FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — So how do you feel about the New England Patriots this year?

Do you still think they’re the best team in the AFC?

Do you still think they’ll make a run at another Super Bowl?

Or is this the year they fall back to the pack a bit?

Is this the year the offseason drama creates a friction that chips away at the invulnerable hide this franchise seems to have?

In short order, the answers are: Yes, yes, no and no.

Certainly this was a New England offseason unlike any other we’ve seen.

There was the squabble between owner Robert Kraft, Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady – the three men most responsible for the dynastic 17-year run that features five Super Bowl championships, another three AFC championships and 15 AFC East titles, including the last nine.

They traded away Brandin Cooks and his 1,000 receiving yards. They lost their offensive Swiss Army knife when Dion Lewis left for Tennessee as a free agent, joining cornerback Malcolm Butler. Mr. Clutch, Danny Amendola, left for Miami. Left tackle Nate Solder went to the New York Giants.

Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski skipped most of the offseason workouts. Then wide receiver Julian Edelman was suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. And finally offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, New England’s first pick at No. 23, suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in the preseason.

So why will the Patriots continue to roll? Because they are, after all, the Patriots, the team that shrugs off distractions as easily as water off a duck.

Asked about the offseason, veteran special teams standout Matthew Slater said, “None of that matters now. All that matters is Sunday, the Houston Texans are coming to town. They’re well-coached and will be prepared, and we have to match that challenge. Anything that was said or written about this team is out the window once that ball is kicked off Sunday.”

The Patriots like what they have. Last Wednesday they all spoke about the attitude, the willingness to work, the chemistry that this team is developing.

“Any time you’ve got a group of guys willing to work and willing to get better each and every day, that’s something positive,” said defensive lineman Trey Flowers.

“All those guys come in every day, doing the extra stuff, not complaining, just getting the job done. When you have that type of group, that’s special.”

There is a lot to like about these Patriots but there are some questions that must be answered.

Here are four:

Who steps up at wide receiver?

With Cooks and Amendola gone, and Edelman out for the first four games, the Patriots don’t have the most exciting group of wide receivers for Brady. Chris Hogan, in his third season with the Patriots, looms a the No. 1 guy right now with Phillip Dorsett, in his second season, at No. 2. Hogan is solid and capable of breaking big plays but has never caught more than 41 passes in a season. Dorsett is intriguing, moving up the depth chart through training camp. He can be a game-breaker, the speedy wide receiver New England needs to open up the middle for Gronkowski, the most dangerous tight end in the NFL.

Beyond them? Cordarrelle Patterson is scary but more dangerous as a returner. Chad Hansen was claimed off waivers from the Jets a week ago. Riley McCarron is an undrafted free agent promoted from the practice squad Thursday.

Yes, Brady has plenty of passing options in Gronkowski, and running backs James White, Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill and rookie Sony Michel. But he needs to spread the field with his wide receivers or defenses are going to game plan those guys out of the offense. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots make a move at some point for a wide receiver.

Is Trent Brown the answer at left tackle?

Brady’s blind side has been ably protected by Matt Light and Solder over the years. Now Brown, acquired in a trade with the 49ers, is situated there.

At 6-foot-8, 380 pounds, Brown is a man mountain. He’s also much more athletic than you realize and moves extremely well.

But he’s always been a right tackle, making 28 starts there over his career with San Francisco. Can he adjust to moving over to the left side?

The Patriots certainly hope so. Brown has always been regarded as a strong pass blocker and played very well in the preseason.

The loss of Wynn, who was impressive in training camp, depletes the offensive line depth. So it’s important that Brown play well and stay healthy.

And if he plays well, he can earn himself a lot of money. Brown is a free agent after this season.

Can Dont’a Hightower stay healthy?

Let’s face it, when Hightower is on the field the Patriots are a better defensive team. He makes big plays. The Super Bowl against Atlanta? The Patriots don’t rally from 28-3 down to beat the Falcons 34-28 in overtime if he doesn’t force a Matt Ryan fumble that’s recovered by the Patriots in the fourth quarter.

But he hasn’t played a full season since 2013 and last year played in only five games before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury.

Hightower said he’s changed his offseason routine to include more “soft muscle work.”

“I tried to treat them a little more in maybe a different rehab routine,” he said. “More acupuncture and soft tissue work, things of that nature. I feel good now and will continue that throughout the year.”

The Patriots need Hightower’s leadership and playmaking ability if this defense is going to be effective.

Who replaces Brandon Bolden?

Why this question? Well because Bolden was an invaluable member of New England’s special teams in his six seasons with the team. Last year he led the Patriots with seven unassisted tackles on special teams and was always a guy that could be counted on.

Bolden was released by the Patriots after training camp and signed with Miami.

“We’ll definitely miss him,” said Slater. “Unfortunately that’s the nature of this business, change … A lot of guys have got to step up. He was a key cog in a lot of what we did.”

And not only on special teams. Bolden stepped in at running back when asked and always gave the Patriots a boost. In 2015 he caught a 63-yard touchdown pass against Denver, remember?

Guys like Bolden don’t make many headlines. But in football they’re valuable to team success.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH