After Tumultuous Offseason, New England Patriots Are No Longer AFC Favorites
The Patriots formed a dynasty in Tom Brady’s early years by winning three championships in four years, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in 2001, 2003 and 2004. Brady has played 12 seasons in the NFL. However, one of his seasons lasted a mere game after tearing his ACL in Week 1 in 2008. So, excluding the 2008 season in which Brady tore his ACL, he has won 10 AFC East division titles in 11 years under center.
And yet, the Miami Dolphins are given a realistic chance to win the division in 2013.
Sure, the Dolphins added weaponry to their offensive arsenal by signing Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller. The Fins’ also added Super Bowl champion Dennell Ellebrbe and cornerback Brent Grimes to their defensive unit. However, the Dolphins are not being given a genuine chance to win the AFC East because of their offseason additions, but rather because of the unusual tumultuous offseason of the Patriots.
Wes Welker left the Patriots via free agency. The Patriots also declined to bring back Brandon Lloyd. Neither of these subtractions is expected to deter success in the Patriots’ offensive schemes, given the free agent signing of Danny Amendola. Nonetheless, major question marks surround the tight end position.
Rob Gronkowski has endured six surgeries since February of 2012, going under the knife recently for his back. His recovery is expected to keep him out the first two weeks of the 2013 season. Aaron Hernandez, meanwhile, is caught up in a murder investigation that appears gloomy for the star tight end. The Patriots may have to prepare with life without Hernandez, who had disconcerting pre-draft files in 2010.
With Danny Woodhead signing with the San Diego Chargers, the Patriots could open the upcoming season without their top five pass-catchers from a season ago.
Ready for the challenge, Brady? In an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King over the summer, Brady declared he feels “better than ever” throwing the football. Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, will be tested on a weekly basis with a lack of quality receivers.
The Patriots’ offense may have declined over the off-season, but the defense appears to have made significant strides. With the re-signing of cornerback Aqib Talib and the signing Adrian Wilson, the Patriots have shored up their much-maligned secondary. By signing Tommy Kelly, the Patriots have finally found another pass rusher to partner with the ferocious Vince Wilfork.
The Patriots should still be given the edge over the Dolphins to win the AFC East. But as of now, the Denver Broncos are considered the team to beat in the conference, not the Patriots.
The Broncos will feature a loaded wide receiving cast, consisting of Demaryrius Thomas, Eric Decker and free agent signee Wes Welker. With Peyton Manning leading the charge, the Broncos are poised for greatness on the offensive side of the ball.
The Broncos defense should improve after signing defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They have a dynamic offense and an improving defense, making them the favorites to represent the AFC in the 2013 Super Bowl at Met Life Stadium in New York.
The Patriots may not be entering the season as the conference-favorites, but how will the four-time defending AFC champs fare in 2013?
The defense has improved, which was particularly strong during their titles years, yet their offense is likely to dip in terms of production from recent years. The Patriots may not be the “sexy” pick for the 2013 season, but until Brady and/or Bill Belichick retires, I am not counting New England out of championship contention and will give them the edge to win the AFC East.