There are few teams in the NFL going into 2013 with more upheaval, more question marks, than the New England Patriots.
There are only two constants on the offensive side of the ball: Tom Brady and Stevan Ridley.
Even the running backs behind Ridley, who have snaps with the team, have much less of a track record than Ridley, himself.
It is possible that Tom Brady will have none of the receivers to whom he threw passes in 2012. But if Brady has proven anything, it is that he can lead teams of virtual unknown players to glory.
The Patriots went 12-4 in 2012, scoring their second highest total in team history with 557 points. They made over 100 more first downs than their opponents, while amassing 6,846 yards, good enough for third in the league at 442.5 per game.
The Patriots' schedule is deemed to be a little more of a challenge this year. And 2013 could be less kind to the team in terms of fantasy points, but then again, we are talking about Tom Brady.
Here is their schedule of potential victims in 2013:
Week 1 at Buffalo
Week 2 vs. New York Jets (Thursday Night Football)
Week 3 vs. Tampa Bay
Week 4 at Atlanta
Week 5 at Cincinnati
Week 6 vs. New Orleans
Week 7 at New York Jets
Week 8 vs. Miami
Week 9 vs. Pittsburgh
Week 10 BYE
Week 11 at Carolina (Monday Night Football)
Week 12 vs. Denver
Week 13 at Houston
Week 14 vs. Cleveland
Week 15 at Miami
Week 16 at Baltimore
Week 17 vs. Buffalo
Facing the Broncos, Texans and Ravens in the second half could prove to be a difficult test and deciding factor in their playoff run. But I can still see Brady leading the Patriots to another 12-win season.
While it is difficult to project ANY kind of starting, receiver production for 2013, we can be fairly confident that Brady will pass for more than 4,000 yards. It is assumed that Danny Amendola will occupy the number one slot, but he has been injured more often than not, and is a gamble from a fantasy perspective.Amendola's only uninterrupted season netted a mere 689 yards and three touchdowns. He has yet to show his value to the fantasy world.
But don't forget that he is actually ahead of where Welker was when the Patriots stole him from Miami.
In fact, other than tight end Rob Gronkowski, there is only one receiver going into training camp for whom solid data exists; his name is Michael Jenkins.
He has only 25 touchdowns in his nine-year career, and his best season, by far, netted 777 yards.
Needless to say, his fantasy value may depend more upon who is throwing him the ball, rather than his track record.
LaVelle Hawkins is a long-shot to make the team, especially if certain rookies make the right impression on the coaching staff in training camp.
That leaves Patriots fans hoping and praying for Gronkowski to heal quickly and regain his game speed before the season begins. If he is physically unable to perform, unproven players like Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui will be asked to fill his already legendary shoes.
But they also have high hopes that Jake Ballard will gain momentum recovering from knee surgery. But even he has a limited repertoire: one season with the Giants, 604 yards and four TDs. Perhaps a Belichick system will suit him better and increase those numbers, but only time will tell.
Gronkowski is simply a beast. His 38 touchdowns in three seasons makes him a fantasy bonanza at the TE position. Despite concerns with his health, he stands to be a bright spot in this offense. If he can match his 1,327-yard, 17-TD production from two years ago, he is a No. 1 pick.
Julian Edelman is somewhat of an enigma; when healthy, he is a versatile player. But 2012 was a down year for him, only gaining 581.5 all-purpose yards, more than half coming via kick returns.
But his four TDs as a change of pace receiver/runner portend a value way beyond his actual numbers. He may be one full, healthy season away from upsetting a bunch of fantasy owners.
There should also be some upside to rookies Zac Sudfeld, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. Again, if they can catch the eyes of coaches in camp, all of them have the potential to be sleepers in fantasy leagues everywhere.
Dobson has the skills to quickly leap-frog his teammates for the No. 1 role before the midpoint of the season, and Sudfeld may be a Gronkowski-like freak.
We should also project Stevan Ridley to slightly increase his 1,263-yard, 12-TD campaign, making him a very solid choice in the backfield. Shane Vereen is a good choice as backup, although he will be challenged by a healthy, drug-free Brandon Bolden, as well as, recent addition LeGarrette Blount of Tampa Bay origin.
If Blount makes the final roster, he must show that his steady drop in production can be reversed. His rookie season, just three years ago, was a 1,007-yard, 6-TD breakout. That would be huge for a Patriots team in need of a boost to cover other losses in personnel.
Training camp will tell us a lot about this team, and the prodiction we can expect from a new array of weapons. The running game may actually be improved for 2013, but it is the receiving corps that needs to gel in a hurry.
Proceed with caution, but count on Brady to make the most of whatever Belichick puts on his field.