The New England Patriots are considered postseason contenders year-in and year-out, as head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady consistently enter every season as the favorite in the AFC East division.
The Patriots have made the playoffs every season for the past 13 years, exceptt in 2008 when they lost franchise quarterback Tom Brady to a season-ending knee injury. New England still finished 11-5 that season with Matt Cassel at quarterback, and heading into the 2016 season, New England may have their best roster since 2007 when they went undefeated in the regular season.
The Patriots' biggest loss this offseason was losing defensive end Chandler Jones in trade with the Arizona Cardinals, and while they may have lost an impact player on the defensive side of the ball, they likely improved in the long-run. Their biggest weakness this past season was their offensive line, and nothing made that more clear than the amount of times that Brady was hit in the AFC Championship game.
While New England lost a talented pass rusher in Jones, they gained a former first round pick in offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper and the 61st pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Cooper lost the starting guard position on the Cardinals offensive line after a knee injury last season, and despite a disappointing start to his NFL career, look for Belichick to get the most out of him.
The Patriots were stripped of their first-round pick following the Deflategate controversy, but they have stocked their cupboard with picks, as they have four picks in the top 100 heading into the draft. They are clearly focused on improving their offensive line this offseason, but that is just one part of why they should be considered favorites next season.
The Patriots may have lost a pass rusher in Jones through their trade with the Cardinals, but they have acquired defensive end Chris Long. The former second overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft has seen his numbers decline in recent seasons, but look for him to find his form in New England, as Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will find ways to help him succeed. New England finished second in the league with 49 sacks last season, and although losing Jones can be seen as a blow, expect New England's pass rush to still be one of the best in the NFL.
The biggest move that the Patriots have made this offseason is acquiring former Bears tight end Martellus Bennett through a trade. Adding Bennett to their roster gives New England a lethal combination at the tight end position, and it allows New England to run more dual tight end sets. The move will not only help their aerial attack in 2016, but also their blocking, as they now have two powerful tight ends that can help both in the run game and on pass plays helping offensive tackles with chip blocks.
Bennett isn't the only offensive weapon that New England has added this offseason, as they acquired former Bills receiver Chris Hogan and free agent running back Donald Brown. Both acquisitions may go under the radar in free agency, as they haven't put up huge numbers with their previous teams, but NFL fans have witnessed the Patriots take players to another level multiple times in their system. It's unclear how big a role both Hogan and Brown will have in New England's offense in 2016, but it wouldn't be a shock if they both put up the best numbers of their careers in New England.
The Patriots moves this offseason have placed them as the top favorite for Super Bowl 51, and they clearly should be heading into this upcoming season. It will be interesting to watch how Belichick implements all the new pieces on the field next season, but look for New England to dominate in 2016, as their roster looks stacked and will be adding more pieces in the upcoming draft.