4 Reasons the New England Patriots Are Good Enough to Go 16-0 in 2012
It was a perfect storm.
Randy Moss sprung back to life and had a season no one had seen before. Bill Belichick dealt second and seventh-round draft picks for a scrappy receiver named Wes Welker. On defense, they signed arguably the best free agent on the market, linebacker Adalius Thomas.
All the moves panned out amazingly for the year, and the team fired on all cylinders, coming together to have the greatest regular season in the history of the National Football League.
They have done it once, could they do it again?
Here is a look at some of the biggest reasons the 2012 New England Patriots have a fighting chance at chasing perfection once again.
The 2011 Patriots made the Super Bowl despite having to play with the worst defense they have had in the Bill Belichick era. The 2012 team will look to win with help from it.
Belichick and the front office made a conscious effort to greatly improve the defense, specifically the front seven this offseason. In free agency the team was quiet, acquiring lower-tier starter-quality defensive ends Jonathan Fanene and Trevor Scott, as well as safety Steven Gregory.
April was where they truly made their mark on the future of their defense. All but one selection was spent on defense in the draft, and the team added key players in aggressive fashion.
The Patriots traded up for two first-round picks, defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower. The team also picked up DE Jake Bequette, S Tavon Wilson and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, all who could be in the mix for immediate playing time on defense.
Although he was on the roster last season, this is essentially like a rookie season for CB Ras-I Dowling who missed most of last season with a hip injury after being a starter in each of his first two career games. His presence on the field, if he can remain healthy, will be a big boost for the secondary.
The ’12 Patriots on paper look to be more athletic and more solid on defense.
The depth between the 2011 and 2012 defense looks like it is incomparable, and that is a great sign for Patriot fans.
Brady Has the Best Set of Weapons He’s Ever Had
The 2007 and 2012 teams have a major thing in common, both teams came out of the offseason ridiculously improved at the receiver position. Life for Tom Brady could be as easy as it has been since the ’07 season.
Last year, the Patriots featured Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, and Tiquan Underwood as their outside receivers. With two of them already gone and Branch in a fight for snaps, this years offense could be radically different from a personnel standpoint.
Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Lloyd and former Patriot (2006-2008) Jabar Gaffney both took their talents to Foxboro this offseason. Gaffney, coming off a career season with Washington last year, paired with Lloyd, who has been enormously successful with McDaniels in Denver and St. Louis, could make Tom Brady a happy man.
Another former Pat Donté Stallworth also returned to New England, and could be in the mix as well. His ability to make plays after the catch was his trademark his first go-around in New England, it will be interesting to see if he still has that ability when the Patriots take the field in camp and the preseason.
Brady will no longer throw up a ball and hope Ochocinco or Underwood will be there. He can now throw passes with confidence, knowing his receivers are 100 percent on the same page.
When you throw these wide receivers into an offense that already had two of the best, most dangerous tight ends in the league, it makes things just plain scary for opposing defensive coordinators.
Running Game Will Be More Dynamic
Fans loved Benjarvus Green-Ellis. The Law Firm found a place in the hearts of New England faithful very quickly. At the end of the day though, he had little to no playmaking ability.
Green-Ellis averaged a measly 3.7 yards per carry in 2011, and his longest run of the season went for just 18 yards.
Luckily for the 2012 team, they have Stevan Ridley stepping in, who rushed for all five of their runs of 20+ yards last season while playing in a reserve role.
Ridley averaged a very impressive 5.1 yards per carry in his rookie campaign, though the season ended on a sour note for him. Ridley fumbled in both the team’s regular season finale and their Wild Card win over the Broncos. The media is blowing this a little out of proportion though, mostly because they are used to watching Green-Ellis, who has been in unheard-of territory, never fumbling on any of the 537 touches in his career.
The team’s other second-year back, Shane Vereen, will also look to make a big mark on the field this year after playing very sparingly as a rookie. Vereen looks to be the favorite to serve as the team’s back in spread formations right now, despite having to fight against veterans Danny Woodhead and Joseph Addai.
Vereen has a 4.49 40-yard dash speed that could make him a special player who could hit some home runs for the team out of the backfield.
The Ridley/Vereen combo could be the most dynamic backfield the Patriots have had in a very long time.
A team that just went to the Super Bowl is not supposed to get the easiest schedule in the league, but that’s exactly how it worked out for this year’s Patriots. The Patriots opponents had a combined winning percentage of .453 last season.
The Patriots also play in a division where they have the luxury of being the favored team in all six of their meetings with Buffalo, Miami and the Jets. The Bills have made strides with bookend pass rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, but have not yet done enough to leapfrog the Patriots in the AFC East.
All three of those teams have defenses that could cause potential problems for the potent New England attack. The two game home stand in December vs. Houston and San Francisco could play an especially big role in deciding once and for all what kind of record the 2012 Patriots will have.