How does the loss of Hernandez and Gronkowski impact the Pats and the AFC?

Today’s discussion topic is the AFC in general and the Patriots in particular.

With the Patriots releasing Aaron Hernandez, and surgeons cutting on Rob Gronkowski more than a stick of salami at the local deli, what are the Pats going to do at tight end this season? That’s question No.1.

My best guess: They’re going to sign at least one tight end, maybe two. I wouldn’t be surprised it they signed Dallas Clark, hoping he has some gas left in his tank. I also imagine the Patriots will give Tim Tebow a chance to play some H-back tight end, because Belichick needs to put his 11-best offensive players on the field.

Question No.2: How will the loss of Hernandez and Gronkowski affect the Patriots’ offense?

My best guess: Tom Brady should be concerned about developing chemistry with his new receivers – Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Jake Ballard, etc. – because many of the Pats’ individual routes have options predicated on coverage and secondary techniques.

Wes Welker knew those options, and always was on the same page with Brady. With Welker in Denver this season, I’m guessing Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will focus much more on the running game, especially early in the season. The Pats have five running backs they can use – Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, Leon Washington and LeGarrette Blount.

Question No. 3: How does the loss of Hernandez and Gronkowski impact the Pats’ chances to contend for a Super Bowl appearance?

My best guess: The Pats probably will not make it to the Super Bowl or the AFC Championship this season. I’m guessing The Broncos and Ravens will play each other in the AFC Championship game.

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