The Patriots defensive line faces a huge test in the form of Cincinnati running back Corey Dillon to start the season.
One of the most explosive players in the league, Dillon twice ran for more than 200 yards in a game last season, including a historic 278-yard performance against Denver. In any game he is capable of taking over and carrying the Bengals on his back.
In four seasons, Dillon has accumulated 4,894 rushing yards for a poor offensive team. He has never rushed for less than 1,129 yards in a season, and he has run for 26 touchdowns despite playing for a team will little other firepower.
However, Dillon is just as likely to be completely taken out of a game. While he ran for at least 110 yards in five different games, Dillon was held to 42 yards or less seven times. Even when he ran for 78 yards against New England last season, he averaged an unimpressive 2.8 yards per carry in doing so.
With Cincinnati going with Jon Kitna as its starting quarterback, the Patriots can afford to load up the defense against the running game to stop Dillon. Peter Warrick has big-time talent, but is young at wide receiver. If the Patriots secondary is as improved as the team hopes, the experience there should allow New England to force Kitna to be the player to beat them.
For the defense, Dillon is a tough test to start with. The middle of the Patriots line is the biggest question mark on defense, and even of they stack up in the box, Dillon is capable of making big-time runs. If he can be kept in check, New England could get off to a strong start and use the game as a stepping stone for a solid defensive season.