With the 2009 NFL Draft less than three weeks away, the Patriots are looking strong.
The Patriots, who signed several free agents, including Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden on defense and Fred Taylor and Joey Galloway on offense, on top of 11 draft picks, have their eyes set on taking the AFC East back from the Dolphins.
Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that Tom Brady is coming back this season after missing all but seven minutes of the 2008 season with a knee injury. In case you forgot, he's the guy who threw 50 touchdown passes in 2007.
But enough of the past.
The Patriots are focused on the future, mainly the draft, and rumors are flying that Bill Belichick has another move or two up his sleeve.
The trade involving Julius Peppers seems to be losing steam, but Jason Taylor has expressed interest in signing with the Patriots, and rumor has it that the feeling may be mutual.
The worst case if Taylor is signed? The Pats have another good player coming off the bench that can give Richard Seymour a rest at defensive end. Who knows? Maybe Taylor will move to outside linebacker like Peppers would have done if he was traded to the Pats.
However, the problems that stick out the most going into the draft still would be the Patriots' defense. After trading Mike Vrabel, the Pats are extremely thin at both inside and outside linebacker. Look for the Patriots to address this at the draft, in which as many as seven linebackers may be drafted in the first round.
Linebackers Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews of USC and James Laurinaitis of Ohio State are popping up all over draft boards as predicted picks for the Patriots at No. 23.
Also, with Belichick's 3-4 defense and love for hybrid players, some are speculating that the Patriots could look into drafting one of those type of players early in the second round.
Larry English, a DE/OLB from Northern Illinois, and Connor Barwin, a DE/OLB from Cincinnati, are two such hybrid players being linked to the Patriots.
Also, with 11 draft picks to work with, the Patriots could package some picks to get a second pick in the first round, and take two linebackers.
Clay Matthews looks like a safe bet; being big, quick, and having great awareness, he would fit perfectly with Belichick's system. Also, his teammate Brian Cushing could look to be a presence in the middle of the Patriots' 3-4 defense if he is available at pick 23.
Thankfully, the last few years' picks have turned out to be almost better than expected.
Ellis Hobbs has matured and gotten himself under control, becoming a good cover corner.
Brandon Meriweather has also settled into a solid option at safety, playing well after Rodney Harrison went down. On top of that, reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Jerod Mayo will look to somehow improve an extremely impressive rookie campaign.
If the Pats come out of the draft with a few linebackers, a couple of defensive backs, and a solid offensive lineman, it will be a success. With the talent returning from injury last year, such as Adalius Thomas, Laurence Maroney, and that Brady character, as well as a few key additions, look for the Patriots to bounce back and make a run in the playoffs.
After a good offseason, and if they pull off a good draft, maybe Vegas will look like geniuses by picking them as favorites for Super Bowl XLIV.