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Are the New England Patriots still AFC contenders?

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The Patriots will return for preseason in three weeks. (©GettyImages)
The Patriots will return for preseason in three weeks. (©GettyImages).

The New England Patriots have had a very eventful off-season and despite their best efforts will probably not be successful in avoiding the media circus set to ensue in Boston when training camp begins in three weeks. 

They have had a number of personnel changes and Tom Brady, at 36, faces an uphill battle as other teams in the AFC East look to take advantage of the situation. We break down reasons for optimism and concern with the Patriots this season.

Reasons for optimism

Brady & Belichick 

Brady has managed to win super bowls in the past without quality receviers and there is no reason to doubt why he couldn’t do it again. If Brady can stay at the top of his game then the Patriots will always have a chance to win despite their lack of elite receivers.

The running game 

The Patriots finally have an efficient rushing attack. They were seventh in rushing last year and have some solid backs in Steven Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden. 

They have all shown flashes of brilliance and should take some pressure off Brady especially in third-down situations. They have also added LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington to the mix, and don’t forget Tim Tebow is a very efficient running the ball too.

AFC East 

They play in one of the weakest divisions in the NFL and despite the upgrades Miami and Buffalo have made, it is still the Patriots division to take. The Bills and Jets have their own issues, and despite the acquisitions made by the Dolphins in the off-season they are still going to struggle to challenge the Patriots divisional supremacy.

The Rookies  

The Patriots have added some very interesting rookies on both sides of the field, and them combined with the two first-round picks (Chandler Jones and Donte’ Hightower) from last year should improve the team, especially on defence.

Causes for concern 

Turnover at receivers 

With the loss of Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Aaron Hernandez and injuries to Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots have a bunch of rookies and castoff vets to catch the balls from Brady. Danny Amendola is the only legitimate primary receiver on the roster, and that is not good for the Patriots pass heavy offence.

Distractions 

The ‘Patriot Way’ has been to maintain media silence with respect to team affairs but that will be impossible to sustain this year after the Tebow acquisition and Hernandez’s murder trial.

AFC elites have upgraded 

The rest of the AFC heavyweights have gotten stronger since last season. The Texans have signed Ed Reed and will have Brian Cushing back, which will make their defence more potent. The Broncos on the other hand have signed Welker, who was the Patriots most productive receiver over the last five years, to their already loaded offence.


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Topics:
NFL
Tom Brady
New England Patriots
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