With the dust having settled on the New England Patriots' improbable comeback victory in Super Bowl LI, there's little surprise that oddsmakers have pegged the newly-crowned champions as favorites for Super Bowl LII (52) next year, at five-to-one odds.
In a year where he lost his starting quarterback for the first quarter of the season, Belichick still managed to lead the Patriots to an NFL-best 14-2 record; they only lost one game when Brady returned from his suspension. And once he did get back, Brady threw 28 touchdown passes in only 12 games this year, averaging almost 300 yards passing per game (ranking fourth in the NFL in that statistic). In Super Bowl LI, Brady finished the game completing 43 of 62 passing attempts for 466 yards, which were all new Super Bowl records.
As if to make matters worse for their rivals in the AFC, the Patriots entered the offseason with around $67 million in salary cap space, good for fifth-most in the NFL. In years past, the Patriots usually refrained from making overtures towards free agents sure to garner lucrative contracts. That's why it came as a surprise to many people when the Patriots quickly inked cornerback Stephon Gillmore to a five-year deal with $65 million, on the first day of free agency.
Coming off a Pro Bowl season, Gillmore gives New England a pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks, alongside Malcolm Butler. Their other big move in free agency wasn't actually an acquisition, but rather the retention of Pro Bowl linebacker Dont'a Hightower. Hightower opted to return to New England on a four-year, $35.5 million deal. As the middle linebacker for New England (and a favorite of the coaching staff), Hightower was an integral part of the Patriots defense. Being able to retain his services was a huge win for them.
On offense, New England gave future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady yet another weapon, in the form of wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The Patriots sent the #32 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft to New Orleans for the rights to Cook, who will provide Brady with a deep threat that was sorely lacking last year. Add in the acquisitions of defensive end Kony Ealy from Carolina (an underrated pass rusher) and tight end Dwayne Allen (who has shown the ability to be a dominant red zone option), and it's not hard to see why New England should be the favorites for Super Bowl LII in the AFC yet again.
While fans in Pittsburgh (currently sitting at 10-to-1 odds – good for third highest) and Denver (20-to-1 odds) won’t like to hear this, the champs clearly aren’t ready to concede their conference – or Super Bowl – title to anyone who dare challenges them.
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