The Patriots made waves over the last year by trading away defensive stars Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, but it hasn't mattered.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has shown he's willing to trade any player if he feels it will make his team better.
Belichick traded two Pro-Bowl linebackers over the past year: Chandler Jones was traded to the Arizona Cardinals before the season and Jamie Collins was traded to the Cleveland Browns after Week 8.
The Patriots defense hasn't suffered without the two stars, and Albert Breer and Peter King of The MMQB say it's because Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia excel at turning lesser-known players into key contributors.
"My favorite play of the AFC Championship game is the Steelers are on the goal line, they got to get in and it's going to be a game and it's going to be a fight to the finish," King says. "Some guy that no one in America outside of Massachusetts has ever heard of—Vincent Valentine—bursts through the line and throws DeAngelo Williams back for a three yard loss...Those are the guys who Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia develop so well on the defensive front, so I hate to say this because it sounds stupid in the long term, so they don't need Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. They'll figure it out without them."
Breer thinks Belichick was sending a message to his team by trading Collins.
"Human nature, (Collins) was thinking about his contract the first month of the season," he says. "He would get out of position in certain spots, he would get outside the defense, he was doing things that were at least on tape looked selfish. They take Jamie Collins out of the equation, I think the message was, 'we're not going to tolerate this'... you know what the result has been? You rarely see coverage busts, you rarely see guys out of position, you rarely see guys get beat deep, you rarely a single play where it doesn't look like everyone is on the same page."
The Patriots will have their hands full trying to stop Matt Ryan and the Falcons' top-ranked offense in Sunday's Super Bowl LI.