Will the Patriots remain AFC title contenders in 2013?
According to multiple sources familiar with the situation, tight end Rob Gronkowski has been battling a stubborn infection in the area around where a second metal plate was installed to repair his broken left forearm and his readiness for the season is in jeopardy.
Doctors treating Gronkowski will have to go back into the arm again to remove the plate and install a new one, but if they find more infected tissue, they would be unable to install the plate at that time. That would require another surgical procedure after the tissue around the injury is clear of infection and, sources confirmed, that would not give Gronkowski the required 10 weeks healing time to be ready for the season opener in September.
For as unfortunate as this is regarding Gronkowski's talent and impact, Tom Brady and Co. will find a way to keep rolling should the star player end up briefly sidelined.
There is a bright side to this, which allows the New England Patriots to prepare for the worst during every offseason workout. In addition, that will only enhance their readiness when training camp and the preseason kick off.
The Patriots can look to slam the rock more up front, because the ground game did rank No. 7 last season and averaged 4.2 yards per carry. Despite Danny Woodhead's departure to the San Diego Chargers (via Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com) in free agency, the trio of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden are capable of punching the gut of any defense.
The more New England establishes a physical presence in the trenches, the fewer blitzes will be drawn up to attack Brady. Plus, it helps set up a much more effective play-action pass.
Brady still has the versatile Aaron Hernandez to rely on, because he accounted for 483 yards on 51 receptions last season. The addition of Danny Amendola, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, simply maintains the threat of accumulating yards after the catch quite relevant.
As for the team the Patriots are putting together, much attention naturally will be placed on receiver Danny Amendola, the club's top choice to replace [Wes] Welker.
"He's been very productive -- on the inside, on the outside," Belichick said, adding that Amendola's time with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in 2011 contributed to the philosophy that he would be a good fit in New England.
Amendola definitely presents the threat of splitting Cover 2 zones and winning versus man-to-man. In accounting for 689 yards in 2010 and 666 yards last season, Amendola's numbers were not indicative of his impact.
The St. Louis Rams are not a pass-oriented team compared to New England, and the NFC West features much better defenses as well. Amendola's contributions will certainly get inflated in New England, because he won't be isolated with Hernandez drawing attention and the rushing attack putting another defender in the box.
How will New England's 2013 regular season finish?
With a favorable list of opponents outside the AFC East versus weak defenses such as the entire NFC South and vulnerable pass defenses in the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos, New England will continue to move the rock at a solid rate.
Per usual, the Pats' overall offensive output will come down to Brady's efficiency.
Gronkowski's ability is certainly a competitive advantage when he's on the field, but we've seen Brady thwart defenses numerous times with a varied set of receiving options. Add in the running game's impact, and New England will keep producing with Brady conducting the orchestra.