1. What happened to the Patriots in the season opening loss in Miami? Was that an anomaly or is it concerning?
There were parts that were concerning on both offense and defense, one more readily fixable than the other.
On defense, the Patriots featured a 3-4 package with Chandler Jones at defense end. That role is typically for players in the 310+ range. Jones weighs 260 when wet (his weight listing is wrong). The Dolphins ran at him the entire second half and moved the ball at will. The Patriots kicked Jones out to a more natural outside rusher role in week 2 and he won defensive player of the week.
The confers on offense are more concerning. The Patriots interior line is in complete flux, with new starters at both guard positions. They're starting a former right tackle at left guard, and undrafted sophomore at right guard, and their captain Dan Connolly, who has historically been the weak link on the offensive line at center. This grouping showed again in week 2 and will like feature against the Raiders. They allowed Brady to be pressured on nearly 50% of his drops against Miami. This unit needs to improve if the Patriots want to grow from their poor showings.
2. The Patriots were ranked 26th in the league in yards given up last season. Other than signing Darrelle Revis, what have they done to fix it?
Bill Belichick cares more about the points given up, where the Patriots have been ranked in the top 10 the past two seasons. Due to the offense playing at such a high speed, opposing defenses will always have more drive opportunities to pick up yards over the course of a game.
That said, the team did improve over last season. 2013 saw injury after injury with starting nose tackle Vince Wilfork, old friend Tommy Kelly, and starting inside linebacker Jerod Mayo all lost in the opening weeks. The team played with rookie cast-offs at defensive tackle and teams were able to have plenty of success moving the ball.
The team will naturally improve with the returns of Mayo and Wilfork, coincidentally both defensive captains, but the majority of the defensive growth will come from player development.
Starting linebackers Jamie Collins (2 years) and Dont'a Hightower (3 years) and getting more comfortable and experienced, along with Chandler Jones (3 years). Devin McCourty is in his second season as a full time safety.
The defense is a unit of growth and hopefully the addition of Revis helps elevates the unit from a top 10 team to a top 5 defense.
3. It doesn't seem from the outside like the Patriots have drafted well in recent years. Would you say that's accurate? If not, who are the young drafted players on this team we should be watching?
I'd agree that the Patriots were weak drafted from 2006 to 2009. 2010 saw a change and the team has been excellent with it's drafting.
Starting players include FS Devin McCourty (Pro Football Focus's #1 safety in 2013), TE Rob Gronkowski, LB Brandon Spikes (PFF's top run defender), Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins, LT Nate Solder, RBs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, CB Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan, and DE Chandler Jones (reigning DPoW). This isn't including some of last years players with room to grow, like WR Aaron Dobson and SS Duron Harmon.
Of those players, Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins are the most fun to watch due to their athleticism. Depending on the coverage ability of Raiders linebackers, Shane Vereen is exciting to watch out of the backfield as the team's 3rd leading receiver.
4. With every team in the NFL, the talk eventually leads to their "window closing". With as long as the Patriots have been a playoff team, and Brady now 37-years-old, are there any signs their window could be closing?
The Patriots are actually one of the youngest teams in the league. Beyond captain Tom Brady (37), offensive line captain Dan Connolly (32) and defensive line captain Vince Wilfork (32), the only other starters over the age of 30 are Sebastian Vollmer (30) and Rob Ninkovich (30).
Bill Belichick has done a great job turning over the roster while remaining competitive. He even tagged second round pick Jimmy Garoppolo as a potential heir to Brady's throne. While the window with Brady is undeniably closing, the Patriots should find a way to remain at the top of the league.
5. Now, I don't usually ask the seemingly obligatory ‘who wins and what will the final score be' question. But the Patriots are favored by two touchdowns in this game. I'm not a betting man but do you see them covering that spread?
Tough one. On one hand, it's always smart to choose the Patriots at home, straight up; but covering the spread?
The Patriots are 6-0 since 2009 when favored by at least two touchdowns, but only 2-4 against the spread- and those four games were decided by a touchdown. I'll venture that the Patriots won't cover.