This article is part of our Team Previews series.
STATE OF THE FRANCHISEIn the team's 15th season under coach Bill Belichick, the 2014 Patriots finished 12–4 for the third straight year, while winning their sixth straight AFC East title. The team's stellar campaign was capped by an improbable last-minute triumph over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, which secured the team's fourth Belichick/Tom Brady-fueled NFL championship.
When Week 1 rolls around this September, however, the Patriots are slated to be without the services of Brady for the first four games of the season as a result of his perceived role in the "Deflategate" scandal. While the three-time Super Bowl MVP has already filed an appeal of his suspension, the Patriots are faced with opening the season with second-year signal caller Jimmy Garoppolo behind center.
While a reduction in Brady's penalty remains plausible, the team will also open the season with running back LeGarrette Blount suspended for the opener, while fielding a cornerback corps that will be minus key 2014 cogs Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington. The team also parted ways with long-time nose tackle Vince Wilfork this offseason, but in spite of it all, the team remains in a position to make another title run upon the return of Brady. While the secondary clearly remains a work in progress, the team's defensive front is well stocked, bolstered by the deployment of back-to-back first-rounders on Dominique Easley and Malcom Brown. Moreover, defensive captain Jerod Mayo is back from a knee injury to