The League

Desmond Bieler
Occasional Blogger, Constant Blowhard

Desmond Bieler

An assistant news editor at The Washington Post

Scary? Yes. 16-0? No.

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When the Patriots traded Matt Cassel to the Chiefs, it was seen as a strong indication of New England's confidence in Tom Brady's return from knee surgery. Now we have an even stronger sign: Brady himself, participating in team drills and looking fairly healthy three months before the season begins.

So can Brady pick up where he left off? Well, I'm going to go ahead and be obnoxiously wishy-washy, and say yes and no.

Yes, Brady should be able to lead an offense that piles up a ton of points, has opposing defensive coordinators reaching for the NoDoz and, one assumes, produces plenty of Patriots wins. After all, Randy Moss and Wes Welker were in their first seasons in New England during that magical 2007 run, so it seems fair to assume that they have an even better understanding of the offense now. And it's not like the Pats couldn't move the ball with a complete unknown like Cassel stepping in for Brady last year -- they finished fifth in total offense, albeit 12th in passing. Add in an influx of some young defensive talent and New England should be in the thick of the Super Bowl hunt.

But there's no way Brady and Co. run the regular-season table like they did two years ago. For one thing, the AFC East has gotten a bit tougher. Even if the Dolphins are likely to take a step back from their own astonishing 2008 campaign, they'll be a much tougher out than they were as a 1-15 doormat in 2007. The Jets' defense figures to be more menacing, and the Bills' offense figures to be more potent.

In fact, the Pats rate as having the league's fourth-toughest schedule this season. That's based on 2008's results, and not only the Dolphins but the Falcons, whom New England also faces this season, can tell us all about how much things can and do change in the NFL from year to year. But that's part of the point: NFL teams can't expect that things will go a certain way for them, just because it happened in the past.

Of course, Brady knows that all too well, having missed all but a quarter of the 2008 season. So perhaps he and his team have already received their karmic comeuppance and are ready to once again be on the dispensing end of misery. One thing's for sure: No one is underestimating how dangerous this squad will be now that Mr. Bundchen is back under center.

By Desmond Bieler  |  May 28, 2009; 12:14 PM ET  | Category:  New England Patriots Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Their 2007 schedule was tougher. The Super Bowl was their 10th game against a playoff team, IIRC.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | May 29, 2009 10:44 AM

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