Reason for hope: The Patriots went into their break with an emphatic reminder they must be taken seriously as a division contender. They showed their resourcefulness with a gargantuan special-teams performance to compensate for a questionable defense in Monday night's victory over the Miami Dolphins.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is averaging 5.45 yards per carry over the past two games.
Wes Welker still isn't 100 percent recovered from his knee injury, but he's close enough to be dangerous. The Patriots seem to have morphed successfully into a base offense that includes two tight ends about 60 percent of the time. Rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are contributors already. BenJarvus Green-Ellis might be the running back Patriots fans have been awaiting for a few years. And as long as Tom Brady is at quarterback and Bill Belichick is running the program, it's foolish to count them out.
Cause for concern: The Patriots can't depend on 100-yard kickoff returns and 21 points off special teams to bail them out every week. Pass defense remains the biggest question mark. They rank 28th at 272.2 yards allowed per game. The secondary needs to get settled. Inexperienced cornerbacks Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and Darius Butler need to grow up quickly. A pass rush needs to come from somewhere. They've registered seven sacks.
The subtraction of Randy Moss from the offense will weaken New England. It won't be able to stretch the field like before. Defenses can key on Welker more. As effective as Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead have been out of the backfield, the Patriots will miss injured veteran Kevin Faulk.
Time to heal: The Patriots' active roster is in decent shape. Running back Fred Taylor certainly could use a week off to help overcome his toe problem. Welker's knee certainly will benefit, too. Left guard Nick Kaczur has the most serious injury. He's recovering from back surgery, and Belichick recently said Kaczur was doing well in his recovery. Cornerback Terrence Wheatley is nearing a return from a foot injury late in preseason.
AccuScore forecast: The Patriots are projected to win 10 games, with a 33 percent chance to claim the division title and a 61 percent chance to reach the playoffs.