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The New England Patriots have set down a marker for the rest of the NFL with their off-season moves, as they bid to claim back-to-back Super Bowls.
Bill Belichick’s men staged the largest comeback in the history of the big game to defeat the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium, winning the crown for the fifth time.
Despite their unprecedented success, Belichick and Tom Brady are not relenting in their bid to add further titles to their collections.
New England have bolstered their roster by trading away their first-round pick in the 2017 Draft for wideout Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints.
The club also acquired defensive end Kony Ealy and tight end Dwayne Allen in trades with the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts, respectively.
Perhaps their biggest splash came during the first day of free agency, however, when they secured a deal for former Buffalo Bills corner Stephon Gilmore on a lucrative five-year contract.
As a result of their off-season business, the Patriots are leading contenders to win the Super Bowl next term, being backed in the latest bet365 NFL odds at +500 to clinch their sixth Vince Lombardi trophy – and, for the second time under Belichick, three titles in four years.
Worryingly for the rest of the NFL, New England managed to win the Super Bowl without the presence of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The 27-year-old has been a dominant force in the league, and while a back injury curtailed his 2016 campaign, he should be fit to return in time for the club’s off-season activities.
Gronkowski is arguably the best pass-catcher in the NFL when healthy, but injuries have limited his impact down the stretch for the AFC East outfit in spates throughout his career.
The club’s offense last season allowed Brady to spread the ball around, with Julian Edelman remaining the primary target, although plays also came from Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell.
Running backs Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount and Super Bowl hero James White were also effective – as was Martellus Bennett – although he has since left New England to join the Green Bay Packers.
Should Gronkowski remain healthy, the options available to Brady make the offense almost unstoppable, even without adding Cooks to the mix.
The 23-year-old will add an extra dimension to the team due to his breakaway speed, something which the Patriots have lacked since the departure of Randy Moss in 2010.
New England’s offense broke records in 2007, when Moss and Wes Welker were added to their squad, and the same could happen following the acquisition of Cooks.
However, Belichick will be hopeful that his side doesn’t lose in heartbreaking fashion in the Super Bowl as they did against the New York Giants that year.
It’s extremely hard to look past the club in the AFC as no-one looks capable of touching them following their dismantling of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Conference Championship game, while the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs do not have quarterbacks capable of going score-for-score with Brady.
The Houston Texans did give them slight concerns in the divisional round due to their excellent defensive display, but a move for Tony Romo is not in the cards as the QB has decided to hang up the cleats. The Oakland Raiders could also threaten, pending Derek Carr’s fitness following the broken leg he suffered last term.
However, neither of those sides has the championship experience boasted by the Patriots – both on their coaching staff and on the field. New England have proven that even a 25-point advantage is not safe when dealing with Brady and Belichick.