The AFC champion New England Patriots were just minutes away from winning their fourth Super Bowl with Tom Brady under center, but a few unlucky breaks were what separated them from the Giants. Many fans believed the Patriots were the most talented team in the league last year, and expect them to upgrade at certain positions rather than change around the whole roster this offseason.
2011 Record: 13-3, 1st in AFC East
Strengths: Quarterback, Wide Receiver, Tight End, Nose Tackle, Inside Linebacker, Cornerback, Free Safety
It's true, the Patriots don't have many flaws. Tom Brady will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, and for all we know, he still has plenty of years left in the tank. Brady has great options to throw the ball to in Wes Welker, and the dynamic tight end duo composed of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Scoring is not a problem for the Patriots, as they finish near the top of the scoring charts every season. Even the Patriots defense, which receives the most criticism, isn't that bad. Vince Wilfork is a nightmare for any offensive linemen, while Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich also pressure opposing quarterbacks. In the secondary, the Patriots always have a breakout guy, whether it's Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, or Kyle Arrington. Again, this team doesn't need much help, as they are the favorites to win Super Bowl XLVII.
Weaknesses: Running Back, Offensive Line, Defensive Ends, Linebacker Depth
For most teams, weaknesses are huge problems that opposing teams try to bring out against them, but for the Patriots, weaknesses are just a step down from perfection. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has never fumbled the ball in his career, but might not return to the Patriots next season. Either way, the Patriots could afford to add some depth at running back, especially a young, speedy player like Oregon's LaMichael James. Also, there's no better way to prolong Tom Brady's career than to keep him healthy. That starts with the offensive line. Nate Solder is the only linemen who will be under 30 years old throughout the season. Plus, it never hurts to have young linemen learn from some of the best. On the defensive end, the Patriots could upgrade at a few spots. While Wilfork does a great job, the Patriots need to apply more pressure from their ends. Additionally, adding depth at linebacker would be another good idea. Finally, the Patriots need to make their secondary better. For all the turnovers they create, they give up just as many big plays. The Patriots need to work on not giving up plays of 20+ yards next season.
Possible Options with 1st round pick (27th and 31st overall): Andre Branch, Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler, LaMichael James
Branch- The outside linebacker makes perfect sense from what I was saying earlier about applying pressure from the outside. So much of opposing offensive line's focus is on the middle of the field, so that will open up holes for guys like Branch to make plays.
Konz- Both Konz and Zeitler were dominant on the Wisconsin offensive line last year. As usual, these Wisconsin limenen are huge, but also quick with their hands and feet. Don't be surprised if the Patriots go with an offensive linemen, since their current line is old. Remember Patriots fans, drafting linemen just helps out Tom Brady's career even more.
LaMichael James- This pick is more of a creative pick than a realistic one, but would still make sense for the Patriots. Adding a star running back to the Patriots would also make Brady's life easier, but James adds more to a team than just running the ball. He could be used on special teams and also catch balls in the open James has flown under the radar surprisingly, but I still think he would make a great NFL player if he can stay healthy.
What the Patriots need in later picks (assuming they take Konz and Branch): More OL, OLB, RB, S, WR
Recap: I can't stress it enough that the Patriots are so close to returning to the Super Bowl next season. All this team needs is to upgrade a few positions, and they'll be golden come next season. As long as Tom Brady can stay out of Bernard Pollard's way, this team should have no problems.