Patriots regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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Final Power Ranking: 4
Preseason Power Ranking: 2

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesSecuring Wes Welker will be important for the Patriots this offseason.
Biggest surprise: The Patriots found a surprise gem in defensive end Mark Anderson. He is playing on his third team in three years but found a home in New England. He tied Andre Carter for the team lead with 10 sacks. Anderson recorded only 8.5 sacks the past four seasons with the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears. New England's offense scores a lot of points, which allows the defense to go after opposing quarterbacks trying to keep up. Anderson and New England's pass rush will be key to the Patriots making a Super Bowl run.

Biggest disappointment: There was a lot of fanfare with the offseason trade of former Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco. He was expected to make an impact and add big-play capability to New England's already high-powered offense. Instead, Ochocinco had trouble adjusting to his new surroundings early and never caught up. Ochocinco's season was a dud. He set new career lows with just 15 receptions for 278 yards and one touchdown. Most weeks the Patriots didn't need Ochocinco and he was largely ignored. He never caught more than two passes in a game.

Biggest need: The Patriots need secondary help in the worst way. It could come at safety and/or cornerback. New England set an NFL record for the most passing yards allowed in a season. Nearly every week the Patriots were carved up by opposing quarterbacks. Cornerback Devin McCourty had an awful sophomore slump. He needs to get better. The safeties underperformed and were decimated by injuries. The Patriots have two first-round picks and two second-round picks in April's NFL draft. They will have plenty of opportunities to add players who can make an impact.

Team MVP: There's no question about this one. New England quarterback Tom Brady threw for 5,000 yards for the first time in his career. He finished with 5,235 yards, 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Brady was the single biggest difference-maker of any player in the NFL, thus leading to my case for making him the league's Most Valuable Player. With Brady, New England is 13-3, won the AFC East and has home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Without Brady, this is probably a five-win team with an awful defense and shaky quarterback play.

Free-agent watch: There is no bigger free agent on this team than receiver Wes Welker. He set a career high with 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. His 122 receptions were the second-highest of his career. Welker is one of the league’s biggest free agents this offseason and a must-sign for the Patriots. Their offense isn't the same without him. New England has other decisions to make on lesser pending free agents like Carter and veteran receiver Deion Branch. Other than that, the Patriots are in good shape this year with free agency.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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