I have a confession to make: There was a period early in this offseason where I actually considered picking the Miami Dolphins to overtake the New England Patriots for the first time since 2008 and win this division. As Pats fans are acutely aware, 2008 was the year Bernard Pollard submarined Tom Brady‘s leg in Week 1 and the Matt Cassel-led squad still just narrowly missed a playoff berth with 11 wins.
After exhaling from all the free agency hype, Aaron Hernandez scandal and Rob Gronkowski surgery, a clearer perspective showed that New England still has the most well-rounded roster and superb coaching in the AFC East. Instead of making a “wow” pick, my money remains on the steady back of this perennial first-place finisher.
New England has long prided itself on an air-raid offense since the 16-0 season yet this will continue to shift towards a more balanced attack in 2013 given the loss of about 80 percent of the team’s receiving production from last season. This might not be an entirely terrible thing with this punishing offensive line, boasting one of the league’s most underrated bookends in Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. Quite arguably the best line in the NFL and the best young backfield tandem in Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.
This defense boasts young talent that could finally gel into a stingy unit in 2013, especially with Bill Belichick calling the shots. Chandler Jones brought critical edge presence last year until he suffered injuries, while the secondary jumped a few notches after moving Devin McCourty to free safety and bringing CB Aqib Talib in via trade.
This hopefully sets up for a throwback AFC title showdown with Peyton Manning.
Predicted Regular Season Record: 12-4 (1st in AFC East)
Predicted Finish: Loss in AFC championship at Denver Broncos