Anybody who's anybody that knows anything about sports can tell you that the biggest key to the Patriots season is if Tom Brady can look like the Tom Brady of old. With that in mind, I'm gonna do you one better.
Here, in slide show form, are the five most important players on the New England roster besides Tom Brady.
They're there for a variety of reasons, but all are supremely valuable (or have the potential to be). They go from Number 5 (least valuable) to the Number 1 (most valuable). Enjoy.
The Patriots have the tools to run the ball successfully. They've got a solid offensive line and enough talent between Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and the man above.
The difference Faulk makes is with his versatility. He's the only one of New England's backs that can not only run, he can also catch and block. It's for that reason he comes in at the five spot on my list.
You won't see his name crop up much in the stats, but I guarantee that when every opposing coach turns on the game film, they try to game plan for No. 33.
He's the one who can replace Ellis Hobbs. Not that Hobbs was truly that valuable to the Patriots (a pair of fifth-round picks), but he does leave a void in the secondary and in the return game.
Butler is without a doubt the most athletically gifted of the Patriots' cornerbacks. I believe there stands a fair chance he'll win a starting job out of training camp.
Even if he doesn't, he still will likely make his biggest contributions on special teams. Hobbs left as one of the better kick returners in the league. If Butler is worthy of the praise Bill Belichick heaps upon him, then the rookie will quickly become a home-town favorite.
I typically try to find positive attributes in players, especially when they play for a team I pull for. However, there is absolutely nothing positive I can say about James Sanders of the Patriots.
That's why Chung checks in at number three on my list. He can, should, and NEEDS to win the starting safety job opposite Brandon Merriweather this season.
Sanders is abysmal in coverage and, if possible, a worse tackler. Chung is a better fit for this defense and I'm confident he'll prove it in training camp and throughout the season.
The aging veteran Bruschi clocks in at number two because of exactly that reason, he's an aging veteran.
Bruschi will still be looked at to start most of the games this season, likely his last with the Patriots. He needs to prove that he's still a viable option at the middle linebacker position.
He's not the same player he used to be. Jerod Mayo is now the every down middle linebacker, not Bruschi. Plus, the guys behind him entering this season are more talented than last year's crew.
Mike Vrabel was traded in the offseason because it was obvious not just to the Patriots' coaches, but to every New England fan, that his level of play completely fell off. Bruschi can't afford to do the same.
For all the hubbub surrounding the Tom Brady injury a year ago, no one's absence was more noticeable than Adalius Thomas'.
The Patriots were still definitively a playoff team halfway through the season when Thomas went down. His loss turned the defense from average to below average, and his impact is going to be just as important this year.
Thomas, when healthy, is one of the most versatile linebackers in the NFL. He'll likely be expected to fill part of the void left by Mike Vrabel in terms of rushing the passer.
He's especially vital because of who's behind him. While there's some talent in the middle linebacker reserves, there's virtually none on the outside.
As the saying goes, defense wins championships. That's why (except for Tom Brady) no Patriot is more important than AD.