Soft schedule could elevate NE's defense

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - What do you get when you face four rookie QBs, two first-year starters, a second-year starter, a veteran coming off four neck surgeries and the Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow tandem twice?

An underrated fantasy defense.

The New England Patriots allowed the second-most passing yards in the NFL last season, but this year they'll get some relief in the form of the shakiest QBs the league has to offer.

In Week 1, the team will play first-year starter Jake Locker, who may struggle to complete 50 percent of his passes this season, and they'll follow it up with John Skelton, Joe Flacco, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Sanchez/Tebow and Sam Bradford before receiving a bye week.

It seems like they'll have had several bye weeks by the time they actually get a week off.

In those first eight games, only Flacco, Manning and Fitzpatrick are proven commodities at the QB position, but we're still waiting for the Flacco breakout four years later, Manning might not even be on the field by Week 5 and Fitzpatrick has turned the ball over 45 times in the past two seasons.

Coming out of the bye week, the Patriots get Fitzpatrick again followed by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, Sanchez/Tebow again, rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Matt Schaub, Alex Smith, Blaine Gabbert and Tannehill again.

Besides adding safety Steve Gregory, New England didn't do much to upgrade last season's atrocious secondary that was so bad it needed help from receiver Julian Edelman last in the year, but it did select defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the first round of this year's NFL Draft so a repeat of the 40 sacks it had a season ago seems likely. Plus, the quality of the Patriots' secondary might not matter against the opponents they'll play this season.

After removing Manning, Schaub and Flacco from the equation, the remaining 10 quarterbacks (not including Tebow) the Patriots are slated to oppose this season have started 280 games between them and have combined to complete just 56.9 percent of their passes (3951-of-6944) with a 244/222 touchdown-to- interception ratio.

In comparison, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has started 159 games and registered a 63.8 completion percentage and a 300/115 TD/INT in his career.

The inconsistency of team defenses from year-to-year has been well documented, but owners continue to reach for the hot defense. The San Francisco defense is being taken at an ADP of 9.01 on, followed by Houston (10.03), Baltimore (10.09), Philadelphia (11.02), Pittsburgh (11.06) and Chicago (11.11). New England's defense isn't going until the 14th round (14.08).

I say, let other owners waste picks in rounds 9-13 on defenses while you gorge on WR/RBs with upside and grab the Patriots in round 14.

The Pats may not have as much talent as many of the defenses going ahead of them, but they do have one thing going for them this season: in a QB-driven league, they play some of the worst (or at least some of the most unproven).

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at