Shutdown Corner - NFL

It's too early for '09 season previews, and too late for '08 season reviews. What's an NFL blog to do in the never-ending quest to overcover the bejeezus out of the NFL? Offseason progress reports. Let's go in alphabetical order. Today, the New England Patriots.

Free agents lost: FB Heath Evans(notes), WR Jabar Gaffney(notes), S Rodney Harrison(notes), CB Ellis Hobbs(notes), LB Lamont Jordan(notes), LB Larry Izzo(notes), LS Lonie Paxton(notes), LB Darrell Robertson(notes), OT Oliver Ross(notes), LB Bo Ruud(notes), WR Kelley Washington(notes), G Billy Yates(notes)

Free agents gained: TE Chris Baker(notes), LB Tully Banta-Cain(notes), CB Leigh Bodden(notes), LB Vinny Ciurciu(notes), RB Omar Cuff(notes), WR Joey Galloway(notes), LS Nathan Hodel(notes), OL Al Johnson(notes), LB Paris Lenon(notes), P Tom Malone(notes), S Brandon McGowan(notes), WR Robert Ortiz, TE Alex Smith, CB Shawn Springs(notes), RB Fred Taylor(notes), S Ray Ventrone, DT Steve Williams(notes)

Lost via trade: QB Matt Cassel(notes), CB Ellis Hobbs, LB Mike Vrabel(notes)

Acquired via trade: WR Greg Lewis(notes), TE Alex Smith

Drafted: SS Patrick Chung(notes), DT Ron Brace(notes), CB Darius Butler(notes), OL Sebastian Vollmer(notes), WR Brandon Tate(notes), OLB Tyrone McKenzie(notes), OG Rich Ohrnberger(notes), OT George Bussey(notes), LS Jake Ingram(notes), DT Myron Pryor(notes), QB Julian Edelman(notes), DT Darryl Richard(notes)

Yep, that looks like your standard Patriots offseason. The list of guys coming in is more impressive than the list of guys going out, veteran free agents were purchased by the pound, there were six draft selections in rounds two and three, and four selections in rounds six and seven. That's how it goes.

Oh, and that Tom Brady(notes) fellow is expected back, too. I've heard he's good.

It's easy to forget that this is still a team that went 11-5 last year, even with everything that went wrong. They won their last five games, and only the NFL's tiebreaking procedures kept them out of the postseason.

This isn't a team trying to bounce back from a bad year. It's a team trying to bounce back from a pretty damn good year.

On paper, there's no reason to believe it won't happen. If the Tom Brady/Randy Moss(notes) connection is healthy and as good as it was in '07, then really, anything is possible. In fact, if Randy Moss can celebrate Coogi Heritage at a NASCAR event, then I'd say anything is possible.

The pass defense might be an area of susceptibility, though. Last year, the Patriots generated a pretty pedestrian total of 31 sacks, were 24th in the league in average gain allowed per passing attempt, and 23rd in the league in opposing QB rating allowed. They've taken some steps to address that, but I don't know if they're the right steps.

Coming in at corner are Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden, both of whom were available because they were slightly disappointing in their last stops. The Patriots need them to work out in that magical "Bill Belichick squeezes every last drop of production out of veteran free agents" kind of a way. The secondary's leader, Rodney Harrison, has retired to take a position in the NBC booth where he will advocate for new NFL rules that dictate that a ball carrier isn't down until his windpipe has been crushed, and the Patriots are counting on rookie Patrick Chung to take his place.

If you're looking for other weak spots, I'd take a look at the offensive line, too. The last time Tom Brady was healthy and in uniform, he was taking a beating. Not just from the Giants, either.

Progress: Adding Tom Brady to the line-up is pretty nice, I don't care who you are. And again, Brady-to-Moss still scares the hell out of everyone in the AFC. This isn't a team without weaknesses, though, and I expect that both major areas of concern will be tested very early on.

Plus one game. 11-5 last year, 12-4 this year.

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