Why Patriots Are Deserving of Being Odds-on Favorite to Win AFC in 2012
This notion echoed throughout New England year in and year out rings true once again on the brink of the 2012 season. However, this offseason is filled with a supporting cast of reasons why the reigning AFC Champions will successfully defend their title in 2012.
Strength of Schedule
Using opponents' 2011 win percentages as a measuring stick, the Patriots have the easiest schedule in 2012, according to ESPN.com.
Though this measurement is inherently flawed knowing that a team from 2011 could look completely different in 2012 (see: Buffalo Bills sign sack-artist Mario Williams), this season does appear to be particularly easy for the Patriots.
A couple of tough opponents that stand out are the defensively-stout Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers, but both of those games will be played at Gillette Stadium, a hard place to beat the Patriots for any team.
As it stands right now, the only games I can see the Patriots not having the edge in are the AFC Championship rematch on the road against the Baltimore Ravens or perhaps their first encounter with the Bills' new-look defense in Orchard Park.
However you slice it, I don't envision the Pats losing more than four games in 2012.
What will factor into the Pats winning the AFC the most?
I'm penciling them in for another first-round playoff bye.
With the last three Super Bowl victors all representing the NFC, it's no secret that the AFC is not nearly as strong as it was in the early 2000s.
The Patriots may be the lone juggernaut in the AFC, with their nearest equals being the now Terrell Suggs-less Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots have come out on top the last two times the teams have met, so I like their chances in a potential playoff rematch.
More Offensive Power
With Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez dominating between the numbers, Brandon Lloyd should find himself in single coverage on the outside more often than not, instantly upgrading the Patriots' vertical passing game.
Sprinkle in sure-handed receiver Jabar Gaffney, shifty-footed Danny Woodhead and talented youngsters Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and you have perhaps the most stacked offense in Patriots history.
It wasn't a dream.
The Patriots really did move up twice in the first-round for two defensive players.
And they got two extremely gifted athletes. Dont'a Hightower may be the most NFL-ready defensive player out of the draft, playing all over the field in Nick Saban's pro-style defense at Alabama, and Chandler Jones, with his freakishly long arms and explosive first step, has as much upside as any defender in the NFL.
They didn't stop there either. The Pats went on to draft four more defensive players, including former Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year Alfonzo Dennard.
Throw in the return of highly-touted 2011 second-rounder Ras-I Dowling and wily veterans Trevor Scott and Jonathan Fanene, and this squad looks infinitely more talented, physical and versatile than a season ago.
AFC Champs Again?
With an all-around improved team, there's no reason to think that the Patriots won't once again declare themselves as the AFC's finest in 2012.
Heck, they might just prove to be the best team in all of football.
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