Your New England Patriots 2014 Season Preview

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Most teams in any sport would be happy with three consecutive trips to the conference championship that includes one trip to their sport’s finals.

But the New England Patriots aren’t most teams.

Bill Belichick isn’t most coaches, and Tom Brady isn’t most quarterbacks. But neither of these guys are going to be happy with anything less than a Super Bowl win this season.

There are plenty of reasons for optimism in Foxborough – not only is all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski looking good in training camp as he recovers from knee surgery, but Belichick has more talent on defense to work with than he has had in the past decade.

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Not only is All-Pro nose tackle Vince Wolfork back from a torn achilles, but Darrelle Revis signed as a free agent, giving the Pats their first true elite shutdown cornerback since Ty Law.

The team also added free agent corner Brandon Browner, a huge (6’4″, 220) cover corner who excels at shutting down #2 receivers. With Kyle Arrington returning to man the slot, the Pats will feature the best trio of cornerbacks Belichick has ever been able to coach.

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The defensive line will see the addition of first-round pick Dominique Easley from Florida, who would have been a top-10 pick if he wouldn’t have suffered a knee injury during the past college season. If he progresses quickly, Wilfork will be able to ease his way back into the lineup.

Jerod Mayo also missed more than half of last season, and he will be back to lead a young, aggressive linebacker corps that also features former first-round pick Dont’a Hightower. Jamie Collins, who was outstanding once he got minutes late in the season, could also contend for a Pro Bowl spot now that he is taking over full-time starting duties.

The only player the Patriots lost on offense was running back LeGarrette Blount, who played a much larger role than expected last season after Stevan Ridley struggled with fumbles. Ridley will be hard-pressed to maintain his starting job ahead of Shane Vereen, who is the far superior pass-catcher out of the backfield.

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The receiving corps returns do-it-all Julian Edelman, who actually put up better numbers than the departed Wes Welker last season.

If Danny Amendola can stay healthy, and second-year WRs Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson continue to show improvement, the receiving corps could go from a weakness to a strength. That being said, they still figure to be the weakest part of the team.

Stephen Gostkowski is still a Pro Bowl level placekicker, and Ryan Allen returns as an average punter. But he is a lefty, which Belichick loves in a punter as the reverse spin on the ball usually leads to the Pats recovering a few muffed fumbles during the course of a season.

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Brady will need to be better in the clutch than he was last season – while his lack of receivers hurt, he also missed many throws that he used to hit in the past (including two deep throws that would have been touchdowns in the AFC title game at Denver).

OUTLOOK: If Brady plays well in the clutch, and Gronkowski stays healthy all season, there is absolutely no reason that the Patriots can’t return to the Super Bowl in 2014. They have one of the easier schedules in the league, including a still-weak AFC East, and shouldn’t have any trouble winning their division and 12-13 regular season games once again.

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But the Patriots and Brady are judged by rings, and anything less than another Super Bowl victory will likely be seen as an unsuccessful season to New England fans.

Don Ellis started covering sports professionally when he was 15. He attended Ball State University, and some of his past credits include InsideHoops (columnist) and ESPN Florida (The Florida Sports Reporters, SportsCenter anchor). In addition to running Bullsville.net and writing for The Sports Bank and ChicagoNow (Bullsville), he is also a KHSAA baseball umpire. He’s a 3rd-generation Cubs fan, a Bulls fan since the days of Van Lier and Sloan, and a life-long New England Patriots fan. Follow Don on Twitter @Bullsville and like Bullsville on Facebook.

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