SCOREBOARD Tom Brady/Bill Belichick 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 PLAYOFFS CC CC SB DIV WC REGULAR SEASON W-L 12-4 12-4 13-3 14-2 10-6 POINTS PER GAME- 27.8 34.8 32.1 32.4 26.7 POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME 21.1 20.7 21.4 19.6 17.8 YARDS PER GAME 384.5 427.9 428.0 363.8 397.3 YARDS ALLOWED PER GAME 373.1 373.3 411.1 366.5 320.2 TURNOVERS 20 16 17 10 22 TAKEAWAYS 29 41 34 38 28 Key Additions: CB Darrelle Revis, CB Brandon Browner, WR Brandon LaFell Key Subtractions: CB Aqib Talib, LB Brandon Spikes, RB LaGarrette Blount Rookies: DT Dominique Easley, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, C Bryan Stork JIM ROGASH/GETTY IMAGES SPORT The defense’s strength is up the middle, where 6-1, 325-pound Vince Wilfork is the prototypical nose tackle. Wilfork dominates the interior of the line and often eats up two or three offensive linemen. Right behind Wilfork, New England features one of the league’s best interior linebackers in Jerod Mayo. The All-Pro defender is a vocal leader that makes his presence felt both on and off the field. The 2013 Patriots struggled when both Mayo and Wilfork were sent to the IR early in the season. Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins are young outside linebackers versatile enough to play both the run and the pass. One of the few training camp battles will be to fill the hole at inside linebacker created when Brandon Spikes moved on to the Buffalo Bills. The evolving nature of the NFL has put more pressure on defensive backs. To combat this, the Patriots added Darrelle Revis, one of the league’s best cornerbacks, to help solidify the secondary. But Revis is a couple years removed from the All-Pro player that disrupted games for the New York Jets and he’ll have the tough task of replacing Aqib Talib. Lining up alongside Revis will be Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington. No stranger to the league’s disciplinary committee, Browner will miss the first four games of his Patriots career due to a failed drug test. Safety Devin McCourty has not repeated the impressive stats from his rookie year, but he is an excellent fit for the system. He’s not a big hitter, but McCourty is a steady tackler and a team leader. Defensive Player to watch Hightower was a first-round draft pick out of the University of Alabama in 2012. Speed and athleticism made him a big-time prospect, and Hightower is poised for a breakout season in the third year of his career. Last season, Hightower was forced into a more significant role when Mayo was lost for the team’s final 10 games. In that time, Hightower became a more vocal presence, even calling plays in the defensive huddle, but his statistics suffered a bit. Now that Mayo has returned, Hightower can be a more reactive playmaker. His well-rounded skill set works perfectly in the Patriots system. Hightower has the agility to rush the passer and the speed to drop back into pass coverage. Like much of the roster, the Patriots linebackers have grown and developed within Belichick’s system. Surrounded by a wealth of talent, Hightower is ready to take the next step. Patriots Special Teams Coach Bill Belichick is a master of the details that forge lasting success and special teams are no exception. Special teams coach Scott O’Brien coached under Belichick for the Cleveland Browns in 1994, and has coached special teams for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers. Matt Slater will be the unit’s captain once again. Slater, who is the son of Hall of Fame lineman Jackie Slater, has been rewarded for his special teams abilities with three consecutive Pro Bowls invitations. Place kicker Stephen Gostkowski, another player that has spent his entire career with the Patriots, had the best season of his career in 2013. He converted 93 percent of his field goals, made all of his extra points and led the league in field goals made (38) and points scored (158). The team did not fare as well in punting, where they were middle of the pack, but Ryan Allen was just a rookie and did manage to land 29 punts inside the 20-yard line. Prediction The Patriots have dominated the AFC East, winning 11 of the last 13 division titles. With Tom Brady under center and Bill Belichick under the cut-off sleeves hoodie, New England is the clear favorite to win the division. If the team can stay healthy, the Patriots have an excellent shot of improving on last season and heading back to the Super Bowl.
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