NFL 2014 Preview: New England Patriots

As long as quarterback Tom Brady (12) and coach Bill Belichick are at the helm, the Patriots will be Super Bowl contenders. (Gail Burton/AP)

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the New England Patriots.

Last year’s record: 12-4

Coach: Bill Belichick

2014 is about… Winning that elusive fourth Super Bowl. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots have been the model franchise in the NFL this millennium, earning a playoff berth in 11 of the past 13 seasons. And yet they haven’t won a championship in a decade. After making a huge splash in free agency, it’s pretty obvious New England has one goal in mind.

Core players: Tom Brady (QB), Rob Gronkowski (TE), Darrelle Revis (CB), Vince Wilfork (DT), Jerod Mayo (LB)

But they lost… Aqib Talib (CB), who was a serious loss for the Patriots… for a minute. With arguably the best corner in the game in Darrelle Revis signing on not long after, Talib’s absence was quickly forgotten. Other than that, New England survived free agency mostly unscathed. They let LeGarrette Blount (RB) walk, while Brandon Spikes (LB) clearly didn’t fit Bill Belichick’s mould. The Patriots will do what the Patriots do whenever someone leaves… move on.

Yeah, but they got… Darrelle Revis (CB). New England had major questions in the secondary heading into the off-season. That changed quickly. The Patriots quickly scooped Revis up following his release from Tampa Bay and just two days later signed former Seahawk Brandon Browner (CB), who will miss the first four games of the season due to a suspension. Regardless, the two comprise the best cornerback duo in the NFL, hands down. Brandon LaFell (WR) was signed to help out a young, unproven group of receivers outside of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. LaFell has shown potential but failed to deliver in Carolina; let’s see what Belichick and Brady can get out of him.

Growing from within: In just his second NFL season, Chandler Jones (DE)—brother of UFC champion Jon Jones—led the Patriots in sacks with 11.5 and seems primed to build on that in 2014. Aaron Dobson (WR) had ups and downs in his rookie season with Brady, but a breakout performance against the Steelers displayed his upside. The aforementioned upgrades at corner will give two young players in Alfonzo Dennard (CB) and Logan Ryan (CB) time to develop. Dennard has had his share of legal troubles, but possesses the talent to be a well-rounded corner in the NFL and will fill in for Browner during the latter’s suspension. Ryan excelled in his rookie season and will play a key part in nickel-and-dime packages.

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Why this team? Because of Brady and Belichick. As long as these two future Hall of Famers are at the helm in New England, the Patriots will be Super Bowl contenders. In the free agency era, no team in the NFL has been as consistent. You can talk about the money the Dolphins have spent, the young talent the Bills are honing or Belichick’s rival in the Big Apple; it doesn’t matter. The AFC East is basically theirs by default.

Why not? Because sooner rather than later, Brady (36) and Belichick (62) are going to hang ’em up and walk off together into the sunset, hand in hand. Then what? The beginning of the Jimmy Garoppolo era? Yeah, right. The Patriots have a window of five more years, AT THE MOST. If you plan on sticking with a team for the long term, head elsewhere.

Perfect for fans of… The San Antonio Spurs. Both teams are led by one of the best player-coach combinations in the sport’s history. Both dominate with a cast of misfit players in a money-driven, free-agency era in which no other team has been able to equal the consistency, let alone the number of titles, over the last 15 years. These teams are so similar it’s like something out of the The Outer Limits.

How much hope? 9/10. Really the only thing standing in the way of another title for the double-B crew is the same thing that’s always in their way: Peyton Manning. However, Revis and Browner might have something to say about that. And a healthy Rob Gronkowski gives the Pats one of the top touchdown threats in the league. In a weak division and a relatively fragile conference, expect the Patriots to be the No. 1 or 2 seed in the AFC.

Will you be mocked for front-running? Damn straight you will. Don’t even bother with that “I liked them before Brady” nonsense; if you can’t tell me anything about the New England Patriots before the year 2000, I’m not listening.

A Meme To Remember: Will someone please give that man a high five!

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