By: Mark Saber Jr.

The 2017 season is days away.  We can almost picture that fifth banner being revealed. As New Englanders expect another damn-near perfect season, we need to be on the lookout for quite a few players, plays and coaches.

Focal points of the Patriots offense

There was so much hype in the off-season about the Brady-Cooks connection. While that sounds great, I do look forward to watching the Brady-Gronkowski connection after a year without it. Gronk has suffered quite a few injuries to his back, so the question lingers.  Will Gronk actually be Gronk? Will he get the same snap count Coach Bill used in the 2014 season? Or will he turn him loose?

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) scores a touchdown Denver Broncos strong safety Mike Adams (20) and defensive end Shaun Phillips (90) in the third quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

I would be willing to bet anything that the behemoth tight end will be put on a snap count, but off his leash. Just like Belichick says “The first quarter of the season means nothing.”   Meaning it all rides on how you finish (example: Five rings).

Life without Crown Jules

Another situation that bears watching: how the Patriots can bounce back from the Edelman ACL season-ending injury. Yes, I understand the Patriots have not looked this stacked on the offensive side of the ball since 2007. But I do expect some sort of lag, just not for too long.  A short-term lag. Brady without his security blanket might look a little strange. Remember when the Pats let Welker go and everyone thought the world ended?   Edelman and Amendola stepped up to help keep it going.

Of course Edelman wound up locking down Wes’ old job.  It will be a tad heart wrenching not seeing Minitron out there on the field. Tommy will end up creating another strong relationship with another receiver.  A deep bench with Gronk, Cooks, Amendola, Mitchell, Hogan, etc.  Bottom line — I feel the Patriots should be just fine.

Focal Points of the Patriots defense

Something I do look forward to see: the duo between Butler-Gilmore. The Patriots haven’t had two true shut-down corners like this since the 2014 season. I am stoked to see this come to fruition.  I feel now that Gilmore had the whole off season to get fully acclimated with the Patriots scheme.   I expect him to shine.

I understand that the Kony Ealy trade did not work out for NE, but I still predict the defense to make at least top 10. I’d say they rank #6 overall. But I do expect an overall strong season from the Pats D. My bold prediction for the defensive side of the ball for the Pats season?  The secondary holds the torch. They won’t allow opposing offenses to get their stud receivers in the game. I think we will see a ball-hawking defense. Scratch that, I expect that gritty ball-hawking defense. We all know how much Coach Bill takes pride in his front seven, so I do expect another overall solid season from them as well.

Bottom Line

Clearly the Patriots suffered a significant blow to the team when Julian Edelman went down with injury. But I expect the Patriots to remain on top as the juggernaut of the NFL (as always) and the offense will still torch opposing defenses. The same goes for the defense — it will crush opposing offenses. Things might be a little strange at first, but there is no one who is better at filling roster gaps than Bill Belichick.

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