The New England Patriots fell just short of their desired destination — Super Bowl or bust — but there will always be disappointment when the team isn’t playing for the ultimate prize. The Patriots franchise has become accustomed to winning a lot of games, AFC East crowns and Super Bowls in the last decade or so, but how will they look after this season?
Strengths and Weaknesses
Quarterback, tight end, head coach
Quarterback: Tom Brady has become a legend in his own right, and the Patriots haven’t had to worry about a backup quarterback since Week 1 of the 2008 season, when Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury. Jimmy Garappolo is waiting for his opportunity and is a talented backup quarterback that could become the next franchise QB for the team.
The fact that Brady isn’t getting any younger should be somewhat of a concern, as should his play when being pressured by opposing defenses . But, for now, he is still Brady and he will still be a nightmare for defensive coordinators until he retires, although a blueprint for defensive pressure on him has been made.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski had yet another monstrous season, as he had 72 receptions for 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he continues to run over defenders on his way towards the end zone. He is a threat on any down and has the ability to score on any play when the ball is in his hands. The only downside to his career has been injuries and a party-type lifestyle, but he is not to be confused with Johnny Manziel. There is a chance that his play dips slightly when Brady calls it a career, but he is still a freak athlete.
Head Coach: Bill Belichick has become a master of game plans and trophy hoisting, as well as public enemy No. 1 to the rest of the NFL. There have been multiple allegations brought against him and the team, rightfully so or not, but no one can take away his ability to plan for opponents and confuse them with exotic offensive packages. He has spread the wealth of his knowledge to other coaches in the league, but there will only ever be one Belichick.
Rushing attack, pass defense
Rushing Attack: No team in the NFL is perfect, and the run game is something that the Patriots need to address in the near future. Running back Dion Lewis was lost for the season after Week 9, but LeGarrette Blount never really turned into the runner that he was in 2014. With Lewis taking over the role of former Patriot Shane Vereen, New England needs to find a true runner that can decrease the pressure off Brady. Yes, Patriots running backs have become a dual-threat variety, but the offense might be even more potent if they can average more than 87.8 rush yards per game next season.
Pass Defense: The Patriots’ secondary was supposed to be a weakness for the team this season and they only finished ranked 17th in pass yards allowed (240.7 ypg). It wasn’t necessarily a weakness, but it is something that needs to be of discussion this offseason. Malcolm Butler built on his game-ending interception in Super Bowl XLIX and had a good season in 2015. Butler finished with 67 total tackles, two interceptions and 15 passes defended, and was a key player on the defense. The pass rush is above-average and compiled 49 sacks this season and had 22 forced fumbles. If the Patriots can add depth to their secondary, and possibly a linebacker, there is a good chance that the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl next season.
Players to re-sign:
DL Akiem Hicks
RB LeGarrette Blount
DB Justin Coleman
2016 Free Agent Targets ($3.7 million projected cap space):
WR Alshon Jefferey
LB Jerrell Freeman
LB Roloando McClain
S Reggie Nelson
2016 NFL DRAFT FIRST ROUND TARGETS
None (forfeited due to Deflate-gate ruling)
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