The New England Patriots are a team that needs no introduction. Formed in 1960 as one of the original AFL franchises (the Boston Patriots), the franchise made the playoffs 10 times in its first 40 years, with the higher-water marks achieved by losing the 1963 AFL Championship game, Super Bowl XX and Super Bowl XXXI.
Then in 2000, the franchise hired Bill Belichick to succeed Pete Carroll, and the team was transformed into a modern-day dynasty immediately. The Pats drafted Tom Brady out of Michigan in the sixth round of that draft and won their first Super Bowl 21 months later. Since that combination was united, the often-controversial Patriots have been to six Super Bowls, winning four, and have enjoyed double-digit wins in 13 of 15 years. There really is no franchise that comes close to those marks, and the only constants throughout have been Belichick and Brady.
The 2015 edition of the Patriots again looks the part of a Super Bowl contender, and in watching its product, let's focus on three players who should factor into today's contest.
RB Dion Lewis
Nothing frustrates the league more than the way the Patriots take others' discards and win while prominently featuring them. Lewis was drafted by Philadelphia, traded to Cleveland and auditioned in Indianapolis before arriving in Foxboro for his fifth season. His career featured fewer than 200 yards from scrimmage before the Patriots. In just three games he's amassed 325 yards. He fits in that versatile "joker" spot, where he can play behind Brady or as another receiver with his quickness. He will fumble the ball on occasion, but the Patriots are so pleased that they quickly signed him to a two-year extension last week. Lewis will test the linebackers repeatedly.
DE Chandler Jones
Taken one pick in front of Brandon Weeden in the 2012 NFL Draft, Jones is a terror as a pass rusher from defensive end. Jones is among the best edge rushers in the game, as he features long arms, exceptional quickness and good leverage to challenge left tackles on the way to the QB. His eldest brother, Arthur, is a defensive tackle for the Colts, and his other brother, Jon, is the exceptional mixed martial artist who held the UFC Light Heavyweight title from 2011 through this past January. Chandler was in fine form last year in the playoffs, including a sack in the Super Bowl against Russell Wilson.
LT Nate Solder
From the first round in 2011 out of Colorado -- a round that featured six offensive tackles -- Solder was the second taken, at No. 17, behind only Tyron Smith. He is a massive man at 6-8 but is susceptible to quickness on the edge rush, as his feet can get him in trouble. He is also part of an experiment in New England that could innovate the way offensive lines are used. The Patriots regularly rotate their line combinations, having used 10 different setups in just 30 possessions. This is considered outside-the-box thinking and requires a team to have more offensive linemen active on game day, but it is a sensible idea to maintain energy levels against defensive lines that have rotated in fresh players for years.