NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (14-5)
LAST SEASON: Patriots chances of reaching third straight Super Bowl seemed doomed after Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension for performance enhancers, 1-2 start to regular season, various injuries and arrival and abrupt departure of Josh Gordon. Yet New England rallied, claiming record 10th straight AFC East title before blowing out Chargers in divisional round and outlasting Chiefs in AFC championship game in OT. Patriots capped turnaround by claiming their sixth Lombardi Trophy with 13-3 Super Bowl win over Rams in lowest-scoring Super Bowl.
FREE AGENCY: Biggest move has been trading for veteran edge rusher Michael Bennett, who they hope can make up for production lost after DE Trey Flowers signed with Detroit. They also added veteran tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who leads group that will vie to replace recently retired Rob Gronkowski. Same is true with signing of receiver Demaryius Thomas, who Patriots hope can potentially replace output of Chris Hogan after he signed with Panthers.
THEY NEED: TE, WR, DE, DT, OT, QB.
THEY DON’T NEED: CB, RB, LB.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence; Iowa TEs T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant.
OUTLOOK: New England was mostly bargain hunting during free agency, which means it could be looking to use some of its 12 draft picks (seven in first four rounds) to fill long-term needs. Bill Belichick has never used first-round pick to select receiver. But Tom Brady will be 42 years old when next season begins and needs some more dependable targets to throw to.
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