Looking at the enemy: New England Patriots

Looking at the enemy: New England Patriots
May 27, 2013, 4:00 pm
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(David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Over the past two weeks, CSNBaltimore.com has been taking a chronological look at each of the Ravens 2013 opponents. We've finally reached the end with the Week 16 opponent, the New England Patriots. (The Ravens' Week 17 opponent, Cincinnati, had previously been covered since the Ravens play the Bengals twice.)

Week 16: New England Patriots

Date: Sunday, Dec. 22, 8:30 p.m., M&T Bank Stadium

2012 Record: 12-4, won AFC East; beat Houston, 41-28, in Divisional Round; lost to Baltimore, 28-13, in AFC Championship Game

Key offseason losses: S Patrick Chung (to Philadelphia); WR Brandon Lloyd (unsigned);  G Donald Thomas (to Indianapolis); WR Wes Welker (to Denver); RB Danny Woodhead (to San Diego);

Key additions: WR Danny Amendola (from St. Louis); RB LaGarrette Blount (from Tampa Bay via trade); G Tyronne Green (from San Diego); WR Donald Jones (from Buffalo); RB-KR Leon Washington (from Seattle); S Adrian Wilson (from Arizona);

Top 5 draft picks: LB Jamie Collins (2nd round, Southern Mississippi); WR Aaron Dobson (2nd round, Marshall); CB Logan Ryan (3rd round, Rutgers); S Duron Harmon (3rd round, Rutgers); WR Josh Boyce (4th round, TCU)

Overview: Is the Patriots' window closing? Tom Brady will be 36 when this season starts, and it's fair to wonder how much longer he can keep the Patriots in the running for an AFC title.

Brady has lost one of his main offensive weapons in Wes Welker, as he has joined Peyton Manning in Denver. The Patriots are hoping that Danny Amendola, who has arrived from St. Louis, can fill that void, but that's asking a lot. Welker has averaged 112 catches and 1,243 receiving yards over the past six seasons. Amendola is four years younger than Welker but has had a hard time staying healthy.

There are also a lot of questions about the health of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who with Aaron Hernandez gives the Patriots the league's best tight end duo when they are at 100 percent. But Gronkowski continues to be bothered by a broken arm, an injury that has resulted in additional surgeries because of infection, and has a bothersome back as well.

The Patriots re-signed tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who along with tackle Nate Solder, guards Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly and center Ryan Wendell give New England a solid, veteran presence in front of Brady.

Stevan Ridley returns as the feature back after running for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. At least he won't have to see Bernard Pollard when the Ravens meet the Patriots; it was Pollard who knocked Ridley unconscious in the playoffs last season, forcing a fumble.

On defense, the Patriots ranked 29th against the pass, but the secondary got a huge lift last season from the midseason trade for cornerback Aqib Talib, and the Patriots re-signed him and corner Kyle Arrington. The secondary also picked up Adrian Wilson from Arizona, but at age 33, his window could be closing, too.

The defense still has Vince Wilfork clogging up the middle, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo at linebacker and a couple of good young players in Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones, the younger brother of the Ravens' Arthur Jones.

The Patriots had no draft picks in the top 50 this year, as they traded out of the first round and ultimately took Southern Miss linebacker Jamie Collins with their first pick at No. 52.

Given the AFC East landscape, the division appears to be the Patriots' to lose again this season. This Week 16 matchup could have a lot to do with clarifying the AFC playoff picture.

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