AFC EAST: New England Patriots
The New England Patriots had a pretty difficult offseason. Injuries, surgeries, arrests, more surgeries, more arrests, and more surgeries. As every fan knows, outside of Danny Amendola, New England has big question marks in the WR corps. Wes Welker wears orange and blue now, and Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch are still free agents. In addition to that, Gronk may not be ready to go by the start of the season. With Hernandez facing heaps of legal trouble and jail time, the starting tight ends on week 1 could be Jake Ballard and Michael Hoomanawanui.
With all the negatives out of the way, let’s look at the positives. The Patriots defense will be far better this season than they have been in several years. New England will return all the starting linebackers from last season (easily the strongest part of the defense last season). The Pats added Tommy Kelly to play next to big Vince on the defensive line.
Nov 11, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty (32) intercepts the pass intended for Buffalo Bills wide receiver T.J. Graham (11) (not pictured) during the last seconds of play at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Bills 37-31. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Adrian Wilson adds to a secondary that started to find a groove last season. Devin McCourty is one of the top free safeties in the AFC, and now he has a big hitting strong safety (who’s the size of a LB) to stay in the box. If Alfonzo Dennard clears this potential DUI issue, then he and Aqib Talib will lead a secondary that could win a lot of games for the New England Patriots.
Another area of improvement is running back. Ridley had a great season in his first year as a starter, and I expect Shane Vereen to be a huge part of this offense. Vereen may even play wide receiver at times this season. He is probably the most versatile offensive player the Patriots have, and I think Vereen will have a big year. Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount round out a deep stable of running backs.
The AFC East is one of the weaker divisions in the NFL. I can’t see Miami, Buffalo, or New York winning more than 9 games. The fact of the matter is that Tom Brady will always give you a chance to win. If he can manage to produce with a brand-new offense, then the rest is up to the defense, which is a lot better than most people think.