Last season, all the New England Patriots and their fans heard about was Peyton Manning and the new-look Denver Broncos. Wes Welker left New England in the offseason to join Tom Brady‘s nemesis with the hopes of winning a Super Bowl title. The two teams split games last year, with Brady leading his team to a memorable comeback win, while Manning stole the show during the AFC Championship game, unraveling the Patriots’ defense.
Once again, we are just weeks from a new NFL season. Players for each team signed extensions, joined new rosters, or were traded away, but one thing remains certain–the Broncos will once again be a force in the conference, leaving the Patriots with the task of dethroning the sitting AFC Champions.
Calling Denver a threat is not exactly a bold statement to make. After all, they were in last year’s Super Bowl, and despite the embarrassment they experienced in MetLife Stadium, they were one of the most consistent teams during the regular season. Of course, it’s a new year and a new beginning for every team, including the Patriots.
Offensively, the Patriots have stacked themselves with talent. Last season, offensive struggles were the neverending story for Brady, who couldn’t seem to find a consistent and reliable target. This year, we will see the return of Rob Gronkowski from a torn ACL. Gronkowski is no doubt one of the best tight ends in the league, but if anything else, he is a morale-booster for the team and their fans. Having him back, whether it be in Week 1 or Week 4, will most certainly energize both parties.
Defensively, the Patriots have also revamped. Training camp has only just begun, but it may not be too early to say this team could have one of the best defenses in the league, or at least the most improved. Vince Wilfork, who was lost for nearly the entire 2013 season due to an Achilles injury, is back for New England, and he is bringing some top-notch talent with him.
Darrelle Revis joined New England in the offseason, and he was once considered to be the best cornerback in the entire NFL. He was not the force last year that the league expected to see, but playing under Bill Belichick may help him find his old ways. He will be sharing cornerback duties with fellow Pro Bowler Brandon Browner, who came to New England just weeks after winning the Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks. These two could spell trouble for the opposition, especially Denver, which lost talent in the offseason.
Wide receiver Eric Decker had a career year with the Broncos and was one of Manning’s favorite targets. Knowing his value, however, Decker opted to move on from Denver, signing with the New York Jets for nearly $37 million. Decker, who was responsible for 11 of the 76 touchdowns scored on the season, may not be a Pro Bowler, but will be sorely missed come Week 1.
Both of these teams are strong, and there is no doubt that Denver poses a legitimate threat to New England. On paper, the Patriots have the better roster, but Manning will certainly be out to prove his worth after what happened in the Super Bowl. It is said nearly every year, but with both he and Brady getting closer to the end of their careers, this may be one of the last times fans and media alike will be able to pit the two against each other.
Brady owns the better supporting cast, but Manning has proven time and time again that he should never be underestimated. My hope is that my expectations do not far exceed reality.