Only just mere hours away from dropping the banner at Gillette Stadium, here are the second edition of “The Key Six.” This time the two other phases of that game that must be flawless for victory will be looked at.
DE Trey Flowers / Projection: 50 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 10.0 sacks
Meet your big-play pass rusher New England Patriots fans, and he’s in for a big season with Chris Long leaving for the Philadelphia Eagles as well as Rob Ninkovich hanging up the cleats.
Trey Flowers showed last season in a rotational role that he can consistently rush the passer with seven sacks during the season and one in the Super Bowl that took kicker Matt Bryant out of field goal range.
The former third round pick has a huge opportunity to establish a long term home on this defense.
CB Stephon Gilmore / Projection: 52 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions
Stephon Gilmore was brought in albeit overpaid to fortify the secondary more than it already was.
But when cornerbacks are brought in to New England, more is expected from them than what they are usually accustomed to. Sure great man and zone cornerbacks that have come through like Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib and Brandon Browner worked their strengths into the scheme, but were also forced to blitz and tackle like a safety.
Like Revis, Gilmore will get after the quarterback, be a physical specimen, and do what he does best which is to face a team’s best receiver one on one.
CB Malcolm Butler / Projection: 67 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions
Malcolm Butler was given the short end of the stick when it comes to paychecks at his position.
That being said, he has a chip on his shoulder to further prove that he is worth the $47 million that was given to his teammate Gilmore.
Butler is going to be playing with extra poise and determination that comes with anybody that plays angry. Especially when they have something to prove to their peers and coaches.
FS Devin McCourty / Projection: 75 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception
If you thought that we were done with the secondary after talking about arguably the best cornerback duo in the National Football League. Well you thought wrong.
Much to the dismay of opposing offenses, the back end of this secondary is home to one of the league’s best safeties Devin McCourty.
As usual McCourty will rack up the tackles and with his physical play, cause a few to fall to the turf.
The less McCourty has to cover receivers the better, but you can count on him to cover the tight ends coming into the second level and to make sure that corners have the assist over the top.
MLB Dont’a Hightower / Projection: 70 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 7.5 sacks, 1 interception
Fresh off a big-money contract that will keep him in New England for the forseeable future, Don’t Hightower has the lofty task of replacing the leadership as a linebacker and as a pass rusher with Rob Ninkovich’s retirement.
Hightower barring any setbacks, is in line to have a career season to solidify his status as an elite linebacker in the NFL.
The man with green dot needs to step up in more ways than one and seems poised to do just that.
K Stephen Gostkowski / Projection: 28/33 FG, 47/48 XP, 131 points
Just a few years ago, Stephen Gostkowski was trusted by the Patriots and their fan base to make the field goal to the point where they would leave to get another beer believing Gostkowski had it in the bag.
Nowadays, not so much especially with crucial misses that caused major inconveniences for the team.
The jury is still out on whether he will resume being one of the all-time greats and most accurate kickers in NFL history or continue his slump.
Patriots fans will hope for the latter, but there’s less optimism here.