Hope and concern: New England Patriots

The New England Patriots continue their 2012 preseason Friday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Patriots are heavy favorites in the AFC East with regular season just two weeks away.

But there are reasons to be hopeful and concerned about the Patriots this year.

Reason for hope: talent, depth

The Patriots are stacked. They have depth at plenty of positions, and New England’s improved depth on defense could take this team to a new level. You know what you’re getting from quarterback Tom Brady & Co. on offense. New England should be among the league leaders in scoring, and the team won’t have to rely on just one threat to produce and stay healthy. Receivers Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and tight end Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are all capable of dominating a game. If the defense improves from last year’s 31st ranking, the Patriots will be very dangerous. New England’s defense only needs to get into the low 20s. Anything more is a bonus.

Reason for concern: offensive line

The Patriots have not looked good on their offensive line. All of New England's great weapons won’t matter much if Brady doesn’t have enough time to throw the football. Brady also is New England’s most precious commodity. If he’s healthy and upright, the Patriots are a lock to win the division. If Brady is battered and injured, the AFC East is wide open. The good news is help is on the way. Starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins are making great strides to return. That’s two starters. If veteran guard Brian Waters decides not to retire, that would be another boost to New England’s offensive line.