The New England Patriots compiled the best regular season record in the league last year at 14-2, had an offense that averaged 32.4 points a game, and fielded a bend but do not break defense that gave up less than 20 points a game. Unfortunately it was all for naught after a 28-21 loss to the AFC East rival Jets in the Divisional Round of the playoffs prematurely ended their season.
Shortly after the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, the odds makers instilled the Patriots as the odds-on-favorite to win the AFC this season and make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since losing to the Giants in 2008. With no significant personnel losses from last year’s roster along with a healthy and motivated Tom Brady, it is hard to argue against their chances to not only get back to the big game, but to add a fourth world title to their resume.
In typical Bill Belichick fashion, New England was not content to rest on its laurels once this year’s free agency market finally opened for business. As part of his ongoing reclamation project, he added WR Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson, who wore out his welcome in Cincinnati along with DT Albert Haynesworth, who was never really welcomed in Washington in an effort to hopefully squeeze enough production from these two former superstars to make it worth the baggage they bring. Once again, Belichick puts himself and the team in a no-lose situation by taking a chance that 31 other coaches turned a blind eye to. If these two guys perform anywhere close to their potential, it could end up being the difference between winning and losing another title.
The Patriots’ offense was ranked eighth in total yards, 11th in passing yards and ninth in rushing, but led the league in the most important category; points. Tom Brady turned in an MVP performance with 3,900 passing yards and 36 touchdown passes, while completing 65.9 percent of his throws for an overall quarterback rating of 111.0. Once again he is surrounded by a number of targets such as WR’s Wes Welker and Deion Branch, and should be able to pick up where he left off once the regular season gets underway in a road game against Miami on Sept.12.
The one kink in the armor last year was a defense that had a tendency to give up yards in bunches, especially against the pass where it was ranked 30th in the NFL. Belichick used a second round draft pick to select DB Ras-I Dowling to add some depth as a cover corner, but do not be surprised if another free agent CB or two find their way on to this roster to further address this issue. If the Patriots should fall short of their goal of winning another Super Bowl, it will be most likely be traced back to this side of the ball.
The biggest challenge for New England this season will be in its own division as it will have to fight off the upstart Jets, who continue to close the gap with some bold personnel moves of their own. New York Head Coach Rex Ryan has painted a bull’s eye on the chest of this team in a budding rivalry that will come to a head in Week 5 in Foxborough and again on Nov.13 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. The two could easily meet again in the postseason for the ultimate showdown between two teams that are really starting to dislike one another.
2011 Prediction: 12-4 and first in the AFC East
DJ is a freelance writer that concentrates on his true passion in life; the world of sports. He produces a number of articles each week for BangTheBook.com as well as a select group of other websites that specialize in providing the most up-to-date information for the sports gaming industry. His goal is to write insightful articles on a wide variety of sporting topics that can provide an edge to today's sophisticated online player.