New England Patriots: A Return to the Throne?

Benjamin AltsherContributor IMay 8, 2009

FOXBOROUGH - MAY 2: Coach Bill Bellichick watches during the New England Patriots Minicamp at Gillette Stadium May 2, 2009 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

For all the talk of the New England Patriots dominance over the past decade, this January will mark five years since Bill Belichick and company last hoisted the Lombardi trophy. 

Once again the Patriots will enter the season with more answers than questions.  For those who look at the rosters, one glance down New England's player list will find themselves facing a slew of Pro-Bowlers, past champions and the kind of hard-working contributors that define the so-called "Patriot Way."

As such, there is no excuse for this team not to be headed to Miami come February for Super Bowl XLIV.  The offense has all the pieces in place to duplicate and possibly break some of the numerous records it set back in 2007. 

The passing game returns one of the greatest QB's in history.  One of the top ten running games last year adds Fred Taylor and a healthy Laurence Maroney.  The receiving corps lost one of its key members in Jabar Gaffney, but adds speed threats Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis.

As for the defense, they were clearly the weak link a year ago, mainly due to an unsustainable number of injuries.  However, they return possibly the best front three in the league in Ty Warren, Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork.  The line backing core is solid in its starting group, but for another year appears to be lacking in terms of depth.  As for the defensive backfield, mystery and intrigue surrounds the back four heading into training camp. 

Can rookies Darius Butler and Patrick Chung become starters?  Are second year corners Terrence Wheatley and Jonathon Wilhite ready to take the next step?  How much does Shawn Springs have left in the tank? And the most basic question, can this group get the job done?

One would like to think so based on last year's results.  The Pats entered last year with a similarly motley group.  At least this year's crop is younger and will learn quickly (at least that's what fans want to believe).

Of course all of this talent is negated if it can't stay on the field.  Almost every NFL team will need to deal with injuries at some point.  Barring another Brady collapse or another shredding of the defense, the only thing that can stop New England from another division title, another Lamar Hunt trophy, and in all likelihood, another Lombardi trophy, is themselves.