New England Patriots Links 7/03/12 - Analysts: Patriots Still Need Improved Pass Rush

Will rookie LB Dont'a Hightower be the difference on D?.

Daniel Jeremiah (NFL.com) Title game repeat? Odds stacked against XLVI champion Giants.

1) New England Patriots

Why they will return to the AFC Championship Game: Tom Brady is the main reason why the Patriots have the best chance of returning to the conference championship game. He continues to play at an elite level and he is clearly the top quarterback in the AFC. It is almost a given that the Patriots will win their division considering they have done just that in eight of the past nine seasons. The defense should be more athletic in 2012 with the addition of first-round picks Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower.

Why they won't return to the AFC Championship Game: There are still concerns on the defensive side of the ball. They finished the 2011 season ranked 31st in total defense and pass defense. They added nice pieces via the draft, but there likely will be an adjustment period before those rookies can have a major impact. By letting Mark Anderson depart and failing to re-sign an injured Andre Carter, the Patriots must find a way to replace 20 of their 40 sacks from last season. The offense is in very good shape, but New England must replace two very dependable players in OT Matt Light and RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Pete Prisco (CBS Sports) Playoff possibilities: What every team needs to make the postseason.

New England Patriots: They will be in the Super Bowl if ... they improve a defense that was ranked 31st last season, and dead last in first downs allowed. The main focus: Improve the pass rush.

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