Andy Benoit of The New York Times' "Fifth Down" blog is writing in-depth previews of each team entering the 2012 season, and his piece on the Patriots is as comprehensive as a follower will find.
Benoit highlights the contrast in results from the first half of Bill Belichick's tenure to the second half.
"The New England Patriots brought home three Lombardi Trophies in the first five years of the Bill Belichick era. In the seven years since, they’ve blown a big second-half lead in the 2006 A.F.C. title game, blown an undefeated season in a 2007 Super Bowl loss to the Giants, been blown out at home in a 2009 wild-card matchup with the Ravens, blown a No. 1 seed in a 2010 divisional round home loss to the Jets and, most recently, lost another Super Bowl to the Giants.
"It’s tempting to overanalyze the differences between the Part I Patriots and these Part II Patriots, but each attempt at explaining the contrasting results of playoff runs would be met with a valid rebuttal."
Benoit then goes through the exercise "just for fun," before dissecting the team's offense, defense and special teams.
On offense, he makes the point that Aaron Hernandez "might be the more important piece" when compared to Rob Gronkowski. He also notes Brandon Lloyd's presence at receiver and how he's projected to replace the "mostly ineffective Deion Branch on the outside."
On defense, Benoit expresses some doubts (piece appeared before linebacker Dane Fletcher's injury).
"The Patriots will find themselves having to outscore opponents again," he writes. "Their defense, thanks to questions with the pass rush and at cornerback, will most likely remain underwhelming."
To read the piece, CLICK HERE.