The 2012 Patriots regular season starts today, and another playoff run is back in focus. Bill Belichick is trying to get his players to lose the Super Bowl hangover and drink the kool aid once again. The 2012 preseason has brought many questions - the release of Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch and Donte Stallworth leaves huge gaps to fill. The offensive line has been worked over in the preseason with not very good results. The sophomore running backs need to step up, but can Shane Vereen stay healthy? The young defense has shown flashes, and that hope may have to fill some voids by the offense.
60 Max's key pressure points
Tom and the tight ends: We don't know how the Brandon Lloyd connection will work, or how productive the two will be. That being said, it's the Tom and the tight ends show. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will have to up their game even further for the offense. To date, Wes Welker is the only proven receiver in this offense, that's shining the light on the two high priced stats to earn their dough.
Rush to judgment: Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden - Forget Vereen; until he can prove he can stay healthy, he's a non-factor. Ridley is the starter, but if he can't pass protect for Brady, Bolden will replace him on passing downs. That’s a bad thing as Bolden had a strong training camp catching the ball. Ridley will still be the main mail carrier, but Bolden could take that spot if Ridley shows any of his 2011 fumblitis.
Rush hour traffic: Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower- The two first round defensive picks acquitted themselves nicely in the preseason. Jones showed the talent that was supposed to develop down the line, and is ready to start right now. Hightower is the second coming of Jerod Mayo. He can play inside or outside, and intricate knowledge of the defense will have him on the field as much as Mayo.
Cornering the market: Ras-I Dowling - The second year corner has a chance to lock a starter’s job down. After a hip injury sidelined him after two games into 2011, Dowling will have to fight off tough Kyle Arrington for the number two corner spot. Dowling doesn't fit the slot, so it's frontline or bust line for the kid.
Safety first: Steve Gregory - The former San Diego Charger comes into the Patriots secondary as probably the best ballhawk that they have had in a long time. Gregory had a great preseason, and in Patriots practices, made a habit of picking off whoever was quarterbacking, including Brady.
Protecting the franchise: Patriots offensive line - it's been well documented, it's been on close watch, and now it's time to find out if Matt Light's retirement really upset the apple cart, or just got it stuck in traffic. Sebastian Vollmer is a huge question mark, but a major upgrade from Marcus Cannon. The Brian Waters watch seems to be over, forcing Dan Connolly to move to guard. Ryan Wendell will man the center position, not an over-worry here; Wendell played well in spot duty in 2011. Nate Solder will have every eye in New England on him protecting Brady's blindsided, and if he fails, don't be surprised if Logan Mankins slides over and picks up the slack.
Key New England offensive player: Brandon Lloyd - he was brought in to add octane to the New England precision, but hasn't had much success so far.
Key New England defensive player: Chandler Jones - He's going to have a lot of responsibility and the pass rush starts and stops with him.
Key Tennessee offensive player: Chris Johnson - If he gets loose and can find holes, it will be a long afternoon for the Patriots defense.
Key Tennessee defensive player: Derek Morgan, DL - he had 20 pressures in 2011, however only 2 sacks. He’s very good with a speed rush and could give the offensive tackles trouble.
Three and out
Wonder twin powers activate - The McCourty twins square off against each other for the first time in their NFL careers. Jason and Devin add a new wrinkle to the sibling rivalry. “It's going to be enjoyable. He's already talking a bit of trash,” Jason said.
Eight is enough? The Patriots have won 8 straight opening games, the last being the debacle in Buffalo, a big 'the sky is falling' loss led by castoffs Drew Bledsoe and Lawyer Milloy. Turned out to be much ado about nothing - Patriots won the Super Bowl that year.
The young and the restless - The Patriots and Titans have an almost identical average team age; the Patriots rank 9th at 25.81 with the Titans fllowing a close 10th at 25.85
For Degenerate Gamblers Only
Odds: The Patriots are a mere 5.5 pt favorites going into Tennessee. O/U: 47
Patriots are 49-24-3 against the spread in their last 76 on the road. Titans just 2-5 against the spread in their last seven at home.
Over looks to be the best bet with the Pats going over 28 of its last 38 games, including four straight on the road.
Strangers in our midst: Offciating this game? Jerry Frump and crew: No worries folks; Jerry is a two-time scab, officiating games during the NFL refs strike of 2001. The 14-year ref has experience; one of the better replacements we're supposing.
Weather: Sunny 75, wind: NW @ 6mph