The first game of the preseason is over with, so here it goes:
The New England Patriots will finish the 2008-2009 season undefeated. Perfect. 19-0.
The Patriots had one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory last year, finishing 18-1 after one of the biggest collapses in sports history in the Super Bowl.
They were the first team to win 16 games in the regular season, and they were the first team to have the 1972 Miami Dolphins put away the champagne for good.
Tom Brady threw for 50 touchdowns, the most for a quarterback in a season
Randy Moss had 23 touchdown receptions, the most for a receiver in a season.
However, the Patriots just couldn't pull through in the big game.
The Patriots are going to finish this season undefeated. Although the thought sounds crazy, is it really?
The Patriots' only significant loss in the offseason was Asante Samuel to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The entire offensive line, a line that has gelled over the past several seasons, returns fully intact. One of the most important components of an NFL team is a confident offensive line. Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Don Koppen, Stephen Neal, and Nick Kaczur have always kept Tom Brady off his backside (save for the Super Bowl).
The most productive offensive threat in the NFL, Randy Moss, returns for another season with the Patriots. With a year under the belt with Tom Brady, Moss can only improve his timing with the stud quarterback. He may not catch 23 touchdown passes again, but he will always have defensive coordinators game-planning for him.
With defensive coordinators focusing on Moss, expect Laurence Maroney, in his third year, to have a breakout season. Maroney showed promise last year, but could never really put together a string of outstanding games.
However, with another year of experience, Maroney has a chance to really shine. He'll also have an incentive to produce, with LaMont Jordan and Sammy Morris fighting for playing time.
Tom Brady. Not much needs to be said about Tom Brady. He's the biggest reason the Patriots have the chance to finish the season undefeated. Brady may be the most cerebral quarterback in the NFL. He knows there is unfinished business from last season, so he has added incentive to come up big.
Also, the defense remains largely intact.
One of the best defensive lines in the NFL returns. Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, and Ty Warren are all beasts who can defend both the run and pass. They've been playing together since Wilfork was drafted in 2004, and they wreak havoc on the opposing team's offensive line. Ask any quarterback about the Patriots' defensive line and they will shudder.
Three-fourths of the linebacking corps return with the fourth position (inside linebacker) up for grabs. This void will most likely be filled by rookie Jerod Mayo, a much-needed infusion of youth in an aging corps. Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas return to man the outside linebacking positions.
Tedy Bruschi, the team leader, returns to man one inside linebacking spot. With experience and youth fused at this position, expect another great year from the linebackers.
The weakest position on the team may be at cornerback. The team let Asante Samuel walk, which was a questionable move. Ellis Hobbs expects to be the starting corner. However, Hobbs lacks the ideal size of a starting corner because he's only 5'9".
As of now, the Patriots list Fernando Bryant as the starting corner opposite Hobbs, but they've been working Brandon Meriweather into reps at the position. Bryant may start the season at corner, but expect Meriweather to also be in the mix. Meriweather is extremely fast and is an inch taller than Bryant.
Whoever is not starting opposite of Hobbs will be the nickel corner.
Rodney Harrison and James Sanders are the likely starters for the Patriots at safety. Harrison is getting old and has lost a step, but he's still one of the most-feared hitters in the NFL. Tank Williams will fill in for Harrison when he tires. Sanders is a very solid option at free safety. He was dubbed the hardest-working player on the team by a teammate in Sporting News.
Offense is clearly the strong point for the Patriots, heading into the 2008 season, and virtually all the important pieces to the puzzle still remain from 2007. The secondary, specifically cornerback, is the only glaring weakness.
However, as the Giants showed in the Super Bowl, a great defensive line, which the Patriots have, can cover up weaknesses in the secondary.
If the line can get to the quarterback quick enough, the corners will have to cover receivers for a shorter period of time. Therefore, the secondary will not affect the Patriots' chances of going undefeated.