3. BELICHICK AND BRADY: Players come and go, even stars. But as long as Belichick and Brady are around, the Patriots should have realistic Super Bowl aspirations. The longest tenured current NFL coach, Belichick led the Patriots to the postseason in 10 of his 13 seasons and to five Super Bowls. They’ve won three titles, although none in the last eight seasons. Brady leads one of the NFL’s best offenses every year, no matter who surrounds him. When a knee injury ended his season in the 2008 opener, the Patriots missed the playoffs.
4. YOUNG DEFENSE: The youth movement on defense that began last year continues. End Chandler Jones, linebacker Dont’a Hightower — and maybe Dennard — head into their second season as starters. This year, linebacker Jamie Collins was drafted in the first round and cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon in the third. The Patriots led the AFC with 41 takeaways, but were only tied for 15th with 37 sacks. While youngsters develop, tackle Vince Wilfork, end Rob Ninkovich, linebacker Jerod Mayo and defensive backs Devin McCourty and Aqib Talib form a solid veteran core.
5. SIMPLE DIVISION: Sure, the Miami Dolphins added wide receiver Mike Wallace and linebacker Dannell Ellerbee. And that gives them an edge over their AFC East foes — for second place. The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills did little to improve their chances. So look for the Patriots to win the division for the 10th time in 11 years. Against AFC East opponents, they’ve won their last 10 games and 20 of their last 24.