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Introduction to the New England Patriots

With Tom Brady and Bill Belichick the Patriots are always a dangerous team

What makes a great team? Is it great players? Great coaching? Winning games? Winning championships? Being the most successful? Winning in different ways? Perhaps it is winning games when not playing your best football? With the 2013 season already five games in, it looks like the New England Patriots may qualify for every category. The team is four and one and looks about as far removed as possible from the team of last year. Whatever the situation though the Patriots find a way to do what they do best, win. Since the new millennium no team has performed better than the New England Patriots. They have won the most regular season and playoffs games of any team. Made five Super Bowls and won three of them. They are the only team in history to have a 16 and 0 season, accomplished in 2007 and they have won their Division, the AFC East, 10 out of 13 times, more than any other team in the same time frame.  Life certainly has been good to the New England faithful in recent times and a large portion of the credit must go to the NFL's longest serving head coach Bill Belichick. Hired in 2000 Belichick has carefully crafted the Patriots into the leagues best team and has reaped the rewards because of it. The three time Coach of the Year has had more success than most but continues to strive for excellence from both his franchise and himself. Bursting onto the scene in 2001 he transformed an ailing Patriots team into Super Bowl Champions. He then forged a dynasty guiding the team to two more Super Bowl victories in 2003 and 2004. With such a sudden rise to prominence the Patriots looked set to dominate the league from then on. Things did not go according to plan however as not everything have gone Belichick and the Patriots way. They lost their next two Super Bowls; both times losing to an underdog New York Giants team and although they have consistently made the playoffs the lack of a championship is beginning to hurt the legacy for a coach treated to so much early success. Add on top of this a controversial videotaping scandal from 2007 that has drawn indignation from opposing fans and players alike, Belichick's Patriots remain controversial and rather unpopular outside their own extensive fan base.  It's hard to keep a good team down though and if history has taught us anything we can assume that the Patriots will no doubt be in the running come the post season once again as Belichick tries to capture his fourth championship.

A Seasoned Partnership

On top of being a talented coach, Belichick has had a bit of luck on his side since joining the franchise in 2000. One such example came in the form of a lowly sixth round draft pick from that year. An unheralded quarterback out of Michigan was passed on 198 times before the Patriots decided to take a shot him. The quarterback was future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. After being drafted by the Patriots in 2000, it wasn't until the next year that Brady got his big break when then starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe was knocked out of the game with an injury. Brady took over the role and has never looked back, establishing himself as not only a great quarterback but was one of the best of all time, winning the Super Bowl in his very first season starting. Brady and Belichick have developed a level of trust and chemistry that has only enhanced their success. Though Brady has never been the strongest or the fastest quarterback to play the game of football, he understands the intricacies of the game at a phenomenal level and possesses some of the best intangibles a quarterback can have, remaining calm and collected in clutch moments. The two time Super Bowl MVP holds the record for touchdown passes in a season with 50 and has the best winning percentage of any quarterback in the game with at least 100 starts. Brady was two games off tying Drew Brees's record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass but the streak was snapped last week against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Patriots first loss. Despite this you can rest assured Brady will be more upset with the teams defeat rather than the loss of a potential individual record. Brady and Belichick have been running the New England offense for 13 years together and are one of the most successful. This season Brady isn't off to his best start ever due to key injuries and personnel losses over the off season but the talented quarterback will still find a way to get it done even with diminished talented around him.

When One Door Closes, Another Opens

One injury that Brady and Patriots fans will be wanting to see back sooner rather than later is tight end Rob "Gronk" Gronkowski. Gronk is one of the most colourful characters in the NFL, known just as much for his off field antics, such as posing with porn stars, as he is for his dominance in the game. He is perhaps the best player in the new hybrid tight end role that can be used equally as a receiving threat but also a true third tackle in the running game. Nobody combines the two skills as well as Rob Gronkowski and with the departure of Wes Welker and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez, Gronk will be Brady's most prominent target when he returns from injury. Injuries do seem to be Gronkowski's fatal flaw, having had four surgeries on his arm and a further surgery on his back this off season. If he can recover from these setbacks look for Gronk to once again be catching passes and headlines when he returns. Unfortunately for Pats fans just when Gronk looks set to return another prime player gets injured as defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles. When healthy Wilfork is one of the best defensive linemen in the game and is the main cog in the Patriots defense as he creates numerous opportunities for those around him to make plays. A veritable man mountain Wilfork is one of the best run stuffers in the league but has the agility and quickness to make plays in the passing game as well, even for a man of his tremendous stature. The Patriots will sorely miss his presence as they progress in the season. This loss will mean players like cornerback Aqib Talib will have to step up to fill the gaping hole left by Wilfork. Talib has been a talented player since joining the league in 2008 but his career has been hamstrung by injury and further by a suspension for performance enhancing drugs in 2012. The Patriots will be hoping to keep this talented player healthy and productive for all 16 games this year showing he has the ability and talent to shut down the opposing team's top wide receiver. Another player the Patriots will be hoping can post a full season will be left guard Logan Mankins. If Wilfork is the rock of the defensive team, then Mankins is the anchor of the offensive line. The four time All Pro lineman is the leader of an elite group that help keep Tom Brady protected and let the Patriots offense roll. The veteran guard will be hopeful that he can overcome an injury from last year and solidify himself again as one of the best guards in the NFL.

A Road Often Travelled

After five games the Patriots once again sit atop of the AFC East possessing the best record. Though injuries could be an issue to this squad, Belichick has always preached the "next man up" philosophy. This ensures that no player is irreplaceable with talent waiting along the depth chart to fill any roll and the Patriots have proven they are successful no matter what the personnel group. What has changed though is the strength of the division they play in. The AFC East having been generally one of the weaker divisions in recent years, the other teams look better equipped this year to challenge the Patriots dominance. The Buffalo Bills have always fallen short of their potential but this year have started well with a rookie quarterback and have already caused an upset or too and could continue this trend. The New York Jets have also exceeded expectations this year. Generally considered a circus of a football team that can never get out of its own way, nobody expected the Jets to achieve anything substantial this year but hold a positive record. They also have an experienced and successful coach along with a new rookie quarterback. The Jets look as if they might be rebuilding their identity. The Miami Dolphins finish off the division and had started the season undefeated but recently lost a couple of games. They also narrowly missed the playoffs last year and will be looking to improve and figure to be New England's biggest threat going forward. Assuming New England can win the division once again the real problems will begin in the post season. An old foe for Belichick and Brady is causing a stir in the AFC as Peyton Manning and his Broncos start undefeated and look to be the team to beat for the AFC crown. A rivalry forged when Manning was at the Colts, the trio has had many a thrilling clash and it could be the case again this year. Also lurking in the AFC are last year's Super Bowl champions and recent rivals the Baltimore Ravens. Having met in back to back AFC Championship games the last two years, this has also become a very heated between these two teams.  The Patriots under Belichick have shown though that they are a fearsome beast and no matter how wounded and they have the potential to always be a threat to any team. Success is the name of the game in New England though and the ownership and fan base will be expecting playoff success again that has been a bit too long in coming.

Head Coach: Bill Belichick

Super Bowl Appearances:  1985, 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011

Division: AFC East

Biggest Rivalries: Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens

Jersey to buy: #12 QB Tom Brady, #87 TE Rob Gronkowski, #75 DT Vince Wilfork, #70 LG Logan Mankins, #31 CB Aqib Talib