Last season: 11-5, first place.
Critical upgrades: The Patriots ranked a miserable 28th in pass defense last year, then drafted cornerback Chris Canty in the first round and signed free-agent cornerback Steve Israel. But were these upgrades? The Poor Man's Guide to the draft called Canty the most overrated corner of those coming out. Israel missed most of training camp with a leg injury. The secondary will play more man-to-man coverage under Carroll and less of the double zones that Bill Parcells favored.
Potential downfall: The other trouble spot a year ago was the offensive line. The Patriots were just 26th in rush offense and Curtis Martin averaged just 3.6 yards a carry. They added tackle Zefross Moss to the mix, and moved Max Lane to guard. The new line was slow developing in the preseason.
Key stat: Quarterback Drew Bledsoe threw for 4,086 yards and 27 touchdowns, but in his last five games -- counting postseason -- he threw for five touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Ticket to San Diego: In an offense that includes Terry Glenn, Ben Coates, Sean Jefferson and Martin, Bledsoe is the man who can make the Super Bowl happen again.
Dirtiest player: LB Bryce Paup, Bills.
Overachiever: MLB Ted Johnson, Patriots.
Past his prime: QB Dan Marino, Dolphins.
Pink slip in mail: Marv Levy, Bills.
First quarterback benched: Todd Collins, Bills.
Rookie to watch: RB Antowain Smith, Bills.
Best acquisition: DT Henry Thomas, Patriots.
Sleeper team: Jets.