None of these things change the fact that the Patriots are likely candidates to win the Super Bowl in the Meadowlands next year. While plenty of Broncos, Seahawks, Falcons, and 49ers fans will have something to say about it, the Patriots have more than enough weapons to win their first Super Bowl since defeating Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid in 2005.
Yeah, it's been a while.
Nobody knows that more than Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, whose legacies won't be considered complete until a fourth ring is added to their collection.
Considering Brady has missed the playoffs just once since taking over for Drew Bledsoe back in 2001, Patriots fans have every reason to think next year, that evasive fourth Lombardi Trophy will finally be paraded through the streets of Boston.
Here's just five of them.
The Patriots put up 13 points in their AFC Championship loss to the Ravens. Their 2012 regular season average: 34.8 points per game.
They put up 17 points against the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. Their 2011 season average: 32.1.
Gronkowski didn't play in the Ravens game, and caught only two passes for 26 yards in the Super Bowl.
If he's 100 percent for the entirety of the 2014 postseason, Tom Brady just might have a dependable receiver to throw to that doesn't drop the ball with the game on the line (normally I'd add a hyperlink, but I know that Patriots fans won't bother watching Welker's mishaps).
Given the current roster, Gronkowski will be the first one opposing defenses will look to combat when Brady drops back, leaving the likes of Aaron Hernandez, Danny Amendola, and rookie Aaron Dobson all the more open tor one of the most accurate passers in league history.
Without Gronkowski, the Patriots are prone to getting stifled by Super Bowl-winning defenses. We've learned that the hard way.
With Gronkowski, their offense opens up, moving them that much closer to the Lombardi Trophy.
The Patriots had three key players to re-sign this offseason, and Aqib Talib was one of them. With Talib, New England's headache of a secondary wasn't quite as painful to watch.
That is, until the AFC Championship Game, when the injury bug bit again.
After Talib went down, it was just like old times, and all Patriots fans could feel was helplessness as they watched Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin play keep-away from the Pats cornerbacks and safeties in the second half.
Luckily, he'll be back next year, along with veterans like every turkey's worst nightmare Vince Wilfork, dance-celebration aficionado Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington, who will serve as an asset as long as he stays in the slot.
Add sophomores Alfonzo Dennard, Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones playing with a year's worth of experience under their belts, and the team will have all the pieces in place to finally consider themselves a defense worthy of a Lombardi Trophy.
While winning the AFC East time and time again is nice, the divisional competition the Patriots faced last year, or lack thereof, hardly prepped them for the playoffs.
While I had as much fun on Thanksgiving as the next guy—as long as the next guy isn't a Jets fan—the Patriots still found themselves playing down against divisional opponents that went 19-39 last season to go along with one of the easiest schedules in the league.
Next season, the Miami Dolphins will actually provide good competition after signing offensive weapons for Ryan Tannehill like Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller and Brandon Gibson, while holding on to their best receiver last year, Brian Hartline.
The Patriots are still heavy favorites to capture yet another AFC East crown, but the Dolphins could at least make it interesting.
When the Patriots make the playoffs next year, they'll have done so by actually beating teams that are also worthy of a postseason berth instead of waltzing in like they normally do.
The Patriots don't have the best receiving corps. They don't have the best running back. Plenty could argue that they don't have the best quarterback.
None of that matters.
What matters is that they have the best combination in the league of those three elements to go along with an established offensive line.
Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick don't hurt their cause, either.
The Patriots led the league in both yards and points by more than a modest margin in 2012. Their 2013 personnel hints at similar results.
With the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson and a couple of new signings that may or may not make the team next year, Tom Brady will have his fair share of options when he drops back.
Of course, health is the biggest concern with this group. Gronkowski, Hernandez and Amendola all found themselves sidelined for a large portion of the 2012 season.
That said, in the 32 combined games they did play last season, they totaled 1,939 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns.
Imagine what they could combine for if they each played a full season (and postseason) in 2013.
Stevan Ridley catapulted New England's run game from 20th in the league in 2011 to 7th in the league in 2012. Just 24 years old, he has much of his career still ahead of him.
His 12 touchdowns and 1,263 rushing yards last season added another dimension to the offense: a dimension opposing defenses will continue to struggle against come September.
If he's able to stay out of harm's way, something he wasn't able to do against the Ravens, he'll be the x-factor in the playoffs next year in controlling the game for Bill Belichick.
A supporting cast of Shane Vereen, Leon Washington, and (possbily) bargain-buy LeGarrette Blount will be around as well to make sure Ridley isn't being overworked.
I mentioned before that the Patriots had three key players to re-sign this offseason. Sebastian Vollmer was one of them. With that signing, the Pats held on to their core group of starting offensive lineman from last season. Their role in 2013 will be key in the Patriots' path to a Super Bowl.
The Patriots simply aren't the Patriots without them.
The most dominant coach-quarterback combo in the history of the NFL, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been through a lot throughout the course of their time together in New England.
The Foxboro faithful were pleased when Brady signed a modest contract extension earlier in the offseason to ensure that he'd retire a Patriot.
They were also reminded that he's that much closer to retirement.
Now entering the final stretch of their time together, the duo will be all the more determined to bring back the glory they brought to Foxboro shortly after Belichick chose Brady to lead the team instead Drew Bledsoe over a decade ago.
With Brady signing the extension to ensure that his team would remain competitive as the twilight of his career approaches, and Belichick, well, being the same old Belichick, the duo are poised to lead the rest of the New England Patriots into the Meadowlands next year and finish the job.
I can't think of a better place to do so.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com