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2012 NFL Preview: Patriots still in control of AFC East

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Ben Fisher, TSN.ca
8/27/2012 3:04:50 PM
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Reasons to Believe

1. Embarrassment Of RichesTom Brady can choose from four different receivers that can do significant damage in the pass game. Joining standouts Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, and Aaron Hernandez is Brandon Lloyd. After a down year catching balls from Kyle Orton and an injured Sam Bradford, Lloyd must be licking his chops at the prospect of playing with Brady.

2. Useful Picks – Bill Belichick and company have become famous for making adept draft day trades to acquire multiple picks, only to trade those picks away for the future. Well, this year they actually used their accumulated picks, taking two players in the first round (Jones and LB Don't'a Hightower) and four in the top three rounds.

3. Strength Of Schedule – With the amount of turnover from year to year, the impact of this could be diminished, but it's worth noting the Patriots have the easiest strength of schedule in the league, an oddity for a team that finished first in their division. Buffalo's opponents had five more wins in 2011 while the Jets and Dolphins opponents had 10 and 11 more respectively.

Reasons to Doubt

1. Rush To Ridley – Last year's top RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis wasn't flashy, but he was dependable. Now that he's in Cincy, the job falls to Steven Ridley. Ridley showed flashes last year in spot duty, but it's a different beast when defences know you're the guy to key on.

2. Offensive Line – A couple retirements hurt the Patriots O-line ahead of the season, while some pre-season injuries have delayed the unit from gelling. The Pats lost Matt Light, Robert Gallery, and (probably) Brian Waters to retirement. Meanwhile, Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer suffered through early injuries and will need to stay healthy as leaders on the line.

3. Secondary – New England's defensive backs are another group that enters the season with some question marks. The unit made some plays last year – most notably Sterling Moore's breakup of a pass to then Ravens WR Lee Evans that clinched the Conference Championship – but those that follow the team argue this is the weakest unit.

What to Expect

Buffalo is everyone's pre-season sweetheart, but the AFC East still belongs to the Patriots. New England made the Super Bowl last year and that will be their goal again this year. Unless opponents can figure out a way to stop Brady and all his weapons, New England will always have a chance to win. The Pats are in a small group of AFC teams entering the year as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Tom Brady (Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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