Clayton: Pats a top contender in '13

The Ravens have earned the right to hold the title of the team to beat entering the 2013 season, with the 49ers not far behind.

But repeating as Super Bowl champion is not easy, nor is reaching the game a season after losing it, as ESPN's senior NFL writer John Clayton writes in a recent piece that features five teams other than the Ravens and 49ers likely to compete for a Super Bowl in 2013.

The Denver Broncos are Clayton's leading candidate, with the Patriots checking in right behind them at slot two. Clayton says "there's no reason to think" the Patriots wont be back in the AFC Championship Game.

All four of the AFC's division winners look like candidates to repeat next season, though much can change during the offseason.

FIELD YATES' TAKE: After winning 13 games and hosting the AFC Championship Game, there's no need to overhaul the roster or make sweeping changes to improve. It's about fine-tuning and adding elements that were missing from last season. Free agency will be key, as the Patriots have three major decisions to make regarding receiver Wes Welker, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and cornerback Aqib Talib. Regardless of how those scenarios play out, the Patriots have a track record of turning over the roster and replacing starters that depart via free agency or release. If the team cannot come to terms with any of those three, they'll be in a healthy salary cap situation to pursue outside free agents. It's early in the process, and this is a topic that we'll continue to break down throughout the offseason as free agency and the draft transpire. With Tom Brady under center and Bill Belichick on the sideline, this team always has a chance, but work must be done this offseason to push this team closer to its ultimate goal.