between the run and pass. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley look like strong bets to punch the ball in when it’s inside the 5-yard line.

2. The trio of Haynesworth, Carter and Ellis will reach 20 sacks.

Carter may be the most under-the-radar signing on this team. Whenever he’s played in a 4-3, he’s been terrific. He’s in great shape, has plenty of experience and is tough. Ellis brings some of the same traits, but is stouter and can play in both the 3-4 and 4-3. I’m buying in on Haynesworth and think he’ll post at least six sacks in a part-time role.

3. Chad Ochocinco will be fourth on the team in receptions.

Quite simply, Ocho isn’t as good as he thinks. His hands have been terrible and he simply doesn’t separate as well as he used to when he posted 750 receptions with the Bengals. Wes Welker is Brady’s go-to guy, and Deion Branch has terrific chemistry with Tom. And my next prediction….

4. Aaron Hernandez will finish second in receptions.

The second-year tight end is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He has 4.6 speed at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds. He has rare yard-after-the-catch ability and is a solid route runner. Plus, he switched back to his college number, and in his last season at Florida, Hernandez was THE guy.

5. The Patriots defense will not force as many turnovers, but will rank in the top-12 in third-down defense.

With Devin McCourty leading the team with seven interceptions, the Pats were a turnover-based defense last season. While I don’t see them forcing as many turnovers, I think they’ll make a huge leap from being the worst third-down defense in the league. The defensive line rotation is deep with Mark Anderson and Jermaine Cunningham as sub-package rushers, and Jerod Mayo is poised to be playmaker in this new defense.

Individual Predictions

Jerod Mayo will finish in the top-5 in Defensive Player of the Year Voting.

Nate Solder will start at least three games.

Ras-I Dowling will see snaps at free safety and could be a starter by the end of the year.

Stevan Ridley will post at least six rushing touchdowns.

Kevin Faulk will be activated off the PUP.

Welker and Hernandez will combine for over 170 receptions

Rob Gronkowski will be voted to his first of many Pro Bowls.

Brian Waters and Andre Carter prove to be impact players.


Individual Awards

Defensive MVP: Jerod Mayo

Offensive MVP (Non-QB): Aaron Hernandez

Veteran Surprise: Andre Carter

Biggest Disappointment: Chad Ochocinco

Season Prediction: 12-4, 1st place in AFC East