Is Brady Healthy?
There was plenty of doubt surrounding the health of Tom Brady last winter as the New England Patriots missed their chance at a perfect 19-0 season with a devastating loss in Super Bowl XLII.
With New England still trying to bounce back, questions about the status of its record-setting quarterback also continue to linger.
Brady expects to be under center when the Patriots try to extend the longest regular-season winning streak in NFL history on Sunday, as they open their season with a seemingly lopsided home matchup against the young Kansas City Chiefs.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Patriots –16.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 51% of bets for this game have been placed on Chiefs +16.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Brady's coming off one of the best seasons for a quarterback in league history, and a large part of the Patriots' success seems to hinge on his injured right foot.
The reigning league MVP threw an NFL record 50 touchdown passes and compiled a 117.2 passer rating - the second-best ever - while leading New England to the first-ever 16-0 regular season last year, but his pace slowed in the postseason.
Dealing with a high right ankle sprain, he threw three interceptions against San Diego in the AFC title game and was pressured heavily in the Patriots' 17-14 loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
This foot injury appears to be unrelated, but the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick have been typically mum on the matter. Brady didn't play in any of the team's four preseason losses, and concerns seem especially relevant considering backup Matt Cassel led 17 preseason drives without reaching the end zone.
Brady participated in practice Wednesday and said earlier in the week that he plans on making his 128th consecutive start, including playoffs.
"If it's up to me, there's no question," Brady said Monday. "I've been getting progressively better over the past couple of weeks. I'm excited. I'm excited to start the year."
His teammates must be, too, after months of dealing with questions and regrets about their missed opportunity in the Super Bowl. Seeking to become the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to notch an undefeated season, the Patriots fell victim to a monumental upset against the Giants, allowing the winning touchdown with 35 seconds left.
"I think part of what helps you move forward is to say 'OK, we did the best we could do and it didn't turn out the way we would have liked but sometimes that happens,'" Brady said during training camp. "We are moving forward with just as much energy and excitement as we always have. Hopefully we can go out there and put ourselves in the best position possible every week."
The Patriots still have won 19 straight in the regular season - breaking their own mark of 18 in a row - and much of the team's core is back. That includes Randy Moss, who set the NFL record with 23 touchdown catches, and Wes Welker, who set the franchise record with 112 receptions.
Most of the questions are on defense. Veterans Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Adalius Thomas will welcome rookie Jerod Mayo to a talented linebacking corps, but the Patriots seem thin at cornerback after the departures of Pro Bowler Asante Samuel and Randall Gay.
They signed two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Deltha O'Neal this week after he was released by Cincinnati. It's unclear what O'Neal's role will be against Kansas City, but he figures to eventually slot into a starting spot alongside returnee Ellis Hobbs.
The Patriots are hoping for a less eventful opener than last season, when they beat the New York Jets 38-14 but were accused by former New England assistant and current New York head coach Eric Mangini of videotaping the Jets' signals.
After an NFL investigation, the Spygate scandal dominated the headlines and ended up costing the team hefty fines and its first-round draft pick.
New England likely preferred playing the Jets when they were led by current Chiefs coach Herm Edwards from 2001-05. The Patriots went 8-2 against the Jets over that span, holding them to 13.3 points per game and winning the last six meetings.
Now, Edwards is hoping to help rebuild the Chiefs, who've committed to developing younger players after going 4-12 and losing their final nine games last year.
Kansas City has 15 rookies on its roster entering the opener, including starting defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey - the No. 5 overall pick in the draft out of LSU. Rookie cornerback Brandon Flowers and left tackle Branden Albert are also expected to start, even though Albert missed all of the preseason with a sprained foot.
"He's just another young one who's going to have to play. That's OK. That's what we said we were going to do," Edwards said. "We stuck to our guns on this whole process and now it's time to go play. You can't start questioning what you're doing when it's time to go play. You have a certain way you're going to do things around here now and I think it's good for the organization. I think we will reap the benefits."
While the Patriots boasted perhaps the best offense in NFL history last year, setting a league record with 589 total points, Kansas City was the least productive in the AFC, ranking last with averages of 277 total yards and 14.1 points. The Chiefs were sacked a conference-high 55 times.
Brodie Croyle will start at quarterback Sunday, still looking for his first NFL win as a starter. Croyle started six games toward the end of last season, losing them all while compiling a 68.6 passer rating.
One luxury he didn't have behind him was running back Larry Johnson, who missed the final eight games of the year with a foot injury. Johnson will be hoping for a return to his 2005-06 form, when he ran for a total of more than 3,500 yards and 37 touchdowns.
He rushed for 119 yards in a 26-16 win over the Patriots on Nov. 27, 2005, in the teams' most recent meeting.
The Chiefs, however, have lost three straight in Foxborough since their last victory there in 1990. They erased a 14-point deficit in the final five minutes during their last visit in 2002, but lost 41-38 in overtime as Brady threw for 410 yards and four touchdowns.
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