Is it really possible that a Patriots team that appears to have few if any weaknesses at this early point in the season could get even stronger in the coming weeks? The answer is yes.
With the sixth week of the NFL schedule in the books, all players who started the season on the physically unable to perform list are now eligible to begin practicing and/or playing. For the Patriots, 6-0 after Sunday afternoon's win over the previously undefeated Cowboys in Dallas, the PUP list includes All-Pro defensive end Richard Seymour (knee), all purpose wide receiver and team leader Troy Brown (knee) and even potential contributors in wide receiver Chad Jackson (ACL) and defensive back Eddie Jackson (ACL).
Clearly, the most enticing potential addition to New England's already exceptionally impressive early season efforts is Seymour. The five-time Pro Bowler is the leader of the Patriots' dominant young group of former first-round picks that also includes Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork. The group has played well to date with fill-in starter Jarvis Green. But everyone, including the players on the field, expects that performance to only improve when Seymour returns.
"It will, it definitely will," Warren said recently. "I was thinking about that today in the locker room. Just the guys that we have on the line presently with myself, Vince, Jarvis, Mike Wright, Le Kevin (Smith). And then you add Richard to that mix. All those guys I named are guys that can contribute and contribute well. It's only going to strengthen the group. Richard is an experienced veteran and when he gets back we'll be happy to have him back."
By rule, players on the physically unable to perform list can begin practicing any time during the window between the sixth and ninth weeks of the NFL schedule. Once they begin practicing the team has a 21-day window to decide whether to activate the player, release him or put him on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
Seymour injured his knee last season and had offseason knee surgery. At some point the recovery from that procedure slowed and even encountered a setback, forcing him onto the PUP list. Brown has a similar situation, as he has been slower to recover from offseason knee surgery than many, even the player, expected. He recently expressed hope that he'll be ready to join the team very soon.
So while it's likely New England will use the full window to make a decision on both Jacksons, and in the end both players fight an uphill battle in trying to get onto the Patriots' deep and relatively healthy roster, Seymour and Brown are likely to begin practicing much sooner and could join the 53-man roster at any time.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told the Boston Globe recently that all four players have a chance to begin working out with the team immediately.
"I think there is a shot," he said. "The decision about whether the player is physically able to begin practicing really gets made at the end of this week. It might seem like that decision was made three weeks ago, but it really isn't.
"If you're talking about a decision on whether to activate someone right away, it depends on how they do in Weeks 4-5-6 or 5-6, when you want to try to accelerate things and up-tempo it as you get closer and see how the player holds up with it.
"Then there is another decision to make and that is whether to actually put the player into practice. That decision is based on a number of other factors, such as the roster and injuries at other positions."