With the Patriots season over, the best way I can deal with the disappointment is to start thinking ahead. I haven't even started thinking about "what they should do" though, and have been focusing more on the interesting storylines and players to watch going into next season. There is a LOT up in the air with this team, and it will be fascinating to see how it all plays out: 1) Is Talib back? This is the second straight year he's left early in the AFCCG with an injury, and though this latest time was due to a cheap hit, he did have hip issues earlier in the year, so it's not like he was mister durable prior to Denver. If he's not brought back, is he replaced with a new player or an expected improvement from the rest of the secondary? 2) How do the vets look coming back from injury? The big five are Wilfork, Kelly, Mayo, Vollmer, and Gronk. Mayo doesn't concern me. He's young and should be fine. Wilfork and Kelly concern me because of their age. Neither has an extensive injury history, but once you get past 30, things don't bounce back the way they used to. As for Gronk and Vollmer, although they're young, both have injury histories that have to give you pause. Some have said it's like adding 5 pro bowlers to a final four team, but I'm guaranteeing one or two of those guys won't make it through the season again next year. 3) How many sophomore slumps? We had so many rookies contribute this year, but year two is a crossroads. Other teams start adjusting to you, and you either fight through it and continue to grow, or you get exposed and have the proverbial slump. Collins, Ryan, Harmon, Dobson, Thompkins, Boyce, Jones, Vellano, Allen. At least 3 of them will probably disappoint us next year. And at least 3 will take a step forward. It's the remaining three that will swing us one way or the other. 4) An AFCCG, on the road, against Peyton Manning, in which the lack of receiving weapons contributed to a difficult loss. Sound familiar? Last time, BB went out and surrounded Brady with an explosive cast. I don't see the exact same scenario here because we already have some young players and Gronk coming back, but it would not surprise me to see them try to make a splash on both sides of the ball. Cap issues aside, I think BB sees an opportunity here to take a team with a lot of young, energetic talent and infuse it with some veteran pieces to make a big run next year. 5) Chandler Jones. Just, Chandler Jones. The kid has the raw talent to be a disruptive force, and he definitely took a step forward this year. More sacks, more pressures, more double teams (and triple teams, at times in the Denver game). But can he take that final step, from solid NFL starter/pass rusher, to that elite class that other teams have to account for (and very often CAN'T). That's what he needs to be. The guy that they gameplan for, but still messes everything up for them. He makes that jump, the defense goes with him. 6) The safety position. Outside of the trenches, this is the grouping that has the biggest chance to boost the defense. McCourty was good this year. Can he get better with the full year under his belt? Can Gregory be upgraded, either with Harmon or a vet addition? These questions, as much as anything, will determine the fate of the secondary. Improved safety play, plus improvement from Ryan/Dennard would make losing Talib a non-factor IMO. The unit can get better. It can also get worse (if Harmon pulls a Wilson and follows up a promising rookie year with an invisible sophomore year, see point 3 above).