- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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The AFC East blog concludes its series this week on ranking team needs.
We finally take a look at the reigning division champion New England Patriots, who play in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.
No. 1 need: Safety
Analysis: The Patriots were 29th against the pass this season and 31st against the pass in 2011. New England needs better safeties to prevent big passing plays over the top. Players like Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung are not the long-term solutions. That has forced Devin McCourty, a converted corner, to become a full-time safety. New England's pass defense has made some strides. But a legit, playmaking safety would go a long way in New England. There is speculation that pending free agent Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens could be an offseason possibility. Patriots second-round pick Tavon Wilson also has shown flashes but still have a lot to prove.
No. 2 need: Cornerback
Analysis: It also takes corners to play good pass defense, and New England struggled at times in that area as well. A lot depends on what happens with No. 1 corner Aqib Talib, who is a pending free agent. The Patriots made a midseason trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that is paying dividends. Talib has been the athletic, cover corner New England expected. But Talib's had off-the-field concerns in the past, and the Patriots will consider that when thinking about a long-term extension. Without Talib, New England has a thin group of corners. Rookie seventh-round pick Alfonzo Dennard has been a nice find, but he's inexperienced. Kyle Arrington is too up and down. The Patriots will have to explore this position in the draft or free agency.
No. 3 need: Wide receiver
Analysis: Much of this depends on what happens with Pro Bowl receiver and pending free agent Wes Welker. But the Patriots need to add some youth and depth at wide receiver. The Patriots don't have much behind starters Welker and Brandon Lloyd. Julian Eldelman showed flashes but suffered a season-ending foot injury. The Patriots will have to pay Welker a heavy price tag to keep him long-term. If Welker walks, that leaves a big hole in the offense. It won't be easy to replace Welker's immense production.