Patriots Head Into Season Opener As Favorites

As the Patriots prepare for their season opener against the New York Jets, one recent roster move has them feeling more comfortable -- the signing of CB Asante Samuel. In addition to Samuel's return, the additions to the stable of receivers has Patriots fans giddy with excitement. Team news and notes inside.

Going into training camp, the two biggest questions surrounding the Patriots were the status of disgruntled cornerback Asante Samuel and how would new receiver Randy Moss mesh with his teammates. So far, it's been a bit of good news, bad news in New England.

Moss looked great during his brief time in camp before pulling up lame on a deep pass after tweaking his hamstring. That was a month ago and no one has seen Moss since.

Before the injury, Moss caught everything thrown his way and displayed the big-play ability some thought he had lost. Moss also looked to be fitting in with his teammates, especially quarterback Tom Brady. The two were often seen talking and joking around with each other before Moss was sidelined. As long as Moss' injury doesn't linger into the season, he should have a big year.

Samuel threatened to hold out of training camp if the two parties couldn't agree on a long-term contract and he held true to his word. But in the end, Samuel came in and signed the $7.79 one-year franchise tender. Now it appears that both sides are happy moving forward.

"Both sides are happy and I'm here and I'm ready to play football, so it doesn't really matter who gained as long as both sides are happy," Samuel said shortly after signing. "I love my team. It's always been a great organization. It's always had great fans, great players, great coaches. We've been doing well since I've been here so I'm glad to be here and I'd love to be here for the rest of my career."

With Samuel back in the fold, an already-strong Patriots defense gets even better. The unit has been close to dominant this preseason and that's while playing without Samuel, Richard Seymour and Ty Warren -- three of its best players. With the addition of Adalius Thomas and the return of Rodney Harrison (after he serves a four-game suspension), this is shaping up to be one of Bill Belichick's most talented defenses ever, and that's saying quite a bit.

Offensively, the team took some time to gel but the Pats finally looked sharp against the Carolina Panthers in their third preseason tilt. Receivers Moss, Donte' Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney have all missed time due to injury but Brady has been able to spread the ball around and get everyone involved on offense.

The biggest impact could be made by offseason acquisition Wes Welker. He's a perfect fit for the Patriots offensive system and seems to really be building a nice rapport with Brady. Welker caught a career-high 67 passes last year in Miami and could easily eclipse that this season with the Patriots.

Laurence Maroney made his preseason debut in Carolina and looked impressive. Maroney ran for 58 yards on 15 carries, while displaying both power and speed in the open field. As long as he can avoid the nagging injuries that seem to plague him from time-to-time, Maroney is primed for a breakout year. With all the speed the Patriots have at receiver, opposing defenses won't be able to crowd the line of scrimmage to stop the run and the talented Maroney will make them pay. The second-year back is dynamite in the open field, so he should rip off a lot of big runs this year.

Las Vegas has made the Patriots a 3-1 favorite to capture their fourth Super Bowl title in seven years and there's good reason for that. New England is led by the best coach in the NFL in Belichick and has a roster loaded with talent. There are some concerns like the age of the linebackers but overall, the Patriots are as solid as any team in the league. As long as they stay healthy and focused, it's hard to imagine the Patriots not competing for the Lombardi Trophy deep into January.


--S Rodney Harrison has been suspended for the first four games of the season, reportedly for testing positive for the performance enhancing drug HGH. Harrison admitted Friday that he will be suspended. "My purpose was never to gain a competitive edge," he said Friday night. "Rather, my use was solely for the purpose of accelerating the healing process of injuries I sustained while playing football.

--DL Ty Warren was recognized as the 2007 New England Patriots Ron Burton Community Service Award winner at the team's annual Kickoff Gala. Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft presented Warren with the award, which is named in honor of Ron Burton, the first player drafted by the team and known for his widespread charitable work throughout Eastern and Central Massachusetts.

"My family is proud to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Ron Burton Community Service Award by presenting it to Ty Warren," Kraft said. "A strong commitment to philanthropy guides my family every day, and it is important to us that Patriots players make a positive impact in the community. On a team where so many follow Ron Burton's tradition of service, Ty should be congratulated for going above and beyond."

Warren, 26, has made an impact in both the New England and Texas communities since the Patriots drafted him in 2003. He consistently ranked among the Patriots players who attend the most team-sponsored charitable events each season, and has also established and implemented his own charitable programs. In 2006, Warren created the 1st and Goal Foundation, which received its tax-exempt status as a registered 501(c)3 charitable organization prior to last season. Through the 1st and Goal Foundation, Warren has launched programs designed to aid the youth of New England and Texas

--"I mean you guys in the media or whoever ranks cornerbacks, I feel how I feel about myself and that's all that really matters at the end of the day. I feel that I'm one of the best in the NFL and I've just got to play and keep proving it. I'm a fourth-rounder; I come from the bottom of this league. I made my name all on my own. Nothing was given to me, so I'm happy. I'll let you guys that hold the microphone (decide). Am I the best?" -- Asante Samuel, when asked if he was the best cornerback in the NFL.

--"I'm glad he's here. I'm glad we got things worked out. We're looking forward to working with him. We drafted him four years ago, this will be his fifth year. He's been a very productive player for us. I'm glad it all got worked out." -- Coach Bill Belichick on the return of Samuel.

--On the same day that Tom Brady's son was born, Kyle Brady and his wife gave birth to a baby girl that they named Brooke.

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