“Steamroller action crushing all
Victim is your name and you shall fall”

Listed above are some lyrics from a song that was released on the breakthrough album Master of Puppets by Metallica in 1986.  The song: Damage Inc.

The time is now that these lyrics may ring true for the New England Patriots.  This may be the year where they become the victim and fall. 

For a team that has dominated its division, winning 10 AFC East division titles over the last 12 years and has had a firm grip around the AFC conference’s throat, making it to the Super Bowl 5 times during the same time span and walking away with three Vince Lombardi trophies, may finally be ready for a lack luster season.  The reason?  Two words: Wes Welker.  Or the lack there of.

It looked like it was no big deal when Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker was not re-signed this off season by the Patriots and ended up with the Denver Broncos and arch rival Peyton Manning.  But with the recent actions of current Patriots, future Hall Of Fame quarterback Tom Brady may be missing Welker more than anyone could expect.

Welker led the Patriots in receptions each year during his six years in New England.  As well as leading the NFL in receiving yards three times.  Over the last two years alone, Welker tallied 240 receptions, 2,923 yards and 15 touchdowns.  He was simply Brady’s go to guy.

The question that awaits the Patriots this upcoming season: who will replace Welker’s production?  There’s the “Gronk,” tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has had four surgeries on his forearm since last season and has more recently had back surgery in June.  How healthy will he be when the season starts?

Gronkowski is possibly the best player at his position in the NFL.  Over the last two years he has had seasons of 90 and 55 receptions, 1,327 and 790 yards receiving but more astonishing is his touchdown contributions.  28 td’s over the last two seasons.  If his back and forearm are an issue this upcoming season, how far will his production drop?

Then there’s the off the field disaster that is better known as Aaron Hernandez.  A young man, 23, that is facing the possibility of going to prison for murder.  Hernandez has been charged with the murder of an acquaintance that took place in June, along with being investigated in a 2012 double murder, all taking place in Massachusetts.

Hernandez was an up and coming versatile tight end that the Patriots resigned to a 5 year 40 million dollar contract during last off season and were looking at using him more at the slot receiver position this season following the loss of Welker.  The absence of Hernandez will negatively impact the Patriots more than some may think.  Hernandez attributed for 12 touchdowns and 130 receptions over the last two seasons and some experts considered him the fifth best tight end in the NFL.  Now, he’s just another inmate awaiting his future, which looks bleak.

As it stands right now, the Patriots seem content on replacing Welker with a group of average receivers by way of a committee of lack luster performers.

First was the signing in the off-season of St Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola, who is expected to step in and take the place of Welker.  The two are similar in stature, but far from comparable in the realm of production.  Amendola has had a string of injuries over his four year career, which has limited him to 42 games and obtain 196 receptions for 1,726 yards and 7 touchdowns.  Amendola has big shoes to fill and there will be limited time for him to adjust to the Patriots way.  Brady is going to need “his guy” to surface quickly if the team is going to continue their dominance in the NFL.

Then there’s current Patriot Julian Edelman who has been on the roster four years and contributed with 69 receptions, 714 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Edelman is a player that could definitely help with his elusiveness and quickness but has yet to set himself apart and only opportunities will tell if he is a true playmaker.

Finally there are the no names that the Patriots picked up in the off-season.  The front office in New England chose to sign Donald Jones from inter divisional rival Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings cast off Michael Jenkins.  Jones has compiled 82 receptions, 887 yards receiving, and 6 touchdowns over a three year career.  Jenkins has compiled a better resume over his career in the league where he has caught 25 touchdowns, 354 receptions and has accumulated 4,427 yards receiving.

This is a less than stellar receiving corps that the Patriots plan to put on the field this upcoming season and to say that the playoffs are in sight could be an unrealistic statement.  If this cast of characters has one thing going for them, it’s that they play in a weak division.  The AFC East is one of the weaker divisions in the conference.  That is one of the reasons the Patriots have been able to keep a firm grip on it. 

In the past, quarterback Tom Brady has led the Patriots to a Super Bowl championship with less than Hall Of Fame caliber players at the receiver position, with the likes of Troy Brown, Deion Branch, David Givens, and David Patten.  But as the new season is on the horizon, this may be Brady’s biggest test to date. 

Brady is considered one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history and if he is able to take this new group of players to the playoffs alone, it may elevate his legend to a higher level.  But if he fails, maybe the Patriots brass will realize that the loss of Welker was more costly than they originally anticipated when they didn’t secure him this off season.