Five Reasons the New England Patriots Are Still the Class of the AFC East
For over a decade, the Patriots have been the class of the AFC East.
Unfortunately for the rest of the division, this year will be no different.
Even though they boasted a top five offense, the unit may actually be better due to the addition of Brandon Lloyd and the development of their two young running backs.
The biggest boost came for a historically bad defense as New England upgraded extensively through the draft and free agency.
Let's take a look at the five reasons the Patriots remain atop the division.
Any AFC East debate begins and ends with Tom Brady. The seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time Super Bowl champion is head and shoulders above any of the three starting quarterbacks in the division.
Besides putting up gaudy numbers, including 39 touchdowns and a career-high 5,235 yards, Brady dealt with the pressure of having to score on every drive because of a porous defense and fostered the quick development of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Patriots fans are spoiled; just ask any Dolphins, Bills or Jets fans what it’s like to have a mediocre quarterback. While Brady exudes confidence, doesn’t make mistakes and has pinpoint accuracy, the rest of the AFC East quarterbacks come up short.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a nice story, but he demonstrated that he’s closer to Matt Cassel than Brady. The former Harvard star started the season on a tear, posting a 14:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio during the Bills’ 5-2 start. However, the second half of the season was a complete letdown as Fitzpatrick tossed 16 interceptions and only 10 touchdowns.
Down south, the Dolphins finally made a bold move by selecting Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill with the eighth overall selection. A former wide receiver, Tannehill showed flashes in 19 games as a starting quarterback, but he needs a few years to develop. Thrusting him into action early in his career isn’t the recipe to beat the Patriots.
In the Meadowlands, the Tim Tebow/Mark Sanchez battle of the most inaccurate passers wages on. Sanchez is in a make-or-break year, and Tebow may just end up taking over for the former fifth overall pick. Whatever quarterback wins the starting job, he’ll be on the losing end against Brady.
At 60 years old, Bill Belichick has spent over half his life (37 years to be exact) coaching in the NFL. The NFL’s second-longest tenured coach has been remarkably consistent during his time in New England despite free agency, retirements and some draft busts.
The man in the hoodie seemed to have lost his mojo that earned him the title as a defensive genius, yet he still had his team within a few plays of grasping a Super Bowl title. You may not like his style, but the man knows and loves football.
While the Patriots boast consistency and longevity at the coaching position, the rest of the division can’t compete. Rex Ryan talks a big game, but he’s had to put his foot in his mouth when it comes to delivering Super Bowls.
Chan Gailey is a great offensive mind, but his 28-38 record as an NFL coach won’t scare any Patriots fans.
Miami has gone through head coaches like Kim Kardashian goes through athletes. During the time Belichick has been coaching in New England, Miami has had seven coaches and a single playoff win. In the meantime, all Belichick has done is win 16 playoff games and three championships.
For years, Patriots fans have clamored for play-makers. In return, Bill Belichick traded down and opted for quantity over quality.
Then came the 2012 draft.
Armed with two first-round picks, the Patriots traded up twice in the first round to secure two decorated defensive play-makers to bolster an underwhelming front seven.
With the 21st pick, New England selected their pass-rusher of the future in Chandler Jones of Syracuse. The 6'5" defensive end is expected to become the Patriots' new Willie McGinest, and with solid bloodlines and a tremendous work ethic, Jones seems poised to become a star.
After another trade, the Patriots landed Dont'a Hightower, the leader of college football's best defense. The 6'2", 265-pounder brings a unique blend of toughness, versatility and athleticism and figures to be utilized all over the defense.
In free agency, New England made two shrewd moves in signing safety Steve Gregory and defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene. Though not flashy, both players have significant starting experience for playoff-caliber teams and are true professionals. Gregory should help shore up a young secondary while Fanene can provide a solid interior pass rush.
Along with the addition of second-round safety Tavon Wilson and pass-rusher Trevor Scott, the New England defense should look a whole lot different in 2012.
For Patriots fans, that will be a welcomed sight.
A Wealth of Skill Players
It's hard to criticize an offense that puts up 34.2 points per game.
Yet, after another playoff run that exposed New England's lack of a vertical threat, it seems the league's second-best offense can be stopped.
After the Giants limited the Patriots to half of their scoring average, it became clear the team needed a legitimate outside receiver to stretch the defense.
By signing Brandon Lloyd to a team-friendly deal, that hole is gone.
The 10-year veteran had a nondescript career before he exploded for 1,448 yards in 2010 while playing for Josh McDaniels in Denver. In 15 games between Denver and St. Louis last year, Lloyd posted a solid line of 70/966/5.
Blessed with incredible hands and body control, Lloyd should be an excellent fit in New England's high-powered offense and gives Tom Brady his best deep threat since Randy Moss.
Beyond the addition of Lloyd, New England added veteran tight end Daniel Fells to round out a tight end group that already boasts the league's best duo in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
The additions of Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney give New England two veterans with experience playing with Brady and foster competition at the wide receiver position.
Combined with the development of second-year running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, this team has a full arsenal of weapons around Brady.
Like the Celtics, the Patriots don't have the best athletes, but they do have players who are familiar with being on the big stage.
Although last year ended in heartbreak for Patriot Nation, the Super Bowl was a chance for some of New England's young up-and-comers to play in the spotlight.
Look no further than Sterling Moore.
The hybrid cornerback/safety broke up what should have been a game-winning touchdown pass to Lee Evans, paving the way for New England's Super Bowl berth.
Along with guys like Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Gronkowski and Hernandez, last season was a critical learning experience. The core of New England's squad learned to play under pressure and showed resolve throughout the season.
Meanwhile, the Jets, Bills and Dolphins watched the playoffs from home.
Who knows, maybe Tim Tebow learned a thing or two in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for him, the Patriots are still the master.
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