COMMENTARY | The numbers are impressive as well as daunting.
Since head coach Bill Belichick's arrival in 2000, no team has won more regular-season games than the New England Patriots.
Dating back to 2001, the franchise has won 10 division titles, made five Super Bowl appearances (three victories) and has posted 12 straight winning seasons -- the latter tied for the seventh-longest streak in NFL history.
But, lately, a lot of people want to talk about what the Patriots haven't done. The team came up short in a pair of Super Bowl appearances in 2007 (XLII) and 2011 (XLVI), and this offseason has been interesting, to say the least.
Now it is late August, and here we will take a look at five players who could be critical to the team's success in 2013. While in some cases the obvious will be stated, in other instances the focus will be on a newcomer to the team or a performer looking to rebound from a disappointing year.
So here are five players to keep an eye on this season when it comes to the New England Patriots:
QB Tom Brady: Simply put, he's one of the all-time greats and has fit into the New England offense regardless of what it has looked like over the years. And his numbers as of late have been simply amazing. Brady has thrown for 187 scores and has been picked off only 45 times in his last 81 regular-season games dating back to 2007, quite a contrast from his earlier days (147 touchdown passes, 78 interception in 96 regular-season games from 2000-06). But those latter numbers were during the days of those Super Bowl wins. And what exactly will the Patriots' attack look like in 2013?
RB Stevan Ridley: It's hardly a shock that the Patriots ranked first overall in the league in total offense and scored an NFL-high 557 points last season. But it may surprise some that the club was seventh in rushing yards per game, and Ridley was seventh in the league with 1,263 yards (12 touchdowns) on the ground in 2012. With fellow third-year pro Shane Vereen as well as veteran running back LeGarrette Blount among those in reserve, the Patriots are suddenly somewhat deep in the backfield.
WR Danny Amendola: The Patriots' top 5 pass catchers from a year ago--Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead--are either no longer with the team or on the mend. In the case of Gronkowski, the former Pro-Bowler is still recovering from multiple surgeries. Enter Amendola, signed by the Pats this spring from the St. Louis Rams. The productive wide receiver hopes to fill the bill in terms of a go-to target granted he can stay healthy, which has been a problem during his brief career.
DT Tommy Kelly: It's been a while since we have talked about the New England defense in glowing terms, but this could be the year the unit makes a major jump. Last season, the Pats were 25th in total yards allowed and only three clubs gave up more passing yards per game. But Belichick's club was ninth against the run and only the Bears (44) totaled more takeaways than New England (41) in 2012. Kelly, late of the Oakland Raiders, teams with Pro-Bowler Vince Wilfork to make the interior of the Patriots' defensive line even more imposing.
DE Chandler Jones: The second-year pro and former first-round draft choice has made his presence felt this summer just as he did during his rookie season a year ago. Jones was second on the team with 6.0 sacks in 2012 and could reach double-digits this season if Kelly and Wilfork make life impossible for opposing offensive fronts. New England did total a respectable 37 sacks a year ago, but the team also allowed 27 touchdown passes during the regular season and five more in two postseason contests.
So what can we expect from the Patriots in 2013? Can the team make it five straight AFC East titles? And who else will play an extremely pivotal role in the team's fortunes this season? It figures to be another good season for the reigning dynasty of the league.
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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