Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 8/4/13
Despite a frustrating offseason for the Patriots, quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick will look to once again carry the team into the postseason. With the NFL training camp already in full gear and with the Hall of Fame Game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins airing today, Aug. 4, at 8:00 on NBC, I believe it’s time that I bring to you the biggest question marks going into the 2013 season. Yesterday, I wrote about the top news stories of 2013 for the NFC. Today, I will look to bring you what I think are the hottest topics going into this season regarding the AFC. 1. Not so “Patriot-otic” First and foremost, it’s very rare do you see anyone who is linked to the New England Patriots organization being in the headlines during an offseason. Maybe, every now and then, you’ll read about how Tom Brady is dating a new Victoria Secret super model, but that’s as far as it goes. That’s why I believe these past few months had to be the most lopsided offseason for the New England Patriots ever since I can remember. It all began with the news that tight end Rob Gronkowski was required to take not only his 3rd but 4th surgery to his forearm. He underwent an open procedure (which was the 3rd forearm surgery) to wash away the fragments in an effort to clear an infection and was subsequently placed on a course of antibiotics. On May 20, 2013, Gronkowski underwent a 4th surgery in his forearm to remove the hardware implanted in the second procedure and replace it with fresh hardware. But the Gronk surgery sweepstakes didn’t just stop there. On June 18, 2013,  Gronkowski underwent back surgery. The Patriots later placed Gronkowski on the 60-day DL to begin training camp and the 2013 season. Then came the dispute between Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft and Wes Welker’s agents, where both sides couldn’t come to an agreement to signing the pro bowl wideout. Wes Welker eventually got a deal with the Denver Broncos worth $16 million for 2 years. Once news broke out that Welker was heading to Denver, Kraft went on the offensive providing detail and insight into the negotiations with the wideout far beyond the level to which the Patriots normally go publicly. The owner said he wished the Patriots had done a deal with Welker after franchising him at $9.5 million last year. In an article written on NFL.com, Kraft said: “In retrospect, I wish we could have wrapped that into an arrangement where it was part of a longer-term deal. But I really believe in this case, his agents misrepresented, in their mind, what his market value was. When you come right down to the bottom line, he accepted a deal in Denver that is less money than what we offered him.” In the aftermath of things, Welker is now in Denver and the Patriots are left with Danny Amendola, who they hope to be Welker’s replacement. Remember the times where if the Patriots wanted you, they were going to have you no matter what the circumstances may be? Last but not least, which probably came as the most shocking news to the Patriot’s organization during this offseason, were the Aaron Hernandez situations. To cut it short and slim, the former pro bowl tight end has been linked as a prime suspect to numerous murder cases over the past few years. The Patriots not only released Hernandez after hearing upon the news, but they also issued a statement to all their fans who own the tight end’s jersey that they can return it to a local store and replace it with another jersey for its same value. That’s a pretty “New England Patriots” kind of thing to do, but that doesn’t hide from the fact that why they were in the position to make that decision in the first place. The Patriots seem to be in an unfamiliar territory heading into this regular season, which is facing adversity. It’ll be interesting to see how the masterminds of Brady and Belichick respond to all of this negativity surrounding their team. 2. Super Bowl Slump Earlier in the year, the Baltimore Ravens put together an amazing run in the postseason to earn their players, such as Ray lewis, Ed Reed, and Anquan Boldin, a much needed Super Bowl victory. Just a few months later, 10 changes were made to the Ravens roster from that Super Bowl team. Those changes were: 1. Vonta Leach will be replaced by Kyle Juszczyk at fullback. 2. Matt Birk will be replaced by Gino Gradkowski at center. 3. Anquan Boldin will be replaced by Jacoby Jones/Tandon Doss/Deonte Thompson at wide receiver. 4. Ma’ake Kemoeatu will be replaced by Chris Canty/Brandon Williams at nose tackle. 5. Ed Reed will be replaced by Michael Huff at free safety. 6. Bernard Pollard will be replaced by Matt Elam at strong safety. 7. Cary Williams will be replaced by Jimmy Smith/Corey Graham at cornerback. 8. Ray Lewis will be replaced by Jameel McClain at linebacker. 9. Dannell Ellerbe will be replaced by Arthur Brown at linebacker. 10. Paul Kruger will be replaced by Elvis Dumervil at outside linebacker. Since the 2002 season, when the playoff seeding was restructured to create the current system, only the New England Patriots have won a playoff game following a Super Bowl win. That means that nine Super Bowl champions did not win a playoff game the next year, with four of those champions not even making it back to the playoffs. With all the changes the Ravens roster have encountered in this past offseason, I believe they will join those four teams who did not make it to the postseason in the following year after winning the Super Bowl. 3. Can Manning take the Broncos to the promise land? If it wasn’t for a connected hail mary pass from the would-be-Super-Bowl-Champions-Baltimore-Ravens-quarterback Joe Flacco, to wide receiver Jacoby Jones in the divisional playoff round late in the 4th quarter to tie the game, and which eventually sent the matchup into overtime, we would probably be discussing how Manning earned his second career Super Bowl title in his first year as a Denver Bronco. A big reason why the Ravens were still in that game in the first place was because the Broncos weren’t able to run the ball towards the end of the game, which would have eventually milked the clock and sealed the deal for Denver. Instead, we saw Peyton Manning trying to throw passes in order to move the sticks, which led to incompletions, which led to a stoppage of the clock, which led to the hail mary touchdown, which then led to overtime, which then led to a game winning field goal by the Ravens, which then left Broncos players stunned and watching the rest of the postseason from home, and which eventually lead to a Super Bowl title for the Ravens! Eghh.. talk about a run-on sentence speaking the truth right there! But have no fear, that is why Montee Ball is here Denver fans. The former Wisconsin Badger running back was selected in the 2nd round by the Broncos in this years 2013 NFL draft. Ball holds the record for most career touchdowns (83) and most career rushing touchdowns (77) in the NCAA. But that’s not all the Broncos acquired this offseason, because as I mentioned earlier in this article, they also added Wes Welker to their already loaded receiving corps. So just in case Manning and the Broncos did want to close out the game by passing the ball, they now have the receiver who has been best known to moving the sticks down the field. Regarding any huge setback to the team, I believe the Broncos are the clear-cut favorites to represent the AFC side in this years Super Bowl. It’ll be interesting to see if Manning and company can live up to their expectations. Follow me on Twitter: @MrOT3  
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