Patriots had a successful offensive season in 2012. The Patriots led the NFL with 557 points in 2012, the second most in team history and the third most in NFL history. The Patriots offense finished first with 427.9 yards per game. The 2012 Patriots’ defense finished second in the NFL with 41 forced turnovers (20 interceptions and 21 forced fumbles). Yet the team would consider the season a failure because they did not win a Super Bowl. For the Patriots, it is always about a Super Bowl victory.
Steven Ridley- the Patriots has lived and died on the arm of Tom Brady, this season might change due to a new receiving group with Welker and Lloyd gone. Gronkowski is most likely beginning the season on the PUP list and Hernandez was released because he’ll be facing suspensions and/or jail time. The receiving corps is completely disarrayed with free agent defections, combined with injuries and off-field turmoil. The Patriots might have to reshape themselves as a run-oriented offense with the emergence of Ridley who rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns in his second season.
Secondary- The Patriots have been rebuilding the secondary over the past three seasons but have struggled. Key draft picks Patrick Chung and Ras-I Dowling have struggled with injuries. Chung is no longer on the team. But when safety free agent signing Steve Gregory returned from injury and the team traded for Aqib Talib things started to change.
They moved Pro Bowl cornerback Devin McCourty to safety where he flourished and rookie Alfonzo Dennard came along at cornerback. After struggling early the pass defense became solid and the defense finally became the strength of the team. There is no reason why this unit cannot succeed. The Patriots have to be better in stopping the pass. They were 29th in the NFL in pass defense. The Patriots signed SS Adrian Wilson and drafted both Logan Ryan (Rutgers) and S Duron Harmon (Rutgers) in the third round. Overall, the Patriots defense has ranked 25th, 31st and 25th in the last three seasons. This unit may be the big reason why New England can’t win the big one and cannot rely entirely on Tom Brady; they need their defense to stop opponents.
Offensive line- Continuity is a key for offensive line play, and with all five starters from 2012 under contract for 2013, this group projects to perform at a high level once again in 2013. The unit is underrated and has allowed the fifth fewest sacks last season. Dante Scarnecchia gets a lot of credit for coaching these group players. Scarnecchia is an incredible coach. Every team needs some talent on the line (Solder, Mankins, and Vollmer) but it is impressive for guys like Wendell and Donald Thomas and Connoly being able to perform at elite levels despite their lack of pure talent.
Tight Ends and Welker- Rob Gronkowski is most likely to begin the season on the injury report list as he recovers from offseason back surgery. Rob Gronkowski is still not 100 percent healthy and one must wonder if Gronkowski is still recovering from a broken arm that required several surgeries.
Aaron Hernandez has been charged with murder and is looking at potential serious jail time. Because of this, the Patriots wisely released Hernandez. Gronkowski and Hernandez have both been integral parts of the Patriots’ offense since they were drafted in 2010. Needless to say, losing them for any portion of the 2013 season would create a huge void.
Defensive Line- Vince Wilfork is an all-pro at the nose tackle and defensive tackle depending on the Patriot’s scheme. The team has gone through a lot of change on the defensive line. They have released Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love, Ron Brace and Myron Pryor. The Patriots signed Tommy Kelly in the free agency and will clearly be leaned on. Clearly the defensive front is going through some changes right now and that could hurt their chances for a consistent defense with familiarity.
Distraction- I question the signing of Tim Tebow when the team already has a solid back up in Ryan Mallet. Tebow will be a distraction for this team once the training camp starts no matter how creative Josh Daniels wants to be with Tebow. They are questions about Gronkowski health and the release/legal issue with Hernandez. I expect the team to have a season long distraction within the clubhouse. This could derail the team’s season.