To those who are uncertain about how 2008 will unfold for the New England Patriots following an ugly preseason, you are not alone.
Even head coach Bill Belichick, who knows this team inside and out, has his doubts with the season-opener less than a week away.
"I don't think you ever know what you have until you get into the regular season," Belichick said during a conference call Tuesday. "With practices and preseason games, there's not enough game-planning and your opponents don't attack you the way that you are going to be attacked in the regular season.
"Sometimes you can get through the preseason with no apparent problems in a certain area and then you get into the regular season and people start putting stress on that area, or on a particular scheme that you are running, and it can be a big problem.
"The most important thing in preseason is the fundamentals – the blocking, tackling and all the little things."
Unfortunately for the Patriots, that's where they struggled the most during a sluggish preseason in which they missed plenty of tackles, ran poor routes and suffered a myriad of physical and mental breakdowns en route to an 0-4 finish.
"We were inconsistent at best in those areas," Belichick said.
The good news is the games didn't count and many of the players who caused those problems are no longer with the team.
"On the other hand, the guys that did have an opportunity to perform and had the chance to work on them and they can improve as well," Belichick said. "To me, that's really what you try to get done in preseason. You like to be successful. You like to go out there and have everything go great, but even in games where we have had that — and we have had that in games around here — that doesn't really tell you exactly where you are. You won't know that for sure until opening day, or the first quarter of the season, where you're really tested by the other teams' best players and best schemes against you.
"Where are we? I don't know. How it will turn out, your guess is as good as mine."
With the preseason finally over, the Patriots can now turn their attention to the Chiefs, who they haven't played since 2005. A lot has changed for both teams since then, but mostly for Kansas City, which only has four players on its roster older than 30. While most teams would jump at the opportunity to play a young, inexperienced opponent, the Patriots are cautious because they are unfamiliar with most of the Chiefs' new players.
"I am sure they will have plenty of wrinkles for us – some plays and looks that we are not preparing for," Belichick said.
At least they know who's calling the shots on both sides of the ball. Veteran coach Gunther Cunningham is entering his fifth season as defensive coordinator in his second stint with the Chiefs, so the Patriots are familiar with his system despite the presence of newcomers Glenn Dorsey at defensive tackle and Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr in the secondary.
"The Chiefs have employed this defense for a while and they have a number of players returning and playing the same spots as they did last year," Belichick said. "Of course, they have added Dorsey, Flowers, and Carr in the secondary, but most of those other players are all guys that we have seen before."
Likewise, the Patriots are familiar with Chan Gailey, who replaced Mike Solari as Kansas City's offensive coordinator during the offseason. Gailey ran Miami's offense from 2000 to 2001 and also coached the Dallas Cowboys from 1998 to 1999.
"We have a history with Chan and I think we have a pretty good idea of his offensive philosophy and the basis of it," Belichick said. "We are certainly seeing a lot of that in the Kansas City attack."
As for his own roster, Belichick hasn't penciled in all his starters yet and is still open to making more transactions before the end of the week if someone else becomes available.
"I don't think it would be fair to say that there won't be anymore," he said. "There are a number of things that we are still looking at and talking about. Whether some of those will actually happen or not, I'm not sure.
"There were an awful lot of names there last week and there are still a few more names coming on there each day as teams adjust their rosters."
Could former Patriots cornerback Ty Law be one of those players?
"Right now, the only players I feel comfortable talking about are the ones that are on this team," Belichick said. "There are a lot of players that are not on this team and it's too long of a list to get into. The ones that are here, those are the ones that are getting ready for Kansas City. If we bring someone else in, we can talk about [that player] then, and if we don't, then we're going with what we have and that is what we're going with right now."
One of the players currently on the roster is cornerback Deltha O'Neal, who signed with the team Monday and could be an opening-day starter opposite Ellis Hobbs against the Chiefs in Week 1. O'Neal is working with secondary coach Dom Capersto learn the playbook before Sunday.
"Dom and Deltha will meet on a regular basis like everyone does," Belichick said. "Then they will meet on an extra basis before and after, whenever there is a time frame in there when they can get together. With any new player, it's always a little hard to tell how quickly things will come to him and how similar what we are doing is to what they have done in the past.
"Deltha will be working hard at it and Dom will be spending a lot of time with him. We'll see if we can get him ready to go by this weekend."
Once it's over, Belichick – and the rest of the fan-base – will have a better idea of what this team will look like in 2008.