Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 1/9/13

FOXBORO, MA - NOVERMBER 21: Deion Branch of the New England Patriots reacts after teammate in the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on November 21, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
The 2011 Patriots nearly won the Super Bowl. By simple reasoning, that means that the 2012 Patriots, if even a little better, should be able to win it all. With that in mind, veteran wide receiver Deion Branch‘s assessment of the current team bodes well. “Each year is going to be something different,” he told Tom E. Curran of Comcast Sportsnet. “We’re a lot better than we were last year.” Branch knows firsthand how good this team is. Part of the reason he hasn’t been with the team for the full year — he’s been cut and brought back twice — is because the Patriots are stacked on offense. With Rob Gronkowski returning from injury, Aaron Hernandez hitting his stride, and a young running back group including Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead making noise, the Patriots appear primed to punch through for the championship that eluded them last year. Branch wasn’t looking ahead to the Super Bowl just yet, though. While he was quick to compliment various teammates and the state of the team, he also said the Patriots are well aware that their opponent this week, Houston, is going to bring a different game than in their first meeting. New England destroyed the Texans 42-14 several weeks ago. “No, trust me — you’re going to see a different Texans team,” Branch said of whether this matchup was a “cupcake game” for New England. “That we all know, I promise you. They’re a great team. They’ve been a great team all season long. Unfortunately, they ran into a couple stumbles, but that’s football. Trust me, it won’t be the same team that we played five weeks ago.” Branch also gave some insight on how the Patriots have measured themselves this season. He was asked about the team securing the AFC’s No. 2 seed and getting a favorable matchup in the playoffs. The team wasn’t as much lucky, he said, as the Patriots were rewarded by executing when they had to. “Just like we felt like we threw a bunch of games early in the season,” he said, “we got the No. 2 seed because that’s what we deserved.” During that early start, the Patriots had to swallow a 3-3 record despite only being outscored by four points in the three games they lost. After that, they had a much easier time putting up numbers commensurate with their talent, winning all but one of their remaining games, many of them by wide margins. The Patriots are likely hoping they got all the bad breaks out of their system early on, and that they’ll be able to capitalize this time around — especially if, as Branch says, they’re a better team than they were last year.
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