Predicting how the Patriots will fare in 2016

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The time has come, ladies and gentlemen, for the beginning of the 2016-17 season. We're already off to an interesting start, as Jimmy Garoppolo will be starting the first four games of the season instead of Tom Brady, who is serving his Deflategate suspension.

But hey, a little uncertainty can be fun if you're trying to make predictions, and that's exactly what we're doing. I, along with a few of my fellow PatriotsLife writers decided to take a stab at how we think the Patriots will do this season.

Jesse Gaunce

Regular season record: 12-4

Projected finish: Win Super Bowl over Carolina

The Patriots' mental makeup is going to be tested right out of the gate with the Sunday night opener against the Cardinals, where I see Jimmy Garoppolo having a tough time against that stout Arizona defense. However, Garoppolo should be good enough to get them to at least 2-2 until Tom Brady comes back, and that's where the real fun is going to start. Patriots fans know Brady will probably be more pissed off than ever, which almost always results in good things. I see the offense clicking instantly, and I really love the potential this defense has. This should be the year New England becomes a top-five unit. They have a really good pass rush, a stable linebacking corps and a secondary that's as good as it's been in years. The Pats have some tough games late in the season against Seattle, Denver and a few divisional games against the Jets and Dolphins (in Miami, which is important), where they could potentially stumble. Health provided, I see the Pats going 12-4 and battling with Pittsburgh for the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs. The Pats will get it, and, oddly enough, square off in Super Bowl LI against the Panthers in Houston, the same team and location where New England won Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Chris Jacobs

Regular season record: 13-3

Projected finish: Super Bowl champions

This season, I think, relies on how the Patriots handle the first four games with Jimmy Garoppolo at the controls. We will go 3-1 in this run before Tom Brady gets back from his suspension with the only loss coming to the Cardinals in the season opener. Look out this year for Julian Edelman to explode. Since Wes Welker left, Edelman's increased workload in the Pats offense has made him invaluable to his quarterback. With a 1,000-yard season in 2013, 972 yards in 2014 and an injury-hampered 2015 preventing him having another 1,000-yard receiving season, he is a quarterback’s best friend as he can run all the routes and always seem to find space. The games that we can expect nail-biting finishes for this season, look no further than the opener in the desert against Arizona, Pittsburgh, the Jets and Denver, a few of which are also Super Bowl contenders. The Patriots will win the AFC East and secure home-field advantage in the playoffs on their way to a fifth Super Bowl title.

Sean Melia

Regular season record: 11-5

Projected finish: Win Super Bowl over Arizona

The 2016-7 season will have a surreal start to is as a quarterback not named Tom Brady will start for the first time since 2001. Jimmy Garoppolo will be well enough to help the team to a 3-1 start, with the only loss being a close game in the opener in Glendale. The real story of the season will be the defense that will be its best since 2004 with top-10 finishes in run and pass defense, as well as takeaways and sacks. Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, and Malcom Brown will all represent the defense in the Pro Bowl. Additionally, the return game will feature two dynamic returners in Cyrus Jones (punts) and D.J. Foster (kicks), which will lead to a score for each and return averages near the top of the league. The team will stub their toe in their usual Houses of Horror, Denver and Miami, where sloppy play, turnovers, and penalties kill them. Another loss will include the Sunday nighter at the Jets, which will serve as the Super Bowl for the latter when they fail to make the playoffs yet again. Finally, they will fall to the Steelers on the road too in a back-and-forth affair. The Patriots will end with an 11-5 record and the 2 seed. They will host the Texans and drill them in the Divisional Round and then pull off an upset over the Steelers to go onto the Super Bowl. In the season-opener rematch, the Patriots will outlast the Cardinals in a physical battle with Devin McCourty sealing their 5th championship on an interception.

Aidan Stenson

Regular season record: 13-3

Projected finish: win Super Bowl over Arizona

The Patriots were very good last year, and they only got better over the offseason. Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett were some of the most underrated free-agent signings in the league, and the defense is top-10 once again. After an opening-night date with the Cardinals, the Patriots face very few real challenges. They play the Steelers, and Broncos away and the Seahawks at home, but Tom Brady will be there to guide the team through. Aside from that, the toughest dates on the schedule are the Rams, Jets, and Bengals--not very difficult for a team as good as the Pats. While Jimmy Garoppolo is nowhere near Brady's level, he should be able to go 3-1 as a starter, thanks to a soft division schedule after the Arizona game. After Brady returns in Week 5, and Dion Lewis returns, the offense should be humming along as usual. Even better for the Patriots, the Broncos are playing with a replacement-level QB in Trevor Siemian, meaning the road to the Super Bowl runs through Foxboro once again. Provided the Pats take care of business in the regular season, there's no reason to think they can't make it to Houston for Super Bowl LI. And whomever emerges from the NFC (I would guess the Cardinals), they're no match for a pissed-off Tom Brady. The rest of the NFL better get ready, because the Patriots are ready to rumble again--and for them, nothing will get in the way of a title.