NFL Season Preview: The New England Patriots Are In The Mix Yearly
The more things change in Foxborough, the more things remain the same. Although the Patriots often have tons of roster turnover every offseason, the core of QB Tom Brady, most of the same players along the offensive line, WR Wes Welker and DT Vince Wilfork has been uniform for years. Until now. The Patriots once again entered into acrimonious negotiations with Welker, early in 2013, as they had done following the 2011 season into early 2012, in hopes of working out a long-term deal. It is rumored that the Patriots had no intentions of extending Welker long-term, as he had begun to show signs of slippage. To their credit, they may have actually had a stroke of luck by landing mercurial (but oft-injured) slot receiver Danny Amendola to replace Welker. When healthy, Amendola can be every bit as dynamic as Welker, if not speedier and overall faster. But for a player who has had major injuries the past two seasons, Amendola seems more like a risk, than the “guaranteed” reward that is Welker on the field.
However, the Patriots know how their bread is buttered. It is Tom Brady’s facilitation of the offense, and it revolves around a rotation of running backs (Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and two shrewd acquisitions in Leon Washington and LeGarrette Blount). Additionally, the Patriots love to feature double TE sets in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. The latter’s health has been a constant issue over the past year, and his readiness for the 2013 season is in question, although he is expected to be prepared to contribute for nearly all of the season, if not by Week 1. The Patriots have had great slot receiver play, but they have struck out whenever they have drafted or signed a WR in free agency, save for Randy Moss. They are hoping that Josh Boyce breaks that trend, as he will work with veterans Julian Edelman, Amendola, Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins.
Chandler Jones tailed off a bit at the end of his rookie year (rookie wall?) but Vince Wilfork is still the biggest and best anchor in the NFL. The Patriots need it. There has been massive shifting behind him at both the LB and DB level, and the Patriots need stability, as their pass defense continues to betray them in the playoffs. Despite fielding players like LB Brandon Spikes, LB/DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Donta Hightower, the back seven has not produced cohesively in the past two seasons. The Patriots must get consistent play from CB Aqib Talib and CB/S Devin McCourty. CB Kyle Arrington remains, but S Patrick Chung left via free agency to Philadelphia. The Patriots are also counting on the veteran leadership and ability of SS Adrian Wilson. It remains to be seen how much the three rookies from Rutgers (CB Logan Ryan, S Duron Harmon, and CB/S Brandon Jones) will contribute, but at least one of them will likely be counted on heavily in 2013, if not all three, given how Belichick utilizes his entire roster annually. Regarldess once again the New England Patriots will be in the mix come playoff time, and will have as good a chance as any team to get to the Super Bowl.
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