Welcome to Season 3, Episode 1 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday afternoon. The reloaded and reinvigorated Patriots open their season — finally, right? — Sunday afternoon when they take on Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins. Kick it off, Gostkowski, and let’s get this season started already …
THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY I’LL BE WATCHING:
1. Rob Gronkowski: Hopefully he doesn’t get punished by revealing he’s playing by not being allowed to play. Ah, I’m being facetious: It’ll be a blast to see him out there again, and spare me your doomsday Mark Bavaro comps. If he’s 90 percent of what he was before T.J. Ward chopped him down, he’s the best tight in the game, no debate.
2. Charles Clay: The Dolphins’ versatile tight end — he’s essentially what the Patriots’ would love for Tim Wright to be — was one of the more unsung players in the NFL last season, getting little fanfare despite catching 69 passes (on 101 targets) for 759 yards and 6 touchdowns. That’s going to change — presuming it hadn’t already — thanks to Rick Maese’s superb profile of ESPN info-swapper extraordinaire Adam Schefter in The Washington Post this week. A snippet:
As the Yukon bowled its way closer to ESPN’s studios, another phone call came in, this time a Miami Dolphins team official. “So where is your production going to come from on the offensive side of the field this year? … Yep, okay, wow …. I had him on my fantasy team this year.” Schefter tapped his driver, John Napoli, a friend from Long Island, on the shoulder, gave a thumbs-up and whispered, “Charles Clay,” with a smile.
This won’t be a surprise to the Patriots, of course. Clay had eight receptions (albeit for just 37 yards) against them in the first meeting last year. He should prove a challenge for Jamie Collins right out of the gate.
3. Darrelle Revis: Yeah, I know, we saw him in the preseason a couple of times. He even let Kelvin Benjamin feel good about himself on a couple of passes. No matter. The ground rule, which I am just making up as I type, is that when your team acquires a superstar, he’s not officially yours until he’s played a game that counts. You know, upon reading that sentence, scratch that. What I’m trying to say is that Darrelle Revis, one of the best cornerbacks of his generation, a former rival, and a prime-of-career player plays his first official game for the Patriots Sunday,
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD
The lark has always been that the random cards I’ve been using in this space for more than a decade aren’t random at all. That’s especially true in this case. Tom Brady is entering his 15th NFL season (14th as a starter), and I cannot think of a career that has passed faster. Doesn’t it just seem like a few Sundays ago that he was pounding a bemused Drew Bledsoe on the shoulder pads after the Super Bowl win over the Rams, giddily out of his mind and howling about being champions, blissfully unaware of the supplanted quarterback’s mixed emotions at the moment? Can you believe Brady has been here six seasons (including 2014) longer than Bledsoe was? Or that he’s been here longer than Larry Bird, or David Ortiz, or Bobby Orr? I know that 99.97 percent of Patriots fans don’t have to be reminded to appreciate him while he’s here. But to the other 0.03 percent, please don’t howl for Jimmy Garoppolo when Brady throws three incompletions in a row in the second quarter Sunday. Savor his greatness, because it’s already endured longer for him than it does for most.
PREDICTED AFC EAST STANDINGS? NOPE. GUARANTEED AFC EAST STANDINGS
1. Patriots, 14-2: The lack of obvious star power at receiver has actually made the offense underrated, and the defense is as talented and versatile as it has been since at least 2007. With good health, another appearance in the AFC Championship Game is the lowest of the expectations.
2. Jets, 9-7: Rex can coach defense, though that may be more challenging than ever this year unless he invents an effective cornerback-free defense. (Don’t hear Pats fans howling about taking Devin McCourty over Kyle Wilson anymore, do we?) As far as the offense? Maybe I’m stuck in 2010, but Michael Vick and Chris Johnson could provide a dual last hurrah. Yeah, I know Geno Smith is the starter. Browning Nagle was the Jets starter once too. There’s no tenure as the NYJ QB.
3, Dolphins, 8-8: If there is a quintessential coach/quarterback combo in the league that makes you think, yep, they’ll get you to .500 but not beyond that, it has to be Ryan Tannehill and Joe Philbin, right? They were 7-9 in 2012 and 8-8 last year, but don’t read that as an upward trend. These guys are the Hartford Whalers of football. Tannehill ought to change his number to eight, just for the symmetry.
4. Bills, 1-15: Jon Bon Jovi shouldn’t have tried to buy the team. The little steel-horse riding fella should have auditioned to play quarterback. I mean … Kyle Orton? The season hasn’t begun yet, and they’re hopes are dead. Not alive.
NEW ENGLAND, THE PATRIOTS AND … SERIOUSLY, TELL ME, WHO THE #*%(#* CAME UP WITH THIS CONCEPT?
What’s that? Hell, yes, I’ve used this before. And I’ll use it again, too. Timeless art cannot be allowed to fade away, my friends, and this particular masterpiece makes the Bears’ Super Bowl Shuffle look as amateurish as that auto-tuned “Friday” song Zolak loves. Also: I bet John Dennis demanded six takes and tirelessly berated the dude who wrote the song for his poor grammar. Just a hunch.
PREDICTION, OR WHY DOESN’T TANNEHILL YELL AT RECEIVERS IN HOMAGE TO DAN MARINO?
He should buy them Isotoners too.
Anyway, the prediction. Dolphins keep it close early, but a balanced Patriots offense — they don’t get enough credit nationally for their quality depth, probably because fantasy football clouds real-football perception — eventually overwhelms Miami. Sleeper for a big day: Danny Amendola, who will do plenty of Welker things, but definitely not Molly.
Patriots 31, Dolphins 14
Season record: About to be 1-0.