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The opening of the 2007 regular season is near, and that means it’s time to get the Roundtable gang together for our traditional Friday pre-game chat.

There’s plenty of gristle for the boys to chew on, including the unexpected loss of Pro-Bowler Richard Seymour and the NFL’s suspension of team leader Rodney Harrison, due to his admitted use of performance enhancing drugs.

Oh, yeah, there’s also a game – a season-opening matchup with divisional rival New York – to talk about.

Let’s get started.

Rodney Harrison has admitted to using the banned substance Human Growth Hormone (HGH) to reclaim his place in the Patriots lineup after a series of debilitating injuries. As a result, he’s discredited himself and his league, and left his team without one of its best players as a new season opens. Your reaction?

Dan Snapp: Crime and punishment. He got caught, and he – and the Patriots – get penalized with the four games. Harrison tried to draw a line between HGH and steroids, but I doubt the public’s going to care about such nuances. He cheated, got caught, and the blemish will follow him the rest of his career. It won’t keep me from rooting for him, though.

Tim Jordan: That news hit me like a ton of bricks. I wish I could tell you that my first reaction was anger at the offending player, but it wasn’t. I was disappointed and sad about such jarring news so close to the beginning of the season. A few days later I’ve rationalized because it feels more like a normal season with some obligatory pre-season adversity. It was too surreal before the Harrison and Seymour setbacks, too much to like about their chances – it made me dubious. Also, I am sure it makes me a flaming fan-boy worthy of derision and scorn, but I’ve felt for a long time that NFL players use PEDs and I don’t have a problem with it. One could make numerous analogies to similar measures taken by people to survive or thrive at their own vocations. I think it’s naive to think that it’s not prevalent in the NFL considering the nature of the work and the compensation involved.

Bill Barnwell: If people think Harrison is the only player in the league using HGH, they need to get their heads out of the sand. There’s going to be more players who are outed as a result of the ongoing investigation into Signature Pharmacy, which is the only reason Harrison (or any of the other athletes) are admitting to usage. If there was a test that reliably detected HGH, that would be one thing, but there’s not. The only way to find users at this point is to find evidence of purchases, which is why Harrison’s squawking. This doesn’t change how I feel about the guy, to be honest, because if I didn’t like players who use HGH, I’d like about 20% of the league.

What will the loss of Richard Seymour for the first six weeks mean to the Patriots?

Travis Graham: When I first heard the news that they PUP’d him I was disappointed. After a few minutes of thinking about it, I actually feel good about this decision. Arguably, the deepest position on the team is the DL. It’s not like they need him right away. With the rotation of Green/Wright/Smith/Brown (and possibly Thomas) they shouldn’t have any trouble finding fresh legs to fill that hole. Having a fresh Seymour down the stretch will be a nice bonus, especially after what happened in Indy last year. I wonder if Seymour was close to coming back when he came into camp and Belichick told him to take his time with his knee and save his energy for this winter when they really need him… sort of like a Roger Clemens agreement.

Dan: I don’t want to underestimate Seymour’s absence. Six games is a significant portion of the season, and they have the Jets, Chargers, Bengals and Cowboys in those first six games. With the competition so tight for a playoff bye, those games are important. Since Harrison’s suspension was announced prior to Saturday’s decision to put Seymour on PUP, the team could have used that open roster space for Seymour and not need to make another roster move ’til Harrison came back in week five. So, does this mean Seymour’s injury is serious enough to require the full six weeks of recuperation?

Kevin Thomas: Of course, now the rumors are that it could be the entire season. It seems to me that the Patriots aren’t trigger-shy when it comes to IR’ing players, so my guess is their legitimate timetable for Seymour’s return is sometime between weeks 6-10. I don’t think they would go this route if there was only a small chance of Seymour returning at all this season. If they know that the earliest he could be back is, say mid-December, he would be on the IR now. I really don’t see an upside to playing games with the PUP/IR designations, unless Seymour’s health situation is so uncertain they really have no way of knowing when he might be ready. On the field, this one is going to hurt, I think, especially in the running game. The Chargers game will be a challenge, to say the least.

Bruce Allen: The Seymour absence definitely troubles me more than the Harrison one…perhaps because of the uncertainty surrounding the injury and surgery. The reports of some sort of infection following the surgery don’t sound good. While the Patriots have some nice depth on the line, Seymour is the keystone. Ty Warren got some well deserved recognition and praise last season, some even said he was their top lineman. It will be interesting to see how he does as the main focus on the line.

Bill: It’s a problem for me. Wilfork and Warren are very good, but they look better than they actually are because Seymour draws so much attention.

Scott Benson: I think there might be some merit to that thought. I wonder how the Pats will fare over a prolonged period with Seymour out. The closest comparison is a four game stretch he missed in 05, and they didn’t cover themselves in glory then.

Tim: As Bruce mentions, Warren is a young player and is seemingly getting better. I think they have experienced talent to spare here for 6 games, while they probably don’t at other positions. This preseason introduced us to LeKevin Smith and Kareen Brown to add to the stable of back-ups along the line. Jarvis Green has played Seymour’s position in some very big games that they won, including the playoffs. The line looks like it’s been built to withstand such absences since it is so vital to what the team does defensively.

Let’s take at look at Sunday’s game. What a way to start the season, with a road game against their top divisional rival. We’ll start with the Patriots offense vs. the Jets defense. What will you be looking for?

Greg Doyle: An emphasis on throwing. In contrast to many, I actually feel the Patriots will continue to try to be pretty balanced, on the whole, this year. But in this game, I think the Jets will have more trouble defending the pass than the run with the Patriots new weapons going against their mediocre secondary. It will be a week to week thing, I think, but this week look for more throwing than running.

Scott: 147, 146 and 158. That was the Patriots net rushing in three games with New York last season. Run the ball down their throats. Spread it out and get them all flying to the quarterback (as they did in Foxboro last fall), and then run it right past them.

Tim: Yup, lots of disguised blitzes with no set formation pre-snap so Brady isn’t allowed to recognize the formation and make the call. Last year the Patriots countered with the no-huddle and it worked out very well. I think the Patriots offense will put together some solid drives to complement the defense and make this one out of reach by the 4th quarter. I’m typically terrified of the Jets (irrationally) every year, but when I think back to 06 I feel more frustration than fright. They stole that game in Foxborough and, other than some fluke plays you won’t see again in a lifetime of watching games, the Patriots dominated them in the other two. It’s also noteworthy that no one outside the locker room has any idea how Moss will be used. No one. That can’t be an easy wild card to game plan against. I can’t wait to see how he’s used this week.

Travis: I’m curious to see how the Pats offense operates with all of their new weapons in place. We still haven’t seen what Moss and David Thomas can bring to the offense this year in a game situation. I agree with Scott that the Pats will try spreading out the receivers in no-huddle situations, which would set up Maroney for an occasional draw play (where he excels). I don’t know if Mangenius will trust the rookie CB Darrelle Revis enough to put him out there in only his third week in the NFL, but if he does, look for Brady to pick on him.

Bill: Running game is everything here. The Jets defense was the worst in football last year at stopping the run. They’ll be slightly better this year, but this is still a very weak front seven with no nose tackle of consequence. The Patriots can dominate this game by running the ball, and if they don’t, it will be a huge shocker.

Let’s flip it around. Pats defense vs. the Jets offense.

Kevin: It looks like Asante Samuel will play, which is key, because Pennington is a guy who will turn the ball over if you have a playmaker like Samuel out there. I am somewhat concerned about the safeties. The Pats gave up more than their share of big plays against the Jets last year. Sanders and whoever else they put back there need to be cognizant of that and not get burned on those big gains. That’s probably the only way the Jets win this game–I can’t see the Jets dominating this defense for 60 minutes. Cotchery is almost an Official Patriots Killer at this point of his young career. They absolutely must contain him.

Bill: Cotchery last year: three games, 16 catches, 291 yards, three touchdowns. A lot of that was due to weakness at linebacker and safety. This year, Adalius Thomas and Brandon Meriweather are there, and Eugene Wilson is here until he gets hurt again. They need to be able to handle Cotchery as a deep threat and as an underneath receiver playing off Laveraneus Coles.

Tim: Pennington has had his fair share of multiple interception games against this defense – my favorite being the infamous Kolber-Namath game. Samuel put the lights out on the playoff game with the interception that he returned for the TD. I am not worried about the Jets offense, unless they can find a way to run consistently against New England. That’s one of the reasons for the loss in Foxborough last year. With the bad field conditions Kevan Barlow looked like Jim Brown on two drives and their defense did a good job of confusing Brady the rest of the way.

Travis: Without Seymour and Harrison, the strength of this defense is the linebackers. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a group of linebackers this good in New England. Think about who they have: Bruschi, Vrabel, Thomas, Colvin and Seau. There could be four or more hall of famers in that group. That’s amazing. When the Pats had all four starting LBs healthy last year (10 games), they gave up 76ypg on the ground. When Seau broke his arm, in the remaining 9 games they gave up 121ypg. This year they’ll start out with five solid linebackers and the newest one is one of the best in the league. What does this mean for the Jets? Well, I think they’ll have difficulty running the ball especially if Tom Jones hasn’t regained all of his speed yet. The Pats will have to force Pennington to beat him with his arm strength. They’ll have to take away the short stuff that Pennington throws because when Chad tries to go deep it can be a horror show for the Jets. The Pats DBs should try to force the issue by playing close to the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped.

Scott: Tom Jones? I love that. “It’s not un-u-sual to be stuffed, on third and one…..”

Tim: While the swooning offensive line throws bouquets and soiled jockstraps at him.

Dan: You were kidding about the HoF, right, Travis? I think it’s even debatable whether this is the best linebacker grouping they’ve had. The 2003 and 2004 seasons, with Bruschi and Vrabel in their primes, a still-contributing Ted Johnson and Roman Phifer, Colvin coming on strong in the ’04-’05 playoffs, and a resurgent Willie McGinest, might trump this season’s. The wild card, of course, is Adalius Thomas. The collective age of the group, though, could turn a team strength into its biggest vulnerability.

Greg: I think the Jets will try to run and control the clock. They do have two good receivers though, so it would be dumb to not try to get the ball down the field with them. I think with Pennington you have to try to force him to throw it downfield from the pocket. He doesn’t have the arm to do it very well. He can hit the short stuff. He can hit a pass if he’s flushed a bit. But make him stand there and he can’t consistently. So I guess that would mean the gameplan is to take away the run early and force Pennington to throw from the pocket where he has many times made mistakes against the Pats.

Scott: I wonder if we underestimate their offense a little. Aside from the playoff loss last year, the Jets have been pretty close to the Pats in time of possession, total yards and most importantly, on the scoreboard. Whether its big plays or long drives, they seem to find a way to stay in these games.

Anything about the special teams matchup that stands out?

Travis: The Pats might be catching a huge break in this one if Justin Miller is unable to return kicks because of his hamstring injury. He can be a difference maker when he’s out there. The other question mark is how the Pats punter de jour will perform. I’m not too worried about this one, though. I don’t see the Pats giving up the ball much on Sunday.

Greg: I’m interested to see Wes Welker return kicks. We really didn’t get too good a look at that in preseason and they were trying different combinations out. I think Brad Seely is a really good special teams coach, so I’ll be interested to see how Welker flourishes under his coaching.

Let’s look at the coaching matchup. The Jets have clearly focused on one thing since last January – unseating the Patriots. How close are they getting?

Bill: They’re closer than they were last year, but not as close as they appear to be, if that makes any sense. The Jets were an incredibly lucky team defensively in a number of ways last year: missed field goals against them, recovering an inordinate number of fumbles, no defensive touchdowns against them, etc. They had a great draft for their needs and they’ve brought in more depth at defensive line, but they still don’t have the proper personnel for the 3-4. Offensively, Chad Pennington’s a good quarterback, but he’s not going to be the quarterback that takes the Jets to the Super Bowl. Kellen Clemens is, and it won’t be for another two years at the earliest.

Bruce: Mangini clearly tries any trick in the book to gain an edge, even if it is just trying to annoy the Patriots. Bringing in Caldwell, Elgin and Hawkins is just that…annoying. The players aren’t likely to give up anything that the Jets don’t already know. As far as Mangini approaching the level of his mentor, I thought this Football Outsiders Extra Point bit on Mangini as a coach was pretty interesting. If the things in there hold true, then we should wait a bit and see how Mangini does for a little while longer before putting him on the level of Belichick.

Tim: Part of you hopes that the challenge that Mangini presents to BB within the division is a good thing. Belichick was clearly upset about some of the things that Mangini has done during and since his transition to the Meadowlands, and he is very familiar with how Belichick runs a team. He’s a great foil to have within the division, but let’s remember the guy is in his early thirties with relatively limited experience in comparison to the Hooded Houdini. The Patriots have the superior coach and the superior talent. The Jets haven’t caught up. Also, Belichick is consumed with winning and football. Mangini likes those things, but in truth, he’s consumed by the smell of fried Ho’Ho’s and canadian bacon.

Dan: Jets fans lived through Herm Edwards, so to those poor heathens, Mangini must seem a God. I’ll say this: they’re very creative, on both offense and defense, so you can’t overlook them. I just don’t think Mangini can see the game the way Belichick does. And the Jets just don’t have the horses to unseat the Pats. But the gap is narrowing.

Scott: Close enough to be a pain in the ass. The Patriots took them in the playoffs, but those two games last year were the proverbial knothole games, meaning you get dragged through them. To me, the Jets don’t seem to do anything particularly well, yet there they are.

Okay, it’s time to nut up and lay a prediction out there. Conference runner-up New England on to road to open the season with the 2006 wild card Jets. Now…who drew the short straw?

Bruce: Patriots 17, Jets 13. At least a couple of weird plays along the way, as there usually are when these two teams meet up.

Dan: Just got around to watching the 2006 Colts “America’s Game” episode. Apparently, the Patriots tipped off to Peyton Manning the way to beat the Ravens by the way they beat the Jets. Great, just what we need! More pressure. So now that Manning’s monitoring Patriot games for strategy tips (Tony Dungy’s hugs can only carry a team so far), they’re gonna have to protect the family secrets until Manning changes the channel. Or they could just put him to sleep by running the ball, which is what they should do anyway. 24-13, Pats.

Tim: Patriots carry a 10 point lead for 3 quarters and put them away in the fourth. Mangini is bludgeoned by Patriots cheerleaders during a 3rd quarter TV timeout. The Jets coach, upset after a cheerleader gets too close to the sideline, starts verbally abusing intrepid choreographer Tracy Sormanti. Tracy, after several minutes of trying to rationalize with the (heavily buttered) Toast of NYC, silently signals to her three best dancers that there may be trouble. Within moments Dinna Yap and Sandra Smyly have Mangini subdued and they gesture to Jessica Wanzie that it’s time for the submission move that they’ve been practicing all offseason – the Flying Wanzie. Jessica doesn’t hesitate to climb section 100 and pounce like a sequined panther. A bloodied Mangini lies catatonic on the ground twitching while the paramedics race to his side. As he’s lifted into the stretcher he burps up something that smells like apple butter, scrapple, maple syrup, and goose fish.

Bill: They’ll be fine. Patriots 23, Jets 9.

Scott: As I said earlier: knothole. Pats prevail, 21-19, but the whole affair turns out to be rather unpleasant.