The New England Patriots, a team that was narrowly defeated by the New York Giants in last year’s Super Bowl, refused to stand pat this offseason. Instead, the team reloaded and improved themselves on both sides of the ball.
The one, and quite possibly only, weakness in the Patriots' passing game last season was their lack of a true big-play receiver. The team’s top two receivers were Wes Welker and Deion Branch, who were both highly reliable and valuable, but lacked the ability to stretch the field.
At a bargain, the Patriots were able to snag free-agent receiver Brandon Lloyd, who just two seasons ago led the entire NFL in receiving yards.
Having Lloyd as their No. 2 receiver is a major upgrade from last year’s No. 2 wideout Branch, who failed to make the roster this season.
The Patriots defense was an atrocity last season. The defense surrendered more yards to their opponents than any team besides the Packers last season, and their play was cringeworthy for most of the year.
The team made a major effort to address their defense in the offseason by drafting talented pass-rusher Chandler Jones and NFL-ready linebacker Dont’a Hightower in the first round of the NFL draft.
The Patriots defense was filled with young, inexperienced players last season, and another year in the team’s system should equate to an improved unit.
Obviously and most importantly, the team still has Tom Brady. The NFL has turned into a passing league dominated by elite quarterbacks. Luckily for the Patriots, they have arguably the league’s best quarterback coming off a season in which he threw for over 5,000 yards and just under 40 touchdowns.
The Patriots will play six games against the Jets, Bills and Dolphins this season. The quarterbacks of those three teams are Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Tannehill. Remember how I said the NFL’s become a passing league? Well, for some reason, excluding the Patriots, the rest of the AFC East hasn’t figured that out yet.
For some strange reason, the Patriots have the league’s easiest schedule based on their opponents' winning percentage last season. I don’t know how a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance can be awarded a schedule filled with cupcake opponents, but regardless, it happened.
The Patriots have a distinct advantage over every NFC team to once again make it to the Super Bowl because they play in an inferior conference. Besides the NFC West, each NFC division is filled with three teams with a legitimate shot at making a deep playoff run. One could argue that besides the AFC North, no AFC division has more than one team capable of reaching the Super Bowl.
Unless Tom Brady suffers a season-ending injury, there is a zero percent chance that the Patriots don’t win the AFC East. That immediately gives them a one-in-six shot at reaching the Super Bowl.
Based on the team’s easy schedule, the chances are very high that they will accumulate an impressive win-loss record and receive a first-round bye. This gives them a one-in-four shot at making the Super Bowl.
The chances are very good that they will receive home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, giving them an even greater chance of winning their playoff games.
Based on the talent on their roster and a favorable schedule, the New England Patriots have to be considered the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.