I don't know why, but I thought I'd start a thread where we could just talk football. I was just thinking about a good news bad news scenario and thought it just might be a good topic for discussion. The Good news: Any way you parse it, given what we have on the roster right now. Without any FA considerations; the Pats should be a significantly BETTER football team than they were last season....for the following reasons. 1. The Pats have added a TON of new players over the last 2 drafts (not including 2011), and the hard reality IS, that it takes a few years for players coming into the NFL to reach their potential....its just THAT hard. It is almost inconceivable that the Pats VERY young defense won't improve simply because SO many key players will be entering their 2nd-4th years. Guys like Brace, Spikes, Fletcher, Butler, Love, Deadrick,Tate, etc, etc SHOULD show us a great leap of productivity as they enter their 2nd and 3rd years of their careers Then when you add the known contributions of vets like Boddin, TWarren, MStroud and MWright, The entire defense across the board SHOULD be better. A lot better. I know this isn't a stretch since the bar from last season was set pretty low. But I think that it wouldn't take much improvement "as a team" to make a quantum leap in defensive stats. 2. The offense on the other hand is in a much harder position to conclude that THEY will be better, simply because they were the top offense in the league for most of last year. It would be kind of ridiculous to expect Brady to have the kind of stats he put up last season, but the fact is, he doesn't have to. If he has only 90% of the year he had last season, he'd be among the top 3 QBs in the league. That being said, when you look at the offense, its hard not to think it got better over the off season. Clearly the RB group got enormously upgraded. Welker will be another year removed from his injury, and while his production was more than we should have expected, the 2010 Wes Welker was still a mere shadow of the player we've come to expect from his peak seasons. Tate, Edelman and Price should ALL benefit from another year "in the system". Even Branch should benefit from a full training camp in the offense. AND if you liked what we got from the TEs in 2010, just think of what they can be in their 2nd year. Now comes the only issue of the offense and that's the OL. You can fairly question the wisdom of starting a rookie at LT. You can speculate on the futures of Light, Mankins, and Kazcur, so you can reasonably question the stability of the OL.....if you choose to. Here's what I think. For next season at least, Mankins is GOING to be a Patriot, and having him there for a full training camp is going to be a big improvement to the OL. Dan Connolly has proven he can start in this league and be consistent in the best offense in the league. And lets assume a worst case scenario where Nate Solder is the starting LT on day one. Well the worry worts will pull four of five plays out of UTube and declare he "functionally too weak" to start at this point. They will worry about him "playing too high" and soft. I choose in this matter to defer to a Pats coaching staff who saw have probably seen EVERY single play Nate Solder had in college, not just 4-5 on UTube. I will defer to Dante, who "banged the table" for this guy. I won't worry about his "functional strength" because his Combine BP was essentially the same as Kazcur's and Light's, both of whom started as rookies. Besides guys who live with their strength coaches, are HIGHLY likely to be a lot stronger by the time they move out. . BTW- there was a reason, Von Miller pointed out that Solder gave him the toughest time of any OT in their league This is an OL that has JUST begun the transition that we've seen on the D. I love the talent we added this year (Solder and Cannon), and it bodes well for the future. BUT for us the future is NOW!, and while Solder has MY confidence, he's going to be a huge question mark until we actually see him on the field and Matt Light's future is decided Finally the Kicking game should also see an improvement with the return of Gotskowski, Metzko's 2nd season and the emergence of Edelman and Tate as a quality KRs. Though the new KO return rules might mitigate the impact of ANY KRs this season. Now I haven't spent much time on THIS year's draft picks. Only Solder, because of the need and his high draft position, and the RBs, by the nature of their position, should be expected to have significant impacts early on, but who knows BOTTOM LINE: We as fans SHOULD have a reasonable expectation that the 2011 version of the Pats will be better than their 2010 version. And while this might not translate into more wins in the regular season, it SHOULD mean more wins in the playoffs Here's the bad news: Everyone else is getting better too. I'm sure if I was a fan of most of the leagues teams, I would be able to perform this same exercise with my team. 2. FA scares the hell out of me. There are just SOOOOOOOO many guys out there who can help any team, and not just the name brands. This FA class is SOOOOOO deep that there will be a lot of teams who will be significantly improved by the time its over. So here is my caveat for fans while we wait for this CBA drama to play out. If you look at the Pats in a vacuum, it's VERY exciting. UNFORTUNATELY we don't play in a vacuum, we play in the NFL, and the way its set up, there is reason for a LOT of teams to be "very excited" Just keep that in mind as we set expectations.