Patriots begin 2012 season as the favorite to win the AFC

Tom Brady and the Patriots are the most beloved sports team in Boston.

Rookies Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, both 22 years old, are two of the youngest players on the Patriots. Tom Brady, 35, is oldest. What’s unique is that all three players look to play major roles in the team’s success this season. The words “success” and “Patriots” have gone hand in hand for over a decade now.

No team has won more games over the last 10 regular seasons — the Patriots are 123-37 —  no team has won more Super Bowls — 3 — or made more appearances there — 5. There are numerous reasons for those numbers beyond the typical “Bill Belichick is thuh smahtest coach evah, and Brady is thuh best tuh evah play” mentality. All that might be true, but football, more than any other sport, is won and lost as a team and the Patriots have consistently put superb ones out there even with the NFL’s roster turnover.

After the team’s recent final cut down day, just two Patriots Super Bowl-winning players remain: Brady and Vince Wilfork. That’s it.

Tedy Bruschi’s “54” has been taken by Hightower. Willie McGinest’s “55” is now worn by Brandon Spikes. Kyle Arrington now rocks Ty Law’s old “24”, and Rob Ninkovich has held down Mike Vrabel’s “50” for a few years now.

You get the idea — newer faces surround the team. Of the 53 players on the roster, 34 of them are 25 years or younger. It’s been the Patriots ability to cut ties with slowing veterans and find young, dedicated players to balance out their remaining veteran presence that allows them to compete with the best every season. A couple years ago, it was the rookie tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez that made waves. Now, we could see that on defense.

“I would say [rookies Jones, Hightower, and Nate Ebner], all three of them and really the defense as a whole, I would say comes into work every day,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “[We’re] very blessed to have great guys that like to come to work, like to work hard, study, work together, and just really love football, which is what you’re looking for.”

And regardless of position, every player on the team can look up to the oldest remaining Patriot.

Tom Terrific

Tom Brady is poised to put up 5,000 yards through the air once again. A look at some other Brady-related numbers.
   
Brady needs 21 yards passing to become the 14th player in NFL history to put up 40,000 career passing yards. He needs 260 passing yards to move past Johnny Unitas.

Numbers game

The Patriots are always flirting with NFL history.
   
Bill Belichick (192) needs one more win to tie Chuck Knox (193) for eighth place on the all-time wins list for coaches. He needs 10 more wins to move past Dan Reeves for seventh all-time.
   
Rob Gronkowski (10 touchdowns in 2010 and 18 in 2011) can become the first tight end in NFL history with three straight 10-plus touchdown seasons. Gronkowski and Antonio Gates (13 in 2004 and 10 in 2005) are the only tight ends to have back-to-back 10 TD seasons.



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