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New England Patriots Links 6/07/11 - Patriots Primed For Another Super Bowl Run

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Ian Rapoport (Sporting News) Patriots outlook: New England primed for another Brady-led Super Bowl run.

Offense: The most promising sign for the Patriots’ offense had nothing to do with Brady. Rather, it was a physical offensive line helping lead BenJarvus Green-Ellis to a 1,000-yard season. Green-Ellis, an undrafted free agent, emerged from anonymity to rush for 1,008 yards and penciled himself in as a back for the future. Danny Woodhead, the diminutive Jets castoff who averaged 5.6 yards per carry, is a threat in the run and pass game. Wes Welker’s surgically repaired knee allowed him to catch 86 passes for 848 yards and seven touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if he makes a leap back to 100-plus receptions in 2011. Drafting Nate Solder in the first round emphasized the uncertainty on the offensive line, where age is becoming a concern.

Defense: Rising star cornerback Devin McCourty, All-Pro linebacker Jerod Mayo and Co. made the kinds of strides Belichick coveted, as the Patriots ranked eighth in scoring defense. Veteran Gerard Warren will likely be replaced by Marcus Stroud, but the other end spot is up for grabs. Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick will battle for the starting job, as will Ty Warren. Mayo also deserves credit for helping groom raw rookie Brandon Spikes, who made up for lack of speed by rarely missing a tackle. Before a suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy ended his regular season, he totaled 61 tackles and an interception. Kyle Arrington rose from being a special teamer to starting cornerback opposite McCourty. Competition will come from second-round pick Ras-I Dowling, a physical cornerback who could immediately contribute.

Bottom line: The Patriots defied expectations with a 14-2 mark, using Brady’s expertise to jump out to big leads and allow the defense to stop an opponent that was one-dimensional. It’s too much to expect Brady to keep turning in eye-popping seasons, so the onus for success is on the defense. The attention will eventually turn to the playoffs, where they have a three-game losing streak. The Patriots will need more than Brady to break through to the Super Bowl this season.

Opponent's view (An anonymous opponent breaks down the Patriots):  "The outside receivers are OK, they’re average to above-average. They’re not a threat. Those guys don’t scare you. What scares you is what (Wes) Welker can bring to their offense. … If they ever got the running back now to go with Wes Welker and those two tight ends, they’re going to be (trouble)."

Breakout candidate: Jermaine Cunningham, LB A 2010 second-round pick, Cunningham spent his injury-plagued rookie season learning to play upright after being a defensive end in college. Look for him to put it together this season and prove coach Bill Belichick right for ignoring pass rushers in the draft.

"We do have some young players (like Cunningham) on our roster and I think that those players -- in all the various positions, not just at that specifically -- but I think younger players will still continue to develop," – Bill Belichick