Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 2/20/12
The New England Patriots had a great year, or was it just a good year? Afterall, any team that makes it the Super Bowl is considered a good year, but I guarantee Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are not happy. Why you say? Because they didn't win. These are two of the most competitive guy's you'll ever meet, and believe me - they are not satisfied.
 
Lets face it - it has been 8 years since the New England Patriots have won a Super Bowl. Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick, and the rest of the New England organization, along with all the New England Patriots' fans must have been left with an emptiness and despair after this year's Super Bowl. Losing to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, 17 - 14 in 2008, after going to an almost perfect season (winning all sixteen regular season games, and 2 Playoff games), then losing to the New York Giants again, 21 – 17, in this year's Super Bowl, has got to be heartbreaking to say the least.
 
As I said before these guys are competitive, and with preparations for the upcoming 2012 season beginning march 13th, The New England Patriots, and Bill Belichick have little time to mourn their loss. They are already looking forward, and not looking back.
 
Despite losing in the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots still have a good team, and still should be competitive in the upcoming year. They should still be one of the top teams in the league, with many of their key players returning, and could still make a deep Playoff run. We'll take a look at some of the key components, and players of the upcoming year.
 
  • Tom Brady – What can you say about Tom Brady, that hasn’t already been said before? He is among the elite quarterbacks in the league, and is a proven winner time and time again. He had his best campaign statistically this year with 401 completions for 5235 yards, 39 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 105.2. Look for the status quo with Tom Brad,y who will have another good year.
  • Wes Welker – Wes Welker had his best year yet, with 122 receptions and 1,569 yards, 9 touchdowns, and a 12.9 average per catch. Sadly though, the pass that he dropped in the Super Bowl will be the one he'll be remembered for. This is a tragedy considering he's had over 110 catches in 4 out of the 5 years he's been a New England Patriot. Wes Welker is a free agent this year, and will be, rightfully so, looking for a big contract. Whether or not he'll get it is another issue. They also could put the franchise tag on him, but somehow look for the New England Patriots to keep Wes Welker and for him to have another consistent year. He is too valuable to give up.
  • Tight Ends – Both tight ends Rob Gronkowski (90 receptions, for 1327 yards, and 17 touchdowns) and Aaron Hernandez (79 receptions, for 910 yards, and 7 touchdowns) had breakout years this year. Gronkowski's 17 touchdowns were the most by any tight end in NFL history. Unfortunately he got hurt in the AFC Championship against the Baltimore Ravens, and was a non-factor in the Super Bowl. These two guys were a double tandem nightmare for opposing teams, and will continue to do so in the upcoming year.
  • Running Backs – The New England Patriots' three main running backs consisting of Benjarvus Green-Ellis (667 yards, and 11 touchdowns), Stevan Ridley (441 yards, and one touchdown), and Danny Woodhead (357 yards, and one touchdown) combined for 1,465 rushing yards in the 2011 season. With the New England Patriots chiefly being a passing team (as evident by the stats), the running game took a back seat. The New England Patriots tend to spread the wealth when it comes to their running attack, relying on everybody rather than one or two guys. Any one of these guys could potentially be a 1,000-yard rusher, if given consistent play. The biggest question in 2012 is Green-Ellis, who is a free agent this year. He was clearly their workhorse and best running back. The New England Patriots are unlikely to keep him if another team offers him more money, but luckily, with Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead, The New England Patriots shouldn’t miss a beat at the running back position.
  • Defensive line – The defensive line had a pretty good year and were 17thin the league against the run, led by big Vince Wilfork, and Jerod Mayo. Andre Carter was a great free agent acquisition last year, and had a great campaign plus was tied with Mark Anderson for the most sacks on the team with 10. Anderson was also a new edition in 2011. Both of these guys are free agents this year. The New England Patriots need to sign these two guys, in order for the defense to keep pressure on opposing quarterbacks, help out their weak secondary, and to help stop the run. Overall with the signing of these two guys, the New England Patriots' defensive line should have another pretty solid year.
  • The New England Patriots' Secondary – This is where the New England Patriots need the most help. At the end of the 2010 season Bill Belichick completely overhauled the New England Patriots' secondary. Pretty much getting rid of everybody and starting all over. You really have to question this move, while they were pretty bad, the secondary wasn’t any better this year, finishing 31stin the league against the pass, with an 8.0 yards average per pass play. They are a pretty inexperienced bunch with no player in the league more than five years. They did get better towards the end of the year, but with another year of experience under their belts, they should be better in 2012. Antwaun Molden and James Ihedigbo are both free agents this year, and were new editions to the team in 2011. Both of these guys should get signed and should contribute in 2012, if Bill Belichick decides to keep them.
  • The Offensive Line – The offensive line did its job, with the numbers Tom Brady put up, how could you say they didn’t? The only issues this year are Dan Connolly, and Dan Koppen, who are both free agents. Dan Connolly has proven himself a versatile player who can start in three positions on the offensive line, including center which will all but assure his return for 2012. Dan Koppen missed almost the whole season with a broken ankle and whether he stays with the New England Patriots or signs with another team will not hurt them all that much.
  • Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco – Deion Branch,  while welcomed back ny most New England Patriots fans in 2010, had a relatively quiet year and is up for free agency. Clearly he has not had the Impact that many thought he would have, and will most likely not be in a New England Patriots uniform next year. Many New England Patriot fans were excited to see an explosive wide receiver like Chad Ochocinco come to New England. Afterall, a long-ball threat would be a perfect fit for Tom Brady, right? Wrong! He has been anything but. I think the New England Patriot fans were looking for the next Randy Moss, what they got was a dud. The New England Patriots are stuck with Chad Ochocinco for now, but if he doesn’t start producing look for New England to release him within the next year.
  • Special Teams – Stephen Gostkowski had another solid year, converting 28 of 33 field goal attempts. Look for the New England Patriots to re-sign Tracy White, a 10-year player that was in almost every play on special teams, and also contributed on defense in 2011. Julian Edelman ran back a punt return for a touchdown in 2011, but Danny Woodhead and Wes Welker are also capable of breaking one wide open.
 
Overall the New England Patriots still have a solid team, and should make some noise in 2012, as always. As long as they have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady they will compete - but still not winning a Super Bowl since 2004 has to be eating away at them, and could shake their confidence. The biggest question is still the secondary, which still has some issues, and overall their biggest concern. If the defensive line can continue to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and stay healthy, this should help the secondary, and The New England Patriots will be a Super Bowl contender once more.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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