Sunday, August 21, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: New England Patriots

Last year, the Patriots tore through most of their competition in the regular season, only losing to the Browns and Jets on the road. However, when the Jets got a second shot to beat the Pats in Foxborough, they backed up their talk and shocked the NFL world. Now, the Pats are on a mission to win the Super Bowl after a 6+ year absence. They are very good, but are they good enough?

What's New: They made 2 trades this offseason that shocked a good number of people. The first one was for disgruntled DT Albert Haynesworth from Washington, and despite his attitude, he should fit well into the new 3-4 scheme the Patriots want to employ this season. With Vince Wilfork also disrupting the middle of opposing offensive lines, Haynesworth may be able to regain his 2008 form. They also traded for WR Chad Ochocinco from the Bengals, who can experience a renaissance of sorts with Tom Brady throwing to him. With Wes Welker and Deion Branch, the Patriots can find a dynamic trio of wideouts now, along with their abundance of Tight Ends. They also picked up T Nate Solder in the draft from Colorado, and also picked up LB Andre Carter from Washington, DE/DT Shaun Ellis and SS James Ihedigbo from the division rival Jets. They addressed almost every major and minor need this offseason in both the draft and free agency.

Biggest Strength: Of course, Tom Brady is still one of the NFL's best QB's, and he was able to squeeze 14 wins out of the offense last year, sans a major wideout player like the newly acquired Ochocinco. With him now in the fray, plus the Tight Ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, they have possibly the most dynamic passing game in the NFL. The running game is not amazing, but they have an abundance of backs to use for whatever they want to use them for. The offensive line got a nice upgrade in rookie Nate Solder, but the only issue is that he may start quicker than the Patriots want to. On defense, the additions they made were very helpful to all facets of the unit. They have an impressive defense line, good group of starting linebackers, and an impressive secondary. They are basically stacked at every position on their team.

Biggest Weakness: There really isn't a major weakness on this team, and there really wasn't one last year either. If you have to nitpick this team, their offensive line has a rookie starting on it. But, the rest of the line is very good, and has some of the best players in the NFL. The linebacking corps has a depth issue, but it's not a major problem to deal with.  They are one of the few teams that have few or no major question marks, and it's also amazing how well they have looked in the preseason.

Outlook: The Patriots may be the true super bowl favorite for this season. They have few weaknesses, and they are a regular season juggernaut. The problem this season for New England may very well be getting over the playoff hump. They haven't won a playoff game since the loss in Super Bowl XLII, and that mental block has proven that it exists. But if they can get over it, there may be nothing stopping them this season.

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