During the opening stages of free agency there have been few teams as active as the New England Patriots, and again on Saturday afternoon they flexed their financial muscle by re-signing Julian Edelman. Bringing back the 27-year-old gives Tom Brady a consistent target and cements the Patriots’ status as the team to beat in the AFC.
There is no secret in what Edelman is going to bring, as he is Wes Welker 2.0 in that he returns punts, lines up as a slot receiver and has as great of hands as anyone in the world. In 2013 Edelman picked up a career-high 105 passes, 1,056 receiving yards, six receiving touchdowns and averaged 10.7 yards per return as the Patriots’ primary punt returner. Edelman was New England’s most consistent pass catcher last season, and the return of Rob Gronkowski will allow him more room to operate during the 2014 season which will help pad his statistical output.
For the Patriots as a team, there is no doubting that bringing back a familiar face to quarterback Tom Brady will only be a plus. After all, New England ranked tenth in passing yards, ninth in rushing yards and second in points per game last year despite having a seemingly random cast of characters on the field, so there is no telling what they can do with a familiar bunch in 2014. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say they will score 30.0 points per game, which is scary considering the defensive core the Patriots have.
That defensive core has been stabilized during the offseason by the signing of lockdown corner pair Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, who will go a long way towards rectifying a defense that ranked 18th in passing yards and tenth in points per game allowed in 2013. While the Patriots still have work to do on the defensive line, it will be much easier to stick in guys to stuff teams that have no choice but to run because of the lockdown group of defensive backs. It seems a near lock that the Patriots will be the best defensive team in a AFC that isn’t loaded with shutdown units.
When one considers that the Patriots now have arguably the best offense and defense in all of the AFC right now, it is hard to see how they aren’t the favorites to advance to the Super Bowl. Add onto the team-wide talent the tactical genius of Bill Belichick, and you have a team that has as good a chance to lift the Lombardi Trophy as any in the NFL.