Posted by Josh Katzowitz
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The Patriots were probably the best team in football last season, compiling a 14-2 record before surprisingly losing to the Jets in the second round of the playoffs. Let’s see what New England had: Outstanding QB, check. Pretty good running game, check. A good enough offensive line and wide receiving corps, yes. A rock-solid defense, um, no.
The team had its problems on defense – which is talented but oh so young – but the wizardry of Brady who knows coach Bill Belichick’s system so well overcame most of those defensive hiccups. The Patriots haven’t had a losing season this century, so whatever constructive criticism that follows in this piece doesn’t suggest that the Patriots suddenly will struggle to win games. With Belichick, that simply doesn’t happen very often (unless, ahem, he’s donning the headset in Cleveland).
Recent unsuccessful playoff runs
A ridiculous statistic for you: the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game since the 2007 AFC championship game. That’s right, since that undefeated New England squad lost the Super Bowl to the Giants, the Ravens in the 2009 playoffs and the Jets in 2010 – all three of those were considered upsets, as well.
Doesn’t matter that New England has an annual chokehold on the AFC East (though New York is beginning to threaten that dominance), the Patriots can’t get anywhere in the playoffs. They haven’t won a Super Bowl in six years. So, what’s the problem?
1. Wide Receiver
Getting rid of Randy Moss probably was the right call for New England, but when the Patriots sent him away, they also lost their downfield threat. You might argue that Moss’ skills are in decline – and the Titans would DEFINITELY say that – but he’s still quite a long-ball receiver. Wes Welker is one of the best slot receivers in the game, Deion Branch had a nice comeback year and New England’s young tight ends are really solid. But a Moss-like receiver would be welcome.
2. More DL depth
Mike Wright and Ron Brace missed a combined nine regular-season games last season before injuries forced them to the Injured Reserve lists while Ty Warren missed the entire year, and a trio of rookies (two of whom were undrafted) were forced to step in and replace them. What the Patriots need in this year’s draft is a pass rusher off the edge, and since they have a plethora of draft picks, they could certainly try to trade up and find one. Wright, with 5.5 sacks, was the team leader, and following behind him were LBs Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich. They need some help on the DL, though newly-signed Marcus Stroud could certainly ease some of that burden.
3. Better secondary play
Devin McCourtey had a strong rookie season, leading the team with seven interceptions and Leigh Bodden – who missed all of last year – will be a definite upgrade over Kyle Arrington. Pat Chung is solid at the SS spot, but FS Brandon Meriweather wasn’t very good last season (how he made the Pro Bowl is baffling). It would not be a surprise if New England tries to replace him.
The Patriots obviously have some corrections that need to be made. But this franchise has been the best – and most feared – in the NFL since Belichick took over (though Rex Ryan absolutely will NOT kiss his rings), and he doesn’t hesitate to get rid of loyal Patriots who he feels can’t help them anymore (I’m looking at you Richard Seymour, Adam Vinatieri, et al). The Patriots will continue to battle with the Jets for AFC East dominance, but like usual, New England will be a preseason favorite to win the Super Bowl.
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