We're not quite there yet, but it's looking like the labor impasse is closer and closer to being resolved and training camps could soon begin.
There remains considerable uncertainty, however, not just about the new collective bargaining agreement and what changes it will bring to the game, but how the Patriots will be affected.
With that in mind, we settled on a simple question for this week's Debate Friday, with all three Patriots Football Weekly writer chiming in again.
What is your biggest concern for the Patriots heading into the '11 season?
Read each argument, then cast your vote in our Debate Friday poll.
Andy Hart says, "Year 2 jump falls short!"
Aside from my insane fear that Bill Belichick will see the new rules of the CBA (no double-sessions, etc.) and announce his resignation from a game he no longer recognizes…my biggest fear is that the much-hyped Year 2 jump for all New England's young players doesn't live up to the billing.
Guys like second-year players Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Devin McCourty, Jermaine Cunningham will be expected to be even better in their second seasons with the team. Others, like BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Rob Ninkovich and Patrick Chung, will be expected to be better in their second season as full-time contributors.
But the normal Year 2 jump that everyone talks about comes thanks in part to a full year, full offseason in the team's system. Part of that advantage was eliminated by the lockout. If many of these guys aren't better, or at least as good as they were last fall, New England may find itself taking a step back as a team. Hopefully, though, these fears are as unfounded as the idea that Belichick would walk away from the came in which he's lived for more than 35 years because of a few rule changes.
Paul Perillo says, "Defensive development stalls…"
The Patriots offense was the driving force behind the team's success last year but the playmaking nature of the defense cannot be ignored. New England forced 38 turnovers a year ago, second only to the 39 caused by the Giants. Many of those turnovers allowed the Patriots to create separation between themselves and the opponent, and more than a few even resulted in points.
My biggest fear in 2011 is without those turnovers the defense may have a hard time stopping teams. It's tough to rely on creating that many takeaways every season. Chances are some of those fumbles and interceptions won't happen again, and if that's the case, has the young unit progressed enough to force punts when it has to?
Time will tell, but as of now that's my biggest concern.
Erik Scalavino says, "Another early playoff exit …"
In a year when I don't expect the quality of football overall to be all that great in the NFL, given the late start due to the lockout, teams like the Patriots, with well-established coaches, systems, and high-profile players, will be able to take advantage of the numerous teams with new head coaches and coordinators.
So, I would expect New England to contend for the playoffs once again, and probably even win the AFC East. Wouldn't even be surprised if they secured another first-round bye.
My biggest concern, though, is that they'll get knocked out again, at home, in the playoffs. Ever since Super Bowl XLII, this team has had its problems get motivated for and finishing off games in the post-season. Having the best record in the league is meaningless if you don't capitalize on it when it counts.
Your turn! Cast your vote in this week's Debate Friday poll.