Assumption #1: The 2008 Patriots could have contended for the Super Bowl had the defense played better: After rocky fits and starts, Matt Cassel and the offense put it together, won their last 4 games, and looked to be a tough out, at least offensively, as the playoffs approached. The run-game was particularly strong as Stephen Neal's return eventually led to consistent OL play, not just in pass-protection, but in opening holes for Morris, Jordan, Faulk...even BJGE. Assumption #2: the Patriots defense is likely to better in 2009 due to... Another year of experience for a large rookie class, many of whom contributed this year, as well as young players like Meriweather whose play improved by leaps and bounds in 2008, to the point of being "one of the leaders on defense," to paraphrase BB. The unlikelihood of another rash of injuries to impact players on the level of Adalius Thomas, Pierre Woods, Rodney Harrison and others. Another defense-heavy draft combined with what is safe to assume will be a good number of 1st, 2nd and 3rd round picks. Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour, even if not extended, surely on the team for 2009. Assumption #3: The Patriots will likely look to upgrade at WR and/or OL in the upcoming offense. The unexpected-ish release of Chad Jackson left a void filled ably, if inconsistently, by Jabar Gaffney. It would be surprising for the Patriots not to take the time to adequately replace the Donte Stallworth spot in the WR corps with someone more dynamic - i.e., someone as dynamic as we had hoped CJ would be. The age and impending contract-status of the relatively young, but certainly attention-worthy offensive linemen on this team suggests Belichick and Co. will look to the future, OL-wise, sometime in the first 3 rounds. Assumption #4: Tom Brady is more important to this offense than Josh McDaniels. I think this goes without saying. The difference between the offense with Tom Brady and the offense with Matt Cassel (while giving him due credit for a terrific job this season) is greater than the difference between an experienced-in-the-system Josh McDaniels and Mangurian/O'Brien/whoever replaces him. All of these assumptions, IMO, add up to the following: There is every reason to think that Vegas is correct in putting the Patriots as the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl for the 2009 season. A better defense THIS year would have been sufficient to put us in the playoffs, that's hard to argue against. The defense is more likely than not to be better in 2009. The loss of McDaniels, however upsetting, is countered enough by Brady's return (not to mention the uptick in OL and WR play, but bearing in mind the possible slow-down of Moss or an injury to Welker). Add to that a fuller off-season than we've seen in awhile, and I believe there's a lot of reason for optimism as we head into the hot-stove period of the NFL.