Though the games have not quite kicked off, the regular season is here for the NFL.
On Wednesday, that generally means Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talking up the coming opponent and the challenges that his team faces.
For Week 1, that's a matchup with Bill O'Brien's upstart Texans.
"Obviously we are right in the middle of our preparation week. We have a couple big days coming up here," Belichick began behind the microphone inside the Gillette Stadium media workroom. "Impressive team, as they always are. Very well coached, Billy, Romeo [Crennel] and now Brad [Seely] down there in the kicking game. They have a lot of outstanding players in all three phases of the game. So they present a lot of problems from a personnel standpoint. They present a lot of problems from a scheme standpoint.
"We have a lot to get ready for. Opening day is always a challenge because of the amount, the challenge of all three phases and all situations and all the things that have come up between last year and this year and new personnel and so forth."
Belichick then alluded to guys like quarterback Deshaun Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt, both of whom missed more than half of last season on injured reserve, when assessing the guys Houston will field on Sunday.
"Some of their best and most important players look like they are ready to go," Belichick observed.
The coach, entering his 44th NFL season, 24th as a head coach and 19th as the Patriots boss admitted that he still gets excited for opening day.
"Big challenge," Belichick said. "Excited to get going."
Beyond his overall preview of the Texans, here are three takeaways from Belichick's big mid-week press conference that lasted just more than 15 minutes.
New year, new faces, new challenges: The Patriots hosted the Texans as recently as last season, a 36-33 win for New England in Week 3. But the new season brings a new cast of characters, schemes and situations for both teams. For example, how will All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu fit on Houston's defense?
"Those are all the opening day questions," Belichick said of the almost endless unknowns of the first week. "I mean we could go through 20 of those. Just keep piling them on. We'll see. They know. We don't know. I'm sure they are asking some of the same questions about players on our team. That's opening day."
DeAndre Hopkins "good at everything": One guy who's not new to Belichick's preparations for Houston is wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The sixth-year star is coming off his first All-Pro campaign in which he caught 96 passes for 1,378 yards with 13 touchdowns. Hopkins has topped 76 passes in each of the last four seasons, surpassing 1,200 yards in three of those years.
"Body control. Hands," Belichick said when he began to explain what makes Hopkins so good. "He makes some spectacular catches. He's kind of always open because he can…if you put the ball where he can get it, he can get it. No matter where the defender is, there is some spot away from the defender that if you put the ball there he can come up with it. He's good at everything. He's very good at going up and getting the ball down the field. He's good at intermediate routes. Good on catch-and-run plays. He's good in the red area. He's good on third down. The guy's one of the top receivers in the league. He gets the ball thrown to him a lot. He comes up with a lot of plays, even when it looks like he's covered he still comes up with the ball. He draws a lot of interference penalties. So, he's a tough guy to stop."
Sony Michel "working hard to catch up": First-round Patriots rookie running back Sony Michel missed the entire preseason and nearly all of training camp after a reported procedure in his knee. The versatile young player is back on the practice field, though his preparedness and availability for the regular season opener likely remains in doubt.
Belichick said on Wednesday that the potential playmaker is doing his best to get up to speed as he embarks on his first pro season.
"He's working at it and getting better every day," Belichick said. "He missed some time. So he's a little bit behind. He's working hard to catch up on and off the field in all areas."