Season Preview: New England Patriots

Sports Mole previews the new season for the New England Patriots and considers what they might achieve.

The New England Patriots are always one of the favourites for the Super Bowl, and 2013 will likely be no different in that respect. They have had the murder case surrounding Aaron Hernandez to deal with, but on the pitch everything has been going well.

Comfortable AFC East winners in 2012, the Patriots perhaps disappointingly lost in the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens. However, with seven Pro Bowlers in their 2012 team their 10th consecutive 12-win season came as little surprise.

Bill Belichick has been in charge of the franchise since 2000, in which time he has overseen five AFC championship wins and three Super Bowls. However, there has been plenty of reshuffling in playing personnel so any success the Patriots have will depend on how the new squad can perform together.

Head Coach: Bill Belichick

Last season: 7-9

Review: The Patriots' aim is always to outscore the opposition, so last season's 34-13 opening-day win over the Tennessee Titans gave plenty of encouragement for the season to come. However, they were surprisingly beaten in week two by the Arizona Cardinals 20-18 and suffered almost unheard of consecutive defeats with a 31-30 reverse against Baltimore Ravens.

The response to this early patch of poor form was impressive. AFC East rivals Buffalo Bills were on the receiving end of a 52-28 win, but the Patriots were edged out once more soon after - this time the Seattle Seahawks 24-23. However, they were not beaten again until week 15 and ended with a 12-4 record.

The Patriots breezed past the Houston Texans in the divisional playoffs, before falling one step short of the Super Bowl after losing out to eventual winners Baltimore Ravens. They will be expected to be there or thereabouts once more in 2013.

Notable ins

Danny Amendola: A lot rests on the shoulders of Amendola, with the departure of Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos. He arrived from the St Louis Rams with age on his side and has been impressing in pre-season in Tom Brady's offense.

LeGarrette Blount: Another area that was in need of improvement for the Patriots was at running back. LeGarrette Blount did not see a great deal of action last season at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and might well see minutes limited with the Patiots. But he will provide solid backup to Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley.

Notable Outs

Danny Woodhead: Woodhead left the Patriots for the San Diego Chargers following three seasons as a very able backup. While this departure does not necessarily weaken the Patriots' running game, it will mean that Brady must introduce a new set of players to it.

Wes Welker: The wide receiver has been a key part of the Patriots' offense since 2007, but with him now into his 30s the franchise felt that they could let him go. He averaged 11.5 yards per carry last season, his second-highest since being at the club, so despite his age his departure does represent a gamble.

Key Player Offense: Tom Brady

Key Player Defense: Jerod Mayo

Rookie to watch: Aaron Dobson

Pre-season form: 3-1

Prediction: 11-5. Even with Brady pulling the strings for another year, the Patriots do not seem as strong. The replacements for players who have departed, on paper at least, will need time to gel. Pre-season results have been good, albeit the victories narrow, and there could start to be a slight closure in the gap between the Patriots and everyone else in the AFC East. That said, they will still aim for the Super Bowl, but might well fall short once more.

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New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on December 2, 2012
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