The New England Patriots went to the AFC Championship game for the second straight season and for the second straight season faced the Baltimore Ravens. This time, though, the Ravens were the victorious team as they went on to win Super Bowl XLVII. The Patriots are in better teams than most heading into the 2013 season for one simple reason: Tom Brady.
However, the Pats could stand to upgrade a couple positions on defense as well as their wide receivers for the upcoming season. If they play their cards right, they could be close to unstoppable in the upcoming season.
Biggest need: Defensive back
The Patriots need some help in the secondary. The team's front seven isn't terrible, but the secondary struggles against good teams. This was highlighted by Jacoby Jones' touchdown catch to propel the Ravens to the Super bowl. The Patriots have solid players in Alfonzo Dennard and Devin McCourty and if they re-sign Aqib Talib, but they still need some help, especially at safety, where they could use an enforcer. There are several free-agent safeties available and a few in the draft that the Patriots could go after to upgrade the position.
Other needs: Wide receiver
That Patriots offense was ranked No. 1 at the end of the season and that was without really having a No. 1 wide receiver. Wes Welker led all Patriots receivers, but he's more of a slot receiver and he's also a free agent. The Patriots last dominant outside receiver was Randy Moss and we all saw what Brady was capable of when he's paired with a receiver of Moss' caliber. If the Patriots can keep Welker, find a new No. 1 receiver and still use tight ends Rob Gronkowski as well as Aaron Hernandez, defenses will have to keep 15 players on the field to defend everyone.
NFL Draft outlook: Patriots only picking in four rounds
The Patriots have the No. 29 overall pick in the first round and they'll be picking in the second and third rounds, but they've lost their fourth, fifth and sixth-round picks due to trades. They lost their fourth-round pick to the Buccaneers to acquire Talib, their fifth-round pick went to the Redskins to acquire Albert Haynesworth and their sixth-round pick to the Bengals for Chad Johnson. They do have their own seventh-round pick as well as Tampa Bay's.
Salary cap situation: A little wiggle room
As of right now, the Patriots are about $18 million under the projected salary cap and that's before they make any releases or void any contracts. This is enough money to re-sign a few of their own free agents and possibly bring in a free agent or two, but they likely won't have the money to compete with some of the teams with a lot of money to throw around, like the Bengals or Colts, for big-name free agents.