The New England Patriots have been the most prestigious and consistently dominant team in football for the past decade or so. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady is nearing the end of his career, but he still has enough juice in him to get the Patriots back to the top next year. 2015 was a quality season for the Patriots, but a few upgrades could put them back in contention for the Lombardi trophy.
More than anything else, the Patriots downfall was their offensive line. Their offensive line was seldom healthy and they were constantly rotating players around in an effort to find some level of consistency. Alas, they never truly did. Brady was hit 20 times in the Patriots loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game. That total of 20 hits was the most a quarterback had been hit in a single game the entire season, and it happened on a massive stage.
The Patriots offensive line was simply lacking talent. Bookends Marcus Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer struggle to contain edge rushers, while the interior of the offensive line can not handle power, forcing Brady to move off his spot directly into edge rushers or blitzers. There was an overall lack of cohesiveness among the group, causing a lot of confusion and poor double-teaming. The dismal group made Brady’s life a living hell and rarely gave him enough time to comfortably operate, especially against Denver. Through the draft and free agency, the Patriots need to address their offensive line and form a group that is, at least, serviceable. The Patriots excuse of a line will not be good enough to allow them to compete at a high level next year.
On top of their offensive line, the Patriots could use a reliable boundary receiver. Brandon LaFell has his moments, but he is not a consistent threat and players like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are better served as slot receivers or quick-game threats, if they have to play the boundary. There is nobody on the team that can be a legit threat to stretch the field from the boundary and open up the field for the other targets. Without a big-play threat on the boundary, defenses are able to more easily focus on the middle of the field, making Brady’s margin for error even smaller. Luckily, he is the most brilliant passer in the league, but condensing any quarterback’s margin for error is far from ideal.
A consistent running game would be a large help, as well. Granted, Dion Lewis was having a phenomenal season until it was ended with injury, but the Patriots corps of running backs behind him was abysmal and did not have much of a positive presence on the field. They need to add another quality runner to the roster, even if he is only going to be the No.2 option in relief of a healthy Lewis.
Defensively, the Patriots are not perfect, but it is definitely their more talented, balanced side of the ball. Their front seven is chalked full of outstanding players from Chandler Jones to Dont’a Hightower to Jamie Collins, as well as plenty of solid depth players along the defensive line. Their defensive secondary could use a bit of an upgrade, but the group is plenty fine considering the front seven they are operating behind. The only issue on defense for the Patriots was staying healthy. Assuming the Patriots core defensive players can say healthier than they were this season, their defense will again be one of the best in the league and give the Patriots offense plenty of breathing room.
So long as the Patriots have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, they will always be legit contenders, but the offense needs some work if they want to be a true force. Without a first round pick (vacated after Deflategate scandal), it may be a little tougher for the Patriots to add dynamic talent, but Belichick is a wizard. He will not fail to improve the team and spice the offense back up.