Less than two weeks from today, the NFL will begin its regular season with a Wednesday night matchup between NFC East rivals the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.
At that point, the Patriots will be plugging away on their preparation for their inaugural opponent of the 2012 season, the Tennessee Titans. The team has plenty of work to do in between now and then, including shaving the roster down by 32 players, but it's never too early to take a look at the opening week of the regular season, particularly with the Titans making a major announcement earlier this week.
Head coach Mike Munchak said on Monday that second-year quarterback Jake Locker, the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft, has been named the team's starter. Locker unseated incumbent starter Matt Hasselbeck, a veteran who admirably helped lead the team to nine wins last season -- a total that surpassed expectations set by many experts and analysts alike.
From the Patriots' standpoint, it means that Bill Belichick's team will face a player it has never seen before, and one that has a unique skill set. Locker tested well during the Combine in many of the physical drills, and has displayed impressive mobility during his brief NFL career. He also has the ability to do damage with his arm, although his overall game remains a work in progress.
Belichick has long been known to create challenges for opposing quarterbacks, as his complex defensive schemes often involve difficult-to-recognize coverages, blitzes and concepts. Given that Locker has never faced Belichick, and also that he will not have any regular season tape to study on this year's defense, it will be interesting to watch the chess match unfold in Nashville that day.
Also of interest to Belichick and his defense will be the availability of talented Titans receiver Kenny Britt.
Britt, 23, suffered a season-ending ACL injury in September of 2011, and has had two subsequent surgeries on his knee this year, one in May and another in June. He's currently working back into shape after being placed on the physically unable to perform list, and Munchak has suggested recently that he will not play at all this preseason.
But perhaps even more pertinent to Britt's availability for the season opener is the discipline he faces after being arrested this offseason on charges of a DUI. That could result in a suspension, which would keep Britt off the field against the Patriots.
The countdown to the regular season -- 16 days -- continues.