2011 Record: 13-3 (1st, AFC East, L in Super Bowl)
Projected 2012 Record: 13-3 (1st, AFC East)
Key Arrivals: TE Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Jake Ballard, TE Bo Scaife, RB Joseph Addai, WR Jabar Gaffney, LB Bobby Carpenter, WR Donte Stallworth (Cut), OG Robert Gallery, WR Brandon Lloyd, WR Anthony Gonzales, DE Johnathan Fanene
Key departures: Cut TE Bo Scaife, RB Joseph Addai, Cut WR Chad Ochocinco, Cut WR Anthony Gonzalez, OLT Matt Light, UFA RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, March 21 (to Bengals); UFA DE Mark Anderson, March 21 (to Bills).
The Patriots are coming off another disappointing loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl (how often can you say that?), but most of the team they put together for their run last season are still around. The biggest blows to the team are the losses of DE Mark Anderson, who went to divisional rival, the Buffalo Bills, and RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who went to Cincinnati. Aside from that, the Patriots are returning essentially the same squad. Stephen Riley fills the ever rotating void at running back, and while they used him a lot in the preseason, don’t expect a lot out of him come the regular season. This is still Tom Brady’s show, and it will continue to be until Belicheck pulls the plug (as Brady stated a few weeks ago). The Patriots have added several tight ends in Visanthe Schiancoe and Jake Ballard to go with Gronkowski and Hernandez, literally bulking up their receiving core.
This will make the Patriots even harder to defend than before. Schiancoe was a solid TE with Minnesota, even with QBs like Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerrote throwing his way. He had his two most productive years with Brett Favre (2009, 2010), gaining 1096 yards, and 13 TDs, and now has another elite, future Hall of Fame QB in Tom Brady.
The defense has a lot of room for improvement….a lot. Ranked 31st in passing defense (294 yards allowed), and 17th against the run, they also lost Mark Anderson, their breakout DE. The Patriots still have the big man, Vince Wilfork, who’s effect doesn’t necessarily show up in the form of sacks. Wilfork is an imposing force that takes up 2 linemen, all the time. As long as he anchors this defensive line, the Patriots can get some pressure up front. The secondary has a lot more to prove, but as long as they can keep the turnovers up, New England will be okay.
Are you noticing a pattern here? With these teams in the Top 5? Are you noticing how most of them have elite quarterbacks? That’s going to change with our final entry next week.