There are so many things pointing to a season of great success for the Patriots this year; it may be hard for me to recall them all as I type this article.
I could start with the fact that the Patriots did not lose one starter on defense, and the only losses of note on offense has been at wid receiver, where the Patriots have more than tried to compensate.
After the Patriots went to the Super Bowl in 2011, they lost BJGE, Light, Waters, Anderson, Carter, and three of the four ragtag cornerbacks they had playing in the Super Bowl.
After the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2004, they lost their OC, DC, and key veteran players like TY Law, Roman Phifer, and Ted Johnson.
And of course, in addition to losing players after their Super Bowl appearance in 2007, Brady went down in the opening minutes of the 2008 season.
The 2003 Patriots returned all their key veterans, or replaced those lost with better talent. They lost Ted Washington but gained Keith Traylor and Vince Wilfork, they lost A. Smith but gained C. Dillon.
After 2006 when they were short of WRs and the defense was hit with serious injuries and they fell short in the AFC Championship, they brought in Stallworth, Moss and Welker as well as Adalius Thomas and Junior Seau.
So how does this offseason stack up in comparison to past years?
After being hit with critical injuries in the AFC Championship (Gronk, Talib, Love, etc.) the Patriots fell short. In 2013 they are returning all their starters on defense, and all their starters on offense except at the WR position. Their staff is intact, and they have actually added to it in the offseason.
They lost/released Welker, Branch and Lloyd, but have brought in Dobson, Boyce, Amendola, and others to fill in those losses at WR.
Last year Ballard, Fletcher, and Dowling were on IR the entire season, they return.
They have brought in proven veterans in FA, such as Tommy Kelly, Adrian Wilson, Armond Armstead and Jason Vega for the defense, in addition to drafting Collins, Ryan, Harmon and others for the defense, as well as bringing in several top UDFAs for the WR and defensive tackle positions.
So the Patriots have maintained their core group of players almost completely. The cohesion between players and staff will carry over from last season.
This is a veteran team, with a veteran staff, minimal offseason disturbance to the starting roster, and much talent and depth was added to the roster, a good blend of veterans and rookies.
Now lets consider the offseasons of the top competitors in the AFC from last year:
The Ravens - In addition to having the Super Bowl bullseye on their backs this season, they have lost FOUR of their best veteran players, players that were critical to their run in the playoffs last season.
Those of course are Matt Birk, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Anquan Boldin. In addition they lost key contributors like Kruger and Ellerbe. While Ozzie Newsome is as good as anyone at assembling a great team... even he can't overcome such losses in one offseason.
A team that came close to missing the playoffs last year, that loses all that veteran leadership, will struggle through a season or two before it gets back to where it was.
The Texans - lost a couple of veterans of note, and replaced them through the draft and free agency, the bottom line however is that they have a veteran quarterback that has played his best football, and is just not good enough to carry that team any further than he has already. So long as Matt Schaub is their QB, I believe they will continue to be an also ran.
The Broncos - By any measuring stick, have improved their team, its hard not to imagine them marching themselves to the AFC Championship this year, where I expect them to face off against the Patriots.
In the end I suspect Manning will struggle, by then it will be either cold, or very cold weather... which Manning does not excel in, and never has. The Broncos also lost some staff this offseason, and in general I do not feel that Fox is in Bill Belichick's league.
While the Broncos are a solid team, they are not built to counter the Patriots' strengths the way some other teams have been in the past, in the end this game could come down to which team is the healthiest... if the Patriots happen to be close to 100% healthy in the game, I expect they would win it handidly.
The Colts, Bengals, Steelers, and anyone else... I don't see as serious contenders to reach the Super Bowl this year... both the Bengals and Colts are getting close to being at that level, but I can't imagine either of those teams marching into Denver or Foxboro and pulling out a win in the playoffs.