The New England Patriots dominated the AFC East in 2012. Conquering division opponents in their path and seizing another division title. The closest runner up was the 7-9 Miami Dolphins. Along with the division title, the Patriots garnered the second best record in the AFC, earning them a first round playoff bye. After defeating the Houston Texans in the divisional playoff game, New England lost the AFC Championship Game to the Baltimore Ravens. By most standards, 2012 was an exceptional season for New England. By the Patriot’s standards it was an utter disappointment.
It has been almost a decade since New England last won a Super Bowl. The last two Super Bowl appearances ended in spectacular defeat at the hands of the New York Giants. The once mighty aura of the juggernaut Patriots has faded. New England has become mortal. The Giants seem to have laid out the blue prints to stopping the Patriots.
Despite the fact New England has fallen short lately, they still have a solid foundation to build on. What do the Patriots need to do to become favorites in the AFC again? The answer is simple. Let me explain. In order for New England to get back to the top, three things need to happen.
1. Dominate the Draft
The key to building a successful football team is through the draft. New England knows this better than most. Bill Belichick is an expert at getting the most value out of a draft. He has built a reputation on trading draft picks in exchange for more picks. Through this method the Patriots have been able to stay successful for all these years despite picking near the bottom of every round.
Over the past several years, the Patriots' defense has become a liability. New England made great strides in shoring up a porous defense last April by drafting several key defensive players. The additions of Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower and Alfonzo Dennard were critical steps in building an elite defense. If New England can have one or two more successful drafts they will be able to restore the dominance they once had.
2. Keep Key Free Agents
New England is the king of bargain shopping when it comes to the free agent market. They will never over pay for any free agent. Instead they acquire complimentary players at a salary cap friendly price. The problem with this strategy is when a complimentary player puts up elite numbers. Players want to be paid like elite players. Wes Welker is a perfect example. New England doesn’t want to pay the price Welker is asking. New England must decide on Welker and several other key free agents including Julian Edelman, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer. In order to get back to the top, New England must stop attrition. Keeping their star free agents is imperative.
3. Stay Healthy
The third and final step New England must take to regain their lost supremacy can be the hardest thing to do for any team, stay healthy. The Patriots were hit hard by the injury bug. Key injuries to Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and several other key players played a major role in the Patriots season. The injury to Gronkowski hurt the most. The Patriots offense revolves around the double tight end sets and the injury to Gronkowski made the Patriot’s offense less effective. If the Patriots want to win another Super Bowl, staying healthy the entire season will be paramount.
The Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era has maybe five years left. Brady is 35 years old and despite putting up ridiculous numbers this year; he won’t be able to do it forever. New England is very close to regaining their lost dominance and if the pieces fall in their favor, don’t be surprised to see Brady hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy once again.