Three things to look at as the Patriots begin the long journey toward the 2012 season:
Shoring up the defense
The Patriots set numerous team records on the offensive side of things last season, but the defense didn’t have nearly the same success. You saw what happened when the offense stalled in the Super Bowl — the defense couldn’t hold the Giants. Ras-I Dowling hopefully will step in and immediately make an impact in the secondary, but the Patriots will need more than just that. Bringing in a veteran presence like they did with Andre Carter last season can only help things. Late-rounders and undrafted free agents can only do so much.
Welker — re-sign him?
New England’s favorite wide receiver hits the free agent market this season — that is if the Patriots don’t put the franchise tag on him. That would require the Patriots to spend $9.4 million on the slot receiver, and perhaps handcuff them going into the offseason. But honestly, he's worth the cap hit. Welker wants a multi-year deal, and by all accounts the Patriots want him around. The franchise tag is the most likely option, but there's still an outside chance the two sides agree to a deal for three to four years that will pay Welker around $7 million a year. Either way, he'll be back.
Post-Super Bowl attitude
When the Patriots lost out on perfection after Super Bowl XLII, Tom Brady didn’t get a chance to redeem himself the following season. You remember how he went down with a torn ACL during Week 1 against Kansas City, and that was it. Still, the Patriots won 11 games that season, and you could say many of them had a chip on their shoulder for the way things ended the season prior. Now, the majority of players returning next season will have that feeling of “oh-so-close,” and it will be interesting to note which players improve the most because of it.