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Preseason Power Rankings No. 7: New England Patriots

Divisional Playoffs - Houston Texans v New England Patriots Getty Images

It was just another quiet offseason for the big dogs of the AFC East.

Except for Wes Welker signing to play with Peyton Manning and the Broncos, of course. And Rob Gronkowski having surgery a couple of times qualifies as a notable development. Signing Tim Tebow might not turn out to be much more than an entertaining distraction, but entertaining distractions are far better than the one Aaron Hernandez has provided.

Okay, so it was anything but quiet in New England. How much will all the noise wind up mattering, though? The Patriots have seen players come and go for all sorts of reasons since the start of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era and they’ve kept on ticking.

This might be a bigger challenge than some of those other years, but betting against them still doesn’t feel like a good idea.

Strengths.

Whatever their group of wide receivers and tight ends wind up looking like, the Patriots still have Tom Brady at quarterback and that should go a long way toward ensuring they remain a potent passing offense. He’ll need to find a new security blanket with Welker gone and they’ll lose a lot of dynamism with Hernandez in prison, but Brady’s career record provides plenty of confidence that he’ll make it happen.

The offensive line will help Brady deal with the change in circumstance. Nate Solder has established himself as a strong pass protector at left tackle, Sebastian Vollmer is one of the league’s best right tackles and Logan Mankins remains a rock at left guard. Center Ryan Wendell should improve in his second year as a starter and this group should keep Brady from tasting the turf too often.

Stevan Ridley ran for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, giving the Patriots one of the most productive seasons by a back in the Brady era. He’s joined in the backfield by Shane Vereen, whose versatility will likely be part of the plan to shore up the passing game in the face of the thin receiving corps.

Vince Wilfork remains one of the most effective defensive tackles in the NFL, the starting linebackers are strong in all phases of the game and Devin McCourty took to safety like a duck to water. That foundation would be enhanced if defensive end Chandler Jones can remain healthy and rush the passer the way he did before an ankle injury slowed him down in the second half last year.

Weaknesses.

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, the Patriots are putting a lot on the shoulders of rookie receivers and guys coming back from injuries. Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce may be the next generation of Patriot pass catchers, but rookies take time to acclimate themselves to the game. Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman have played all 16 games in a season once between them and tight end Jake Ballard hasn’t played in more than a year because of a serious knee injury.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard’s arrest on suspicion of DUI is problematic for the Patriots because it raises the possibility that he’ll be suspended at some point this season. If so, the Pats will have to rely more heavily on the likes of Kyle Arrington and Ras-I Dowling to shut down opposing receivers and that’s not something they’ve proven capable of doing in the past.

A healthy Jones and Rob Ninkovich can be a productive pass rushing duo, but it wouldn’t hurt to find a couple of other guys to get after the quarterback.

The Patriots are a bit thin on the defensive line after cutting loose Kyle Love and Brandon Dreaderick and they aren’t much deeper at linebacker behind the impressive starting trio. In past years, the Patriots have struggled to replace players lost to injury and they are vulnerable in both those spots heading into this year.

Changes.

The Welker/Amendola swap grabbed the most headlines, but it was one of several moves at receiver for New England. Brandon Lloyd is also gone and Michael Jenkins joins the two rookies, which at least gives the team options as they try to put together a winning receiving corps. Expect to see more churning at this spot as the Patriots have already cut Donald Jones after signing him to a three-year deal early in the offseason.

Running back Danny Woodhead signed with the Chargers as a free agent and the Patriots traded track star Jeff Demps to Tampa for LeGarrette Blount. It’s unclear how much time he’ll see, but he definitely gives them the chance to go with a different look than Ridley and Vereen provide. The Patriots also added Leon Washington, although he’ll likely be put to more use as a returner than out of the backfield.

Two veterans who arrived at free agency are ticketed for big roles on defense. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and safety Adrian Wilson could both be upgrades over what came before, although neither one figures to be an every-down player at this stage of their career.

The question above about the depth of the defensive line will be answered more positively if CFL refugee Armond Armstead and second-round pick Jamie Collins can win jobs in the rotation. Collins may also play linebacker as the team moves from look to look.

And then there’s Tebow, whose role remains undefined at this point but who will presumably be doing something in New England if he makes the team as opposed to just watching as he did with the Jets.

Camp Battles.

While the team doesn’t appear to have any plans to move on from Dennard, the possibility of a suspension should lead to increased competition for the job opposite Aqib Talib. Rookie Logan Ryan could find his way into the mix with a strong camp.

Dan Connolly should get a push from Marcus Cannon at right guard, although the Patriots might prefer to have Cannon as their top reserve option at both guard and tackle.

Ballard, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanwanui will battle for tight end snaps left open by Hernandez and possibly those belonging to Gronkowski as well if he isn’t ready to return from surgeries on his back and forearm. On the other side of the ball, Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson and Steve Gregory will all be looking to grab the spot next to McCourty at safety.

Prospects.

There’s been a lot of talk about the potential for a drop off in New England this season, much of it focused on the uncertainty at receiver and tight end. The concerns about those spots are legitimate, but even with those questions it is difficult to mark them as anything but the AFC East favorite heading into the season.

How much more they can be than that will be a more significant question as the season unfolds. Baltimore and Denver both look very strong on paper heading into the season and the Patriots play their typically tough slate outside of the division. Trips to Atlanta, Houston and Baltimore will likely loom large for the Patriots as they fight for playoff position and all three of those games will test them on both sides of the ball.

If they survive those tests and get Gronkowski back at full strength sooner rather than later, the Patriots will be in the mix for the AFC title come playoff time. Which would make this season look a lot like most of the others in the last decade, even if the offseason was more chaotic than anyone in the organization might have liked.

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57 Responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 7: New England Patriots”
  1. YouMadCauseImStylingOnYou says: Jul 21, 2013 3:12 PM

    I know the Patriots are pretty much a plug and play type system, but this year will really test them.

    Amendola as your #1?

    Better hope the Dolphins don’t take the next step forward, because the whole AFC East “Pats win by default” era looks like it might be coming to end.

  2. autoriot says: Jul 21, 2013 3:16 PM

    It is unbelievable that this team ranks in the Top 10 this season.

  3. runfaster21 says: Jul 21, 2013 3:24 PM

    As a Bengals fan, I’ve been expecting to see them since you got to the mid teens. Shocked to see they’re still not here. I really can’t wait to see what you have to say about the Bengals, having them ranked against some of these teams.

  4. newcomer2013 says: Jul 21, 2013 3:26 PM

    Beginning of the end

  5. wjmoffatt says: Jul 21, 2013 3:38 PM

    Just shows to you have no idea about what you’re talking about with the Pats when you mention Jamie Collins “may se some time at Linebacker” The guy was a safety that moved to OLB, what other position would he be playing other than backer?

  6. olhoss1884 says: Jul 21, 2013 3:46 PM

    Brady will make the new crop of receivers work, but his protection up the middle is still suspect, the pass rush is weak and the secondary isn’t very good. They’ll win the weakest division in football again, but head to head I think Denver and Baltimore are more likely to win the AFC.

  7. adkfootballfan says: Jul 21, 2013 3:48 PM

    Fair assessment, Josh. And, quite reasonable. Placing them at #7 pre-camp is about right slot and anyone in the top ten will move up/down based upon injuries and strength of schedule once the season commences.

  8. onlyonelbc says: Jul 21, 2013 3:55 PM

    I think 7th is very fair.. Better than average defense, top 3 qb but no weapons (at all if Gronk isn’t back in time), exceptional coach (like it or not Bill is an outstanding coach, que spygate comments *yawn*)

    They’ll be in the play offs AGAIN, and probably win another division tittle,

    Bears fan here btw

  9. youarejealousof6rings says: Jul 21, 2013 3:55 PM

    Overrated. They have slowly been on the decline. The best they have going is their QB and he is past his prime. How many all-pro draft picks can you pinpoint the past five years?

  10. Henry says: Jul 21, 2013 4:00 PM

    I’m thinking it will be another slow start for the Offense while they sort thing out, sort of like last year but more.
    Usually they get things humming after a bit and then just need to worry about the D after that (what else is new, lol!).
    Go Pats!

  11. newcomer2013 says: Jul 21, 2013 4:07 PM

    Begining of the end. At least I would like to think so.

  12. bostonian13 says: Jul 21, 2013 4:10 PM

    Patriots will once again piss people off this season. 7th? Seriously??? What people are forgetting is how great their run game was last season, and the same core is returning, minus Woodhead, but got Leon Washington in return. If healthy, their receiving core will be fine, and Gronk will be back in time. Their defense keeps on getting better season by season, so that’s in the Pats favor. Don’t forget we have the best coach in the NFL, and arguably the BEST qb in the league on our team. Who’s better in the afc? The broncos? Ravens? Ravens won’t be the same team, and Broncos shined last season against a cupcake schedule, then got ousted in their only playoff game. The broncos can’t beat the Pats, manning doesn’t show up in the playoffs, and Flacco will prove how bad that contract was.

  13. Obama's Ballsack says: Jul 21, 2013 4:13 PM

    How the hell is Brady pass his prime? Did you not watch the guy last season?

  14. newcomer2013 says: Jul 21, 2013 4:20 PM

    Thinking Brady is past his prime is foolish, last year we said the same about Manning. Both are still top five.

  15. tedmurph says: Jul 21, 2013 4:25 PM

    The Pats lead the league in drafting All-Pros 2002-20011(a little hard for rookies to make it from 2012). From 2009-11 they drafted 4 All-pros, as well as two additional guys that made the Pro Bowl. The rating is about right because they have a lot of questions, but they’re still gonna be a force. Not really seeing Balti, with all their changes, or Cincy being higher.

  16. jimmiepi76 says: Jul 21, 2013 4:26 PM

    new england patriots are cheaters and should only have 1 SB ring. The others SB rings you were cheating. The fines from the NFL of $250,000 and $500,000 shows you were. Belichick should have been band from the NFL.

  17. sfniners4life says: Jul 21, 2013 4:36 PM

    I believe that’s a lil high. I respect the pats ability to overcome in the past and continue succeeding. I honestly believe with Brady age and all the offseason issue there time coming to a end.

  18. 8man says: Jul 21, 2013 4:40 PM

    How many years now have the pigs here been trumpeting their decline? They’ve lost more Super Bowls and AFC Title Games during that time than most AFC teams have been in. Never mind the title games they won.

    Since 2001: 10 AFC East wins, 7 AFC title games, 5 Super Bowl appearances and 3 Super Bowl Wins.

    Only a handful of fanbases wouldn’t be ecstatic with that. Ask a Jets fan if he/she would take that.

    Why doesn’t someone ask Peyton Manning what he thinks of the Patriots? He’ll tell you they are franchise always capable of getting there and winning it all.

  19. patswhatsup says: Jul 21, 2013 4:58 PM

    Lol, the patriots have been in slow decline… They were playing in the superbowl 2 years ago. AFC championship game last year. Yep, a slow decline.

    Brady is one of the smartest passers in the league. Yes he has some happy feet issues now and then. Who cares. We’ve seen him throw to a myriad of different people over the years. Regardless of how he acclimates to the system, Josh Boyce is a 4.3 guy. That’s going to pull the lid off regardless. Gronk will be back. MINOR back surgery, and the freak arm thing. He’s had all off season for the arm. Amendola will be the icing on the cake. With Gronk and the outside speed guy, he should see mostly single coverage. If they go zone, Brady will eat them alive with whoever. Oh yeah, and Ridley’s 1200+ yards, with that cap off the back, whose going to stop him?

    Patriots will be fine. They’re already like, Hernandez who?

    7 is about right.

  20. shadowcell says: Jul 21, 2013 5:04 PM

    As long as they’ve got a QB like Brady running the show there’s a pretty high floor on how bad the Pats can get. This is a fair ranking going into training camp; they’re still the favorites to win the AFC East, even if Miami takes a step forward, and after that it’s anyone’s guess.

  21. taosravenfan says: Jul 21, 2013 5:12 PM

    I think it is a fair rating. Just having Brady is enuf to put them in the top ten.

    I think that the pats vs ravens battle has finally flipped on the ravens favor. They won last year and should have the year before. The pats will have a very difficult with the Denver defense as well. Right now, I think they are behind the ravens, the broncos and possibly the texans but that still puts them in the playoffs.

  22. Johnny-5-is-alive says: Jul 21, 2013 5:18 PM

    Having the Patriots ranked behind San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Baltimore is dead on. However, they should also be ranked behind a few more teams.

    They’ll be very lucky to be a top 10 team at the end of the season.

  23. patriots123456 says: Jul 21, 2013 5:18 PM

    Considering all the off season noise in Foxborough this is a very fair assessment of the Pats. IMO

    They will be competitive again this year.

    One thing I’m looking forward too is the first camp press conference. The journalist will be coming in through the woodwork with Hernandez question. Bill will shut them right out and totally pi*s them off. LOL

  24. jvw1982 says: Jul 21, 2013 5:27 PM

    As long as they have Brady and Belicheat they are a top 5 team……Brady is one of the top 3 QB EVER as long as he is healthy they will beat 95% of the teams out there, when it counts………

  25. MTLighthouse69 says: Jul 21, 2013 5:34 PM

    The reason that the Patriots running game was as good as it was last year is simply because opposing defenses feared the passing game more than the Patriots’ running game.

    Now with so much turmoil in the passing game, no one knows how good the offense will be.

    Amendola has an injury history. That doesn’t magically disappear just because he joined the Patriots.

    Glasskowski also has an injury history.

    If I am the Patriots, I wouldn’t feel to comfortable relying on both Glasskowki and Amendola.

    It doesn’t matter how good of a QB Brady is, he still needs receivers capable of catching the ball.

    The Patriots defense does have secondary issues. There is no guarantee that Dennard will be playing at all this upcoming season.

  26. jjackwagon says: Jul 21, 2013 5:52 PM

    Playing in a weak division never hurts. When was the last time the Pats didn’t win the AFC East? Going into every year knowing you will post 4-6 division wins must be comforting. None of this is the Pats fault BTW. It would just be nice to see some competition in the AFC East.

  27. nflpoker says: Jul 21, 2013 6:02 PM

    #7 is all well and good, but a look at their wins and losses last year, might give you something to consider a little. Out of 16 games, they were 6-0 in the AFCE. Nothing to write home about. Of the remaining 10 games, they were 1-3 in the NFCW, where they only beat the Rams. They lost to 2 NFCW playoff teams. Of the rest, they lost to Baltimore. This means, they were 6-4 outside their division. Not much over .500. If they were in good division and in the NFC, I would love to see what their record would be, before I would have them at #7. Maybe, maybe not

  28. tigerlilac says: Jul 21, 2013 6:02 PM

    Those of you with a learning curve understand that “offseason noise” in Foxboro usually means Brady and Belichick have something to prove and they are usually excellent at proving it.

  29. whiningpatriotfans says: Jul 21, 2013 6:02 PM

    As long as the video cameras are working the Pats will be in good shape.

    Just not super bowl champs.

  30. mutilatedbody says: Jul 21, 2013 6:05 PM

    this is more amazing then the time Michael Jackson came over to use the restroom

  31. drunkenagitator says: Jul 21, 2013 6:23 PM

    Overrate-triots is more like it. Gaydy is fading and the rest of the roster smells like 8-8.

  32. jacktheraven says: Jul 21, 2013 6:23 PM

    I think 7 is about right. They have some questions, but good teams overcome those. Playoff team, yes. SB, remains to be seen.

  33. skolvikesskol says: Jul 21, 2013 6:34 PM

    This team has always been good. However they benefit from being in the worst division for the last 23 years. Also the AFC is the weaker of the 2 conferences. They get tested maybe 4 times a season then go in to the playoffs with a bye, healthy team and home field. So then they really only have to win 2 games a season tuen they are in sb. They were a great team back when they had a d. But ill never respect them like 49ers or cowboys eras.

  34. august1969 says: Jul 21, 2013 6:59 PM

    did you guys mess up your rankings? There’s only 5 teams better than the Pats and I think you missed the Bengals?

  35. august1969 says: Jul 21, 2013 7:06 PM

    just checked the Bengals stats. Finished the season 5-1 with a stifling defense. 2 stud TE’s, a brand new RB, James Harrison.

    Bold, but somewhat justified.

    Bengals though.

  36. swagger52 says: Jul 21, 2013 7:43 PM

    7th is about right given the strength of schedule, or should I say…lack of strength of schedule playing in the AFC L east

  37. lilgoosybb says: Jul 21, 2013 7:43 PM

    to be honest, as a Patriot fan i am looking forward about next season.

    let’s talk real: i can’t stand Welker drops no more, remember me how many titles did we won with him.
    and besides Wes what was there? Branch? Stallworth? come on… IMHO, this receiving bunch is going to be maybe the best that Brady had in recent seasons.

    by the way, Brady do not need big names at WR, he makes some Mr. NOBODY turn into superstars (Welker, Woodhead, Dillon anyone?)

    Our running backs are young, and very promising (Ridley – Vereen – Bolden – Blount) maybe one of the best running backs group of all the NFL.

    And please stop talking about those tight ends…before Belichick shocked the world with the “TE – party” nobody was giving a f… about this role, now it is the most dominant in football.

    When you are wondering how the Pats will survive without Hernandez and for some games without their go to guy Gronk, Belichick is already working and testing offensive weapons that maybe none of us can even imagine.

    i think they already went over that tight end duo offense…that’s behind them…and teams are working NOW to learn how to stop them LOL

  38. bleedsoe9mm says: Jul 21, 2013 8:32 PM

    7th is crazy pats are at worst 2nd or 3rd

  39. brazzz01 says: Jul 21, 2013 9:15 PM

    #7 is about right. The obvious questions at WR. How good is the defense this year? We’ll find out quickly.

  40. nodaisyatall says: Jul 21, 2013 9:23 PM

    Will be interesting to see if the running game is as advertised or if (as I suspect) teams have simply been willing to let TB hand off as opposed to letting him pick apart their secondaries with WW and two dominant TEs.

  41. barbasol11111111 says: Jul 21, 2013 10:02 PM

    Belichick and Brady is basically 10 wins a year at the least

    That being said, c’mon, guys. Brady and manning are past their primes. Still incredible qbs, but well past their primes. The edge of the cliff comes quick in the nfl.

  42. lagg1 says: Jul 21, 2013 10:47 PM

    Regardless of the off the field issues this off-season, Belichick will have this team focused on the business at hand. The Patriots will be tough to beat. As long as Brady is there, they will be a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Hoping that they will tank will not get it down.

  43. conquerpeace4d says: Jul 21, 2013 11:06 PM

    I find it hilarious that everyone is talking a out the bengals as the best team in the AFC. Sure they have a good defense but they have an amemic offense. Essentially the bengals are a poor mans Houston Texans. Both have solid defense, but lack elite qbs that play well against good teams. Both Schaub and Dalton have noodle arms and benefit greatly from playing with a top 5 outside Numbers WR, and a good running game they can hit play action off of. When either are forced to throw the ball to win, they fail. So since Houston has beat Cincy 2 years in a row, and then has gotten obliterated by Baltimore and New England each year respectively , I think I’ll stick the the Pats and Bal as the top 2, with Denver pushing hard.

  44. jonbeck316 says: Jul 22, 2013 12:06 AM

    In just one season the patriots have changed from a potent offensive unit to an offensive eunuch

  45. i10east says: Jul 22, 2013 12:21 AM

    Would it be okay if I say the obligatory ‘The Patriot Way’ remark? Okay, here it goes…The Patriot Way.

  46. pastabelly says: Jul 22, 2013 5:20 AM

    The Patriots rebuilding year was last year, not this year. The keys include the development of Chandler Jones and Hightower and, of course, the recoveries of Gronk and Ballard. The death of Brady and the Patriots is greatly exaggerated.

  47. rukkus1 says: Jul 22, 2013 5:48 AM

    7th is a tad bit on the generous side… it coulda gone alot of ways with the top 10 teams. I wouldve put the pack ahead of the pats… maybe the saints… but the pats are still a team with alot of potential

  48. majormeatcurtains says: Jul 22, 2013 5:55 AM

    BB “I could field a team with Beavis and Butthead”. Now we will see if that’s true.

  49. tunescribe says: Jul 22, 2013 6:31 AM

    Hard to take your “power rankings” seriously, PFT, since four of your top 10 from last year didn’t even make the playoffs.

  50. jayhawk777 says: Jul 22, 2013 7:04 AM

    Until the Pats show via record that they don’t belong in the top 7, you have to include them. Speculation, but I dont think they would make the NCF playoffs if in thr NFCW and why the 9ers and Hawks are ranked ahead of the Pats.

    The Pats always seem to be there so you have to give them their due but this roster doesn’t look SB worthy.

    In, 2004, if you’d told me that Brady would not have hoisted another Lombardi going into the 2013 season, ud have to see a shrink.

    7 is cool..

  51. brucewyner7 says: Jul 22, 2013 7:44 AM

    .The problem with having a coach that is called the genius is their stubbornness, meaning tom brady would have 5 or 6 SB titles if it wasn, t for BB his game plan in the undefeated season was a joke he was outcoached in both games against the giants and they were destroying the colts in a championship game until BB blew that one.People want to forget that it was another genius that started the dynasty in NE yes it was the othet Bill.It, s becoming clear to this NE fan who the real genius is.

  52. Ridley Me This says: Jul 22, 2013 12:19 PM

    If dennard gets suspended for a dui wouldn’t he be the first ever?

    Also, lol. I hope all the Pats opponents underestimate them the way everyone else does.

  53. lanman11 says: Jul 22, 2013 4:25 PM

    OK, let me see if I got this straight. What you are saying is that Tom Brady has been the best player in the NFL for over a decade, and continues to be the one player you do not want to see on the other sideline, regardless of who is standing next to him. Did I get that right? I thought so…..

  54. oliveyang says: Jul 22, 2013 4:51 PM

    Strictly from a football perspective, I think the loss of AH is being really overblown and the impact on the Pats offense will be minimal. 1) AH was barely there last year, he had an ankle injury that kept him out of much of the season, 2) The way they play him increased the amount of contact and put him at more risk for injury (eg that HB experiment when he kept taking shots to the head), 3) When he had the ball he always looked like he was about to fumble (2 hands when in traffic).

    Yeah he’s versatile and a good player but they didn’t really have him last year and the offense did just fine.

  55. jimmyjames65 says: Jul 22, 2013 8:21 PM

    Patriots might win their division. But they will be lucky to win a playoff game.

  56. bainmethuen says: Jul 23, 2013 6:59 AM

    The Bengals? The BENGALS? A team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990 is better then the Pats? In the AFC Denver yes, Houston probably, not all in on Baltimore this year with the loss of leaders like Reed and Boldin in that Division. The AFC West is the worst Division in Football. Denver and Houston probably in AFC, but not counting the Pats out.

  57. griffin8r says: Aug 8, 2013 10:48 PM

    Irony: Two weeks later, Tom is hooking up with Dobson right on schedule, Amendola is looking a whole lot like Welker, and the offense looks sharp as hell.

    You can’t blame the prognosticators for being skeptical, really. It’s just funny to watch everyone proclaim the dynasty dead because of a lack of receivers when Brady was throwing to David Givens, Troy Brown, and Deion Branch the last time they hoisted the trophy…

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