The New England Patriots have won 10 of the last 12 AFC East titles, appearing in five Super Bowls and winning three of them in that time span. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are arguably the most successful coach/quarterback combo of all-time, and their achievements over the last 12 years have been incredible.
However, there are concerns in New England this season. Brady will be throwing to a cast of wide receivers that is either extremely injury-prone (Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola) or very inexperienced (everybody else). However, the offensive line and running backs are very solid, and with Brady at the helm the Pats should continue to be an elite offense.
Defensively, the team improved as the season went on, and their much maligned secondary began to have respectable play. The defense will have to continue to improve, because the offense may not be able to score 40 points every game to bail them out. Young talents such as Chandler Jones and Aqib Talib should continue to grow, and the defense will lean heavily on them, as well as stars Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.
Despite the concerns, there is almost no scenario in which Brady is healthy and the Patriots don’t win the AFC East. They are significantly better than the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, and although the Miami Dolphins are much improved, they are not ready to hang with the Patriots just yet. There is a very real chance the Pats go undefeated in the division this season, although the Dolphins could prevent that.
Outside the division, however, the Pats will have some tough contests. They must play Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens on the road, and the Denver Broncos will pay a Thanksgiving weekend visit to Foxboro. Throw in games with the Cincinnati Bengals and New Orleans Saints, and it is clear the Patriots will be tested consistently throughout the season.
I project the Patriots to finish with a 12-4 record, because it will be very difficult for them to run through that gauntlet unscathed. One of the reasons I project the Patriots to drop a few of these games is health, as there is a good chance that Brady will be without his top weapons for at least one or two of these key matchups. If Gronk and Amendola play 16 games and the defense improves significantly then the results could change, but best case scenarios tend to not be the most likely ones.
Beyond that, the Patriots shouldn’t have any trouble winning the division, meaning they will be in position to be cautious with injured players and possibly to rest starters. They know the regular season is a means to an end, and for that reason they will not take unnecessary risks.
Expect the Patriots to cruise to the division title and be in contention for a playoff bye. As long as Belichick and Brady are there the Patriots will be successful, and that will not change in 2013.