The New England Patriots entered 2008 with the highest expectations of any team in the history of professional football.
After shattering nearly every offensive record in 2007, both team and individual, and reeling off 18 straight wins before falling short in the Super Bowl XLIII, the 2008 Patriots were sure to make another run at history.
Then Tom Brady's knee bent the wrong way and everything changed.
Insert Matt Cassell, who passed for a pedestrian 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns (at least in comparison to Brady) as the starter on an 11-5 team that failed to make the playoffs.
Once New England received word that Brady should be ready for the beginning of the 2009 season, Cassell was shipped off to Kansas City for a second-round pick that turned out to be Oregon safety Patrick Chung. Now, the Pats are in prime position to return to old form.
But even so, there still are some question marks in Foxboro. Will Brady's knee hold up? Have teams figured out how to negate Randy Moss? Is the secondary, which features a great deal of inexperience in Jonathan White and Leigh Bodden at the corners and Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, a serious liability?
Those questions will remain unanswered until the 2009 season kicks off in August, but for now, one thing is for sure: expectations in New England will be as high as ever this fall.
Assuming Brady returns to his 2007 form, which is by no means a given, the Patriots' offense could conceivably be even more dominant than it was two years ago.
Brady's wide receiving corps is as deep and talented as its ever been, as well. The Pats added Joey Galloway, who, after 14 seasons in the NFL, is still one of the fastest receivers in the game. Galloway figures to play the same role Donte Stallworth did two seasons ago and draw the double-teams off of Moss and slot receiver Wes Welker.
If the offense remains healthy and finds its groove early, there is plenty of reason to believe New England could challenge its season-record of 582 points. In that case, it might not matter that the Patriots secondary is a bit vulnerable.
Realistically, anything less than a 12-4 record and the top overall seed in the AFC would be a disappointment. Once the playoffs start, however, it's a crapshoot. One bad game and you're out. The Pats learned that the hard way, the absolute hardest way, in fact, in 2007, but they once again have all the pieces they need to accomplish the only thing they couldn't two seasons ago: win the Super Bowl.