Many will remember the 2013 NFL season as one of injury and disappointment. The Patriots lost in the AFC Championship game to the Denver Broncos because the offense couldn't overcome its myriad injuries against one of the most explosive attacks in NFL history.
Let's reframe that. The Patriots were competitive in every game during the regular season with a broken down offense. They lost two games on terrible calls (Chris Jones' once-in-NFL-history Push call against the Jets, picked up flag in the end zone against the Panthers), and then lost two more games against the Bengals and Dolphins due to interceptions in the last 30 seconds of the game on the 3-yard-line and in the end zone, respectively. That's pretty darn close.
Football is a game of ifs and 2013 wasn't in New England's favor, but this relatively weak offensive season, by Patriots standards, was still strong enough to challenge for a Super Bowl title.
Well, it looks like Bill Belichick is working to get the gang back together for another run at the postseason.
Eight of the Patriots top ten offensive weapons from 2013 are on the roster, with running backs Stevan Ridley (torn ACL, on the Jets) and Shane Vereen (broken heart, on the Giants) the only two departures.
Julian Edelman, the team's leading weapon in 2013, is now entrenched as Tom Brady's favorite wide receiver. Rob Gronkowski, who missed the majority of 2013 with injuries, is coming off of his first healthy offseason in forever. Danny Amendola, who tore his groin in week 1 of 2013 and was still the team's #2 receiver, is healthy and seems to be integrated in the Patriots offense. Aaron Dobson, who finished 2013 with a foot injury, is finally healthy-ish again. Heck, Brandon Bolden and Michael Hoomanawanui are still around, too.
Kenbrell Thompkins, who shipped off to Oakland, is back on the squad. LeGarrette Blount, who went to Pittsburgh after ranking 3rd on the Patriots in yards from scrimmage in 2013, is back and will absorb all of Ridley's production.
Some mixture of sophomore James White and Dion Lewis will make up for Shane Vereen's departure.
The differences are primarily on the offensive line. While Nate Solder started 15 games in 2013, the rest of the line is fairly different. Guards Logan Mankins (Tampa Bay) and Dan Connolly (retired) are gone. Center Ryan Wendell has been replaced by Bryan Stork- although Stork hasn't been practicing so Wendell could line up in his old spot. Even Sebastian Vollmer was injured in 2013 and replaced by Marcus Cannon.
But even though the old guard of Mankins, Wendell, and Connolly have been replaced by rookie Shaq Mason, sophomore Bryan Stork, and rookie Tre Jackson, the interior was the weakness of the line in 2013 and should be considered as weakness again in 2015.
If the Patriots move forward with the current roster it's with the understanding that the offense is fairly similar to the 2013 product with three major exceptions.
1) Rob Gronkowski is healthy and that cannot be understated.
2) Scott Chandler offers another option that the post-Aaron Hernandez 2013 Patriots weren't able to create on the fly.
3) Brandon LaFell will enter as a midseason addition.
So take the 2013 3rd ranked Patriots offense, which was good enough to reach the AFC Championship game and were competitive in every single regular season game, add in two great tight ends and another wide receiver, and an offensive line with some upside, and hold on to your hats. It's going to be another exciting year.