The regular season has not been the problem for the New England Patriots, however that regular season success has not carried over into the playoffs. New England’s 28-21 home loss to rival New York in the Divisional Round made it their third consecutive playoff loss and second opening round loss in 2 years. In fact, the Patriots have not won a game sincethe 2007 AFC Championship game before losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. During those 3 years, the Patriots compiled a 35-13 record, one of the top marks in the NFL. In 2011, New England hopes a host of new players can restore their playoff dominance and help them return to the Super Bowl.
Quarterback Tom Brady returns to the helm of the offense coming off of a remarkable season that saw him toss 36 touchdowns with only 4 picks, mostly without Randy Moss. Over the course of the year Brady threw 335 passes without an interception, a new league record. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Kevin Faulk return to man the running back position with company from a couple of rookies. New England drafted Shane Vereen out of California in the second round and Stevan Ridley from LSU in the third to infuse some youth at the position. Wes Welker is in his second year off of a torn ACL suffered late in 2009 and should bounce back after an understandably difficult 2010. Deion Branch returned to the team via trade in the middle of the year, but failed to break 50 catches. Coming over from Cincinatti via trade is the always entertaining Chad Ochocinco. Ochocinco butted heads often with the Bengals coaching staff and management. They finally decided enough was enough and dealt him to New England for a relatively low draft pick considering his talent. If he can regain his old form, Ochocinco could provide Brady with his best downfield target since Randy Moss. The Patriots also boast one of the best tight end tandems in the league with the young duo of second year players Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The offensive line will likely be improved with a full year from Logan Mankins who held out the maximum allotted time in 2010.
The Patriots made many more splashes on defense, particularly the defensive line. Looking to show more 4-3 alignment this season, New England needed more big bodies up front. Bill Bellicheck sent a 5th round pick to Washington for much maligned defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. A motivated Hayneswoth with Vince Wilfork will give them a pair of mammoth disrupters in the middle. Joining those two in the trenches will be former Jet Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter. With the new acquisitions many teams will struggle with containing the New England’s revamped defensive line. The linebacking corps is solid with stud Jerod Mayo, Brandon Siler, and Rob Ninkovich. Manning the cornerback positions are Devin McCourty, coming off a very impressive rookie season, and Leigh Bodden. Patrick Chung and Brandon Meriweather round out the defensive backfield at the safety positions.
The Patriots will always be Super Bowl contenders as long as they are led by MVP candidate Tom Brady, and fortunately he is in command again this year. Brady could have an even more talented array of weapons to work with this year. If the newly acquired players on defense work out, the Patriots will be in very good shape. Regardless the offense is prepared to compete in shootouts if necessary. The Patriots will be challenged by Rex Ryan and the Jets, but look for them to take the division crown anyway.