New England Patriots (15-4)
New faces: WR Cordarelle Patterson, RB Jeremy Hill, RB Sony Michel, QB Danny Etling, DE Adrian Clayborn, OT Trent Brown, CB Jason McCourty, DT Danny Shelton.
Key losses: Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, WR Danny Amendola, WR Brandin Cooks, CB Malcolm Butler, CB Johnson Bademosi, RB Dion Lewis, OT Nate Solder, OT Cam Fleming.
Strengths: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick return as one of most successful quarterback-coach tandems in NFL history, and easily best of Super Bowl era. Brady is coming off MVP season in which he threw for 32 touchdowns vs. eight interceptions and led league with 4,577 yards passing. He’ll have Rob Gronkowski back for as long as oft-injured tight end can remain healthy.
Weaknesses: WR Julian Edelman (98 receptions in 2016, injured in ’17) will miss first four games serving suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing substance. Without him, team is thin at wideout, with Chris Hogan (34 catches last year), Phillip Dorsett (12) and newcomer Cordarelle Patterson (31 with Oakland). Malcolm Mitchell, Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt and Eric Decker were all brought in but didn’t work out.
Fantasy Players To Watch: Brady has shown no sign of drop-off, even at 41, but loss of offensive weapons like Amendola and Cooks and 25 percent of season from Edelman could hurt value. Don’t let Edelman fall too far down draft boards just because of four-game suspension; Hogan could also be in for increased targets as de facto No. 1 wideout. Although Michel is first-round draft pick with potential, his numbers might suffer because of Belichick’s tendency to use running backs by committee.
Vegas Says: Super Bowl 6-1. Over/under wins 11.5.
Expectations: There is rarely any regular-season suspense with Patriots, who have won 10 games or more for 15 straight years, winning division in all but one of them, when Brady was injured in 2008 (and they still went 11-5). Some intrigue surrounds Brady and Belichick, who have sparred over reigning MVP’s fitness guru (who also worked with suspended Edelman), and backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who was abruptly traded to San Francisco last year at bargain price of second-round pick. New defensive play caller Brian Flores will also be adjustment. To return to Super Bowl for ninth time, they will have to all figure out way to work together.