With TE Aaron Hernandez’s NFL future in serious doubt after the recent events following a homicide investigation, the Patriots’ offense loses another serious weapon. If Rob Gronkowski doesn’t recover from his multiple surgeries in time for the start of the NFL season, the Patriots would have lost all 5 of their top receivers from last year (Welker, Lloyd, Gronkowski, Hernandez, and Woodhead).
Another startling stat for the Patriots is that out of their 4,884 total passing yards last year, players that have remained on the team only account for 640 of those yards. Hernandez was going into training camp as the one staple in the Patriots offense, the only primary target that Tom Brady was used to throwing to. His recent release means that Brady and Bellichek will have to restart the offense from scratch, and they are hoping Danny Amendola can bring back some of that firepower that we saw in the offense last year.
However, with a week 1 matchup against the Bills and a week 2 matchup against the Jets, it seems that the New York teams will have a chance to expose the new and unheralded Patriots offense. In the week 1 matchup against the Bills, the New England offense will not be totally used to the different personnel and we may see them struggle.
With both Hernandez and Gronkowski appearing to be unable to play week 1, Brady will have no receiver to throw to that he has utmost faith him, which may diminish the productivity of the team. And while the defense has gotten better, last year in their two meetings against Buffalo New England gave up 28 and 31 points. Although the Patriots managed to cruise through those games with a prolific offense, New England may not be able to survive if the Bills score 28 or 31 points again.
As for the Thursday Night matchup in week 2 against the Jets, the Patriots may still not be totally used to their new offense yet. And with Rex Ryan promising that the Jets will blitz more in 2013, Brady will be under more pressure than usual
against the Jets. This will force Brady to make tougher decisions, and while last year he would have faith in throwing the ball to Gronkowski, Hernandez, Welker, and even Woodhead in these dire situations, Brady will have none of his usual safety-nets to check down to. This may lead to poor decision making and possibly incompletions and interceptions. Although the Patriots are most likely going to be likely favorites heading into the game, the Jets may be able to pull off the upset.
If the Patriots get beaten in these first two games against their division rivals from the Empire State, this will put New England at a 2-game disadvantage to start the season. These two divisional losses will put the Patriots in a huge hole, which may be tough to recover from. This will open the door for teams such as Buffalo or even the Miami Dolphins to seize control of the division. Although the chance of this legendary dynasty not making the playoffs is usually slim, the loss of Hernandez will definitely increase the difficulty of their quest. Hernandez was positioned to play a huge role in the offense this year, but with his homicide investigation indicating that he will never set foot on a football field again, the Patriots playoff hopes are in jeopardy.
Keeping in mind that the football aspect of this situation is not of the most importance, prayers go out to the Lloyd family for the loss of a loved one at such an early age, and whether the criminal be Hernandez or someone else I sincerely hope that it is the right man who is caught and punished for his actions.