Foxboro, MA. Love em or hate em, the New England Patriots have set a standard in recent years that few teams in the history of the NFL can match. Most fans west of Boston are not real fond of the squad led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, mainly because of their dominance and consistent excellence that has now lasted a decade. They are not the defending Super Bowl champions, as the Giants upset them for a second time in four years. The Patriots are, however, in the midst of a dynasty that is far from done. For all AFC teams heading into the 2012 season, the gold standard still resides in the far northeast. New England, once again, is the favorite to make it to New Orleans next February.
So far during training camp, most of the cameras have been in two places….Denver and New York. “Manning Camp” is going strong, as everyone wants to see Peyton in his new colors and how his neck is recovering from a tough 2011 under the knife. Every one of his passes is scrutinized, and cameras are popping on seemingly every training camp toss. In New York, we all know what the deal is there. “Tebow-mania” has invaded Jets camp, and everyone there is over-analyzing his relationship with current starter Mark Sanchez. Most fans have come up with their own personal over-under on when Tebow will overtake Sanchez and be the starter. Any way you look at it, it’s fun drama in the Big Apple that should last for all of 2012. These are, of course, two AFC teams that have really taken any sort of spotlight off of the team who is the undisputed favorite AGAIN in 2012. The Patriots are just doing what the Patriots do. They show up, do their work, stay quiet, and come September, will be ready like they always are. Their AFC reign of dominance over the last ten years is truly eye-popping, and has to impress any fan regardless of allegiance. The scary part is, they don’t seem to be slowing down either. In fact, this team may be better than the one from last year.
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In the last ten years, the Patriots have been to the Super Bowl five times. For nine straight seasons, and ten of the last eleven, they have won 10+ games. Last year, with not much of a running game to speak of, and the 31st ranked pass defense, they still made it through the AFC gauntlet and on to the Super Bowl. All season long, they had some obvious glaring holes which were masked by Tom Brady and the air show he put on all year. So coming into 2012, what did they do to patch these holes? Gone is RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis, who moved on to Cincinnati. New England will be going with a three-headed monster of sorts at the running back position. Returning is Danny Woodhead, who can do so many different things out of the backfield. The duo of second year players Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley will be the main men on first and second down. The Patriots front office is very excited about both, as either guy has the capability of blossoming this year. As far as other weapons on offense, a signing that went somewhat under the radar was that of Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd, a former Bronco, is an absolutely perfect new target for Tom Brady, as he has always run precise routes and has outstanding hands. Coming back of course is Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Deion Branch as well. Another 5,000 yards seems to be a real possibility for “Tom Terrific” in 2012. On the defensive side of the ball is where there were massive problems at times last year. To help the lack of a consistent pass rush, New England drafted Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower. Both guys are super athletic, and have some serious speed to get to the QB. The Patriots are hoping these two, along with several younger players in the secondary, mesh well enough this year to cause more turnovers. If this defense can do enough to end up in the middle in the pack statistically, the Patriots and their fans could be seeing a trip to Bourbon Street come February.
The AFC has always been extremely tough at the top for years now. Teams like Pittsburgh and Baltimore always seem to be in the hunt, and others like the Texans, Jets, and Chargers have had their moments as well. Denver is of course, a very trendy pick to knock off the Patriots now that Peyton is in the fold. The NFL is a very topsy-turvy league, as it is not uncommon for teams to go from the outhouse to the penthouse very quickly, and vice versa. One thing seems to be for sure, though. The New England Patriots are once again standing in the way of any other team’s plans of getting to the Super Bowl. Brady, Belichick, and the crew are the undisputed favorites to represent the AFC in New Orleans.
Denver Sports by J Simp