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Ten predictions for the 2011 New England Patriots season to file away and laugh at come early January:
1. The Patriots will win 12 games. With a revamped defense and multifaceted offense, the Patriots are positioned among the NFL's elite once again. They know they can't count on the defense to force 38 turnovers again, but with a pressure-oriented approach, they should dictate play on a more regular basis and generate more pressure. Quarterback Tom Brady won't win the MVP award, but he'll turn in another solid season.
2. Seven sacks for Albert Haynesworth. The way the Patriots plan to rotate defensive linemen this season, Haynesworth might not even play 50 percent of the snaps. The approach could be perfect for him, keeping him fresh and allowing him to turn it on when he is on the field. Haynesworth's career high for sacks was 8.5 in 2008 when he was playing for the Tennessee Titans, and playing for a contract.
3. Fifty catches for Chad Ochocinco. Over his 10-year career, Ochocinco has averaged 75 receptions per season. He won't hit that mark because of a combination of factors -- learning the offense, struggles to separate from defensive backs and the Patriots' style to spread the ball around. A 50-catch season would be his lowest total since his rookie campaign, when he had 28.
4. Contract extension for Jerod Mayo. The fourth-year linebacker, whose deal extends through the 2012 season, will ink a long-term contract sometime before the end of the team's off week in late October. Mayo is primed to build on his first Pro Bowl berth and become one of the game's stars at the position, and he's everything Bill Belichick wants his players to be. The Patriots have the maneuverability to make it happen now, so why wait?
5. Randy Moss will not play for the team. While Moss almost surely would come out of retirement if the Patriots called him, it would take an unexpected run of injuries for such a scenario to be considered. And even then, Belichick would hesitate, in part because of the off-field volatility that would come with such a move. The closest Moss gets to the field this season is as a spectator.
|Aaron Hernandez is on his way to becoming one of Tom Brady's favorite targets.|
6. Eighty catches for Aaron Hernandez. If he stays healthy, the second-year tight end is in position to have a monster season. His presence in the 2-minute offense, plus regular packages, means he should be on the field for most of the offensive snaps. Outside of Wes Welker, who said he is in the best condition of his career, he is on the verge of becoming Brady's favorite target.
7. Splitting with the Jets. In the much anticipated rivalry between the Patriots and New York Jets, each team will hold its ground at home -- the Patriots winning in Week 5 and the Jets evening the score in Week 10. In a side note, Welker will pass on speaking with the media in the week leading up to a game.
8. Julian Edelman -- 2 punt returns for touchdowns. If he stays healthy, the third-year receiver will be recognized as one of the league's more dangerous returners on both kickoffs and punts. Just a hunch that he'll take two back to the house. Edelman is dangerous with the ball in his hands and will be an upgrade over Brandon Tate, who declined rapidly from the midpoint of the 2010 season.
9. Lonie Paxton again won't be forgotten. Three years later, the Patriots still haven't decisively filled the void created when Paxton, the reliable long snapper, signed with the Broncos as a free agent. Snappers aren't talked about unless they cost their team points (or a game), and the Patriots enter the season with rookie free agent Danny Aiken, who spent training camp with the Bills. It's risky.
10. Playoff questions will be answered. After losing their first playoff game in each of the past two seasons, the Patriots can't answer one of their biggest questions until January. Their new look on defense, coupled with better offensive line play, should help them get over the playoff hump. This team will be in the mix to win a Super Bowl ring in Indianapolis.
(Editor's note: To revisit the 10 predictions from the 2010 season, click here.)
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.