The New England Patriots lost a large portion of their offensive production over the course of this offseason and the team dealt with questions of how they would replace Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead.
How will the Patriots deal with that? Will their AFC East supremacy come to an end? Is a team like the Miami Dolphins ready to overtake them?
These are all questions that New England has likely heard this offseason but it has been the usual approach from the team led by Bill Belichick that has helped quell some of those thoughts.
Tom Brady has looked excellent during the time he has played in the team's two preseason games—both victories. Brady has completed 18-of-20 passes for 172 yards with two touchdowns.
Finding new targets like Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld, Brady hasn't looked at all like a player missing his old receivers. In fact, he looks as good as ever.
Amendola will be the key to the passing game, but if he can stay healthy, he can be every bit as productive as Welker was in the same role. Though Welker had over 100 catches in a season five times in New England, he had just 96 catches total in two years with Miami.
At 6'7", Sudfeld is quickly emerging as a great replacement for Gronkowski. He moves well for a player of his size and provides a big target for Brady to look for in the red zone.
Another player that has risen up is Thompkins. Like Sudfeld, Thompkins was undrafted out of Cincinnati and has stepped up in training camp, assuring the team that they have depth at the receiver position.
Hernandez may end up being the toughest player to replace, but the team does have Shane Vereen who has shown the ability to be a threat in the running and receiving game. He could very well be a tough matchup for opposing defenses.
So while all the talk has been about how the Patriots will replace these weapons in their passing game, it may be their running game they lean on most to establish a balanced attack and move the chains.
Through two preseason games, the Patriots have been incredibly effective running the ball, regardless of who they hand it off to. On 58 carries, the team is averaging 6.6 yards per carry.
Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount appear to be a very good one-two punch and with Vereen in the mix, the team will be very dangerous offensively.
In 2001, 2002 and 2004, the years the team won the Super Bowl, they had a similar recipe for success. Players such as Troy Brown, David Patten and David Givens caught passes from Brady in those years.
None of those players were drafted before the seventh round, and though they did have Deion Branch on the roster, a former second-round selection, he never experienced anywhere near the level of success in Seattle that he had in New England.
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What does this mean? It means the Patriots are just fine. It means that no matter who Brady is throwing the ball to, the team won't suffer. It means that the team can win with players who aren't necessarily superstars. After all, they never won a Super Bowl with Welker or any of the players they lost this offseason, for that matter.
The outlook for the Patriots in 2013 is bright. In fact, they may even be better offensively now than they were last year.
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