FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots are certainly one of the NFL’s glamour franchises. Winners of three Super Bowl championships since 2001, owner Robert Kraft has also molded a financially profitable operation, having sold out 183 consecutive home games.

Other teams acknowledge their success by picking up their outcasts. ESPN’s Adam Schefter noted on Twitter that 17 players released by the Patriots this year were picked up and are now on another team’s roster.

They have won eight AFC East crowns since 2001. They could win a ninth this year.

“This year we have high expectations,” said linebacker Rob Ninkovich. “But, playing in New England, you always have high expectations.”

The big question entering the 2011 season, though, is this: What does any of that mean anymore?

For all the success the Patriots have had in the regular season, their last two seasons have ended with abysmal first-round playoff losses to Baltimore and the hated Jets — at Gillette Stadium.

Even Tom Brady, the strong-armed quarterback who will likely be a first ballot Hall of Famer, knows those playoff losses have dulled the Patriots’ luster a bit.

“Well, there’s only one team every year that has a good season and we haven’t been that team in a long time,” he said. “How this team takes to that challenge, we’ll see. I don’t know.”

He won’t even attempt to compare this year’s club to any of his previous ones because, he said, each team has its own identity. This one has yet to be forged.

“This team will have its own identity and it’s all going to be based upon the work we put in, the toughness that we play with, the way that we play under pressure,” he said in a press conference last Wednesday. “So yeah, I mean, it sucks to lose at the end of the year. But we’ve got a great opportunity this year and we’ll see if we can take advantage of them.”

The Patriots, you see, love the expectations. While some teams may wilt under great expectations, New England thrives on them.

“I don’t think it’s a burden,” said All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins, when asked about expectations. “I think it’s good. It drives you to work harder.”

The Patriots are pushed by Coach Bill Belichick, who demands excellence. When new players come in they either learn the “Patriot Way,” or they get left behind.

“Coach Belichick lays it on us every single day, what he expects from us,” said Brady. “So, when the new guys come in, you get used to the program pretty quick.

“He doesn’t accept anything less than our best every day in practice, every day in the meetings, every day in the walk through. So when we’re not performing at a high level, you’re going to hear about it.”

This year’s newcomers include wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, he of the outrageous touchdown celebrations and large Twitter following, and defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, once considered the NFL’s best interior lineman when he was with Tennessee but coming off two much-maligned years with the Washington Redskins.

Ochocinco has called Foxborough, “Heaven.” Haynesworth has called it “a career-saving place.”

They both have something to prove, that they can still be productive. They’re joining a team that also has something to prove: that it can still win in January.

Even Sports Illustrated is skeptical. That magazine predicts the Patriots winning the AFC East with the top seed, but again losing in the first round.

The Patriots have one of the game’s most explosive offenses. Their defense was overhauled and upgraded, especially up front where New England was bullied by the Jets in the playoffs.

Now they just have to go out and prove they’re still one of the best teams in the NFL.

“Every year you have something to prove,” said Ninkovich. “I think that we definitely had a good season last year but now that it’s over, we’ve got to continue to improve on the things we did well.

“And we’ve got to really improve on the things we didn’t do well last year.”

They know they’ve got a lot of work to do — starting Monday night in Miami. In typical Patriot fashion, Mankins noted that the playoffs aren’t on anyone’s mind just yet.

“Yeah, we’ve stumbled the last couple of seasons in the playoffs,” said Mankins. “But we have along time before we get there.

“We’ve got a lot to worry about this week.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH