Based on recent history, a handful of playoff teams from last season probably won't be back in the playoffs in 2010. Vinny Iyer of the Sporting News identifies the five teams he feels face the hardest road, and the Patriots are No. 4 on the list.
"Their division opponents have been active in the offseason so far. The Dolphins made the big defensive upgrade by signing [Karlos] Dansby. The Jets have been busy adding a pair of former Chargers, Antonio Cromartie and LaDainian Tomlinson," Iyer writes. "After some early noise that the Patriots were going to pursue Julius Peppers, the biggest news out of their camp has been Randy Moss' statement that he expects 2010 to be his last season with the team."
The Patriots have a difficult set of opponents, which should add to their challenge, although I wouldn't be so quick to count them out at this juncture. It's still early, and I'd expect several more moves this offseason, between free agency, the draft and trades.
Iyer's piece seems to reflect public perception at this point: Expectations for the Patriots aren't very high.
From a team perspective, sometimes not having the weight of great expectations isn't always a bad thing.