New England Patriots

First glance: It’s hard to look at New England and say they might not make the postseason, as they always seem to find a way to get the job done, regardless of injuries or depth issues at key positions.

Much of that is due to having an outstanding head coach, but the real key lies with quarterback Tom Brady, who consistently pushes himself and his team to be better when it matters most. As he goes, so go the Patriots this year.

2009 Record: 10-7 (1st AFC East)

Key Additions: WR Torry Holt, TE Alge Crumpler, C Eric Ghiaciuc, DE/DT Damione Lewis, NT Gerard Warren, DE/OLB Marques Murrell

Key Losses: TE Ben Watson, TE Chris Baker, DE/DT Jarvis Green, DE/OLB Adalius Thomas, CB Shawn Springs

Draft Picks: CB Devin McCourty, TE Rob Gronkowski, DE/OLB Jermaine Cunningham, ILB Brandon Spikes, WR Taylor Price, TE Aaron Hernandez, P Zoltan Mesko, C Ted Larsen, OT Thomas Welch, DL Brandon Deaderick, DL Kade Weston, QB Zac Robinson

Analysis: After suffering a disappointing defeat at home in the playoffs against Baltimore, the Patriots are headed into the 2010 campaign determined to get back to the upper echelon of teams, and make another deep run into the postseason. Obviously that looks great in print and will undoubtedly be a motivating factor for the team this year, but the reality could be a bit different, depending on how well their defense is able to play this season.

Last year was trying for New England defensively, as they consistently allowed opposing teams to gash them for big chunks of real estate en route to putting up big numbers on the scoreboard, and while the new acquisitions this year should help in that regard, the Patriots are going to need a much better effort this year to right the ship so to speak.

But all of that is of little importance when compared to keeping Brady healthy and productive this year, as I mentioned above. Brady is the foundation of the team and if he were to go down, there is little doubt that the Patriots would go with him. It’s not just a matter of leadership either, although that definitely plays a major part, but it’s rather that behind Brady, New England has no one of any significant talent, and the system is not enough any more to keep them in the thick of the race in the highly competitive AFC East.

Like usual, the Patriots will rely heavily on their young players acquired through the draft, none more so than cornerback Devin McCourty, who should be a starter from day one, and has quickly ingrained himself with the team thanks in large part to his dedication and work ethic. McCourty has the skill to be a lock down corner and if he can consistently play up to his potential week in and week out, the Patriots defense will be better as a result.

Exorcising linebacker Adalius Thomas from the fold was overdue, as he clearly was not a fit any longer, having angered head coach Bill Belichick one too many times. That said, his ability on the field when healthy is undeniable, and from a depth perspective, he will be missed.

The coaching staff led by Belichick will once again be one of the best groups in the business, as they consistently have the team prepared to play at a high level. Much of that is due to Belichick’s insane work ethic, keeping him in front of the TV screen watching and breaking down game film on that week’s opponent.

In the long run, the Patriots may have some difficulty in overcoming the challenges presented within their own division, as both the Jets and the Dolphins have stacked their team with talent across the board, especially if injuries once again take their toll on New England.

But as mentioned before, it’s next to impossible to count out the Patriots when it comes to any post-season discussion, and it would not be surprising in the slightest to see them make yet another deep run into the playoffs.

2010 Projection: 9-7 (3rd AFC East)


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