The New England Patriots are a team that, like many other years, lost quite a bit of star power by not going the extra mile financially.
However, fans were always able to chalk it up as “The Patriot Way.” After all, it’s impossible to doubt a team led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
Well, this offseason saw the former depart, taking Rob Gronkowski––though retired last season––with him to Tampa Bay. The team also lost the likes of Phillip Dorsett, Jamie Collins, and Kyle Van Noy, among others.
But the main focus is on the quarterback position. By losing Tom Brady, the Patriots have gone from having one of the best quarterback rooms to one of the worst. Taking the place of Brady on the depth chart will likely be second-year Auburn product Jarrett Stidham, who served as the team’s backup in 2019.
Stidham attempted all of four passes last season, accumulating 14 yards and throwing a pick-six in his first drive as a quarterback. While a small sample size, there’s not a lot to be excited about there.
Taking Stidham’s role as the team’s backup is veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer, who is now in his third stint with the team and hasn’t won a game as a starter since 2016; he is 0-10 since that victory.
However, there is a path to double-digit wins for this team that was able to muster up 12 victories last year despite a lot of turmoil on the offense stemming from an unhappy quarterback and banged-up offensive line.
1. Take care of divisional opponents.
Last year, the Patriots were able to go 5-1 in their six divisional games. While you could argue each team did a lot to improve ahead of 2020, the Jets and Dolphins seem more designed for success in 2021 and beyond. As a result, the door is open for four free wins should Stidham do what he needs to do: protect the ball.
That leaves the Bills, who definitely appear to be the favorite to win the AFC East. They’re a team loaded on defense and have given Josh Allen a lot of help in Stefon Diggs via trade, as well as Zack Moss, Gabriel Davis, and Isaiah Hodgins through the draft.
That being said, the jury is still out on the talent of Josh Allen. He has an absolute rocket for an arm but is prone to making bad decisions when he gets flustered. If he can work on his decision-making, that should pose problems for the Patriots’ defense, which has already have to deal with stopping Allen as a runner.
However, it’s unlikely he’s just going to erase all of his poor decisions, and the Patriots still have enough talent in the secondary to make him pay for risky passes.
If the Patriots can take five of these six games, they will be in a great position to make the postseason.
2. Take care of non-divisional home games.
Of course, the Patriots only play three home games against divisional opponents, further exaggerating the need to take care of their other five home games.
Those five games are against the Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, and Arizona Cardinals.
Much like the divisional games, it’s safe to say that each team listed has done work to improve their squads. However, three of those opponents finished below .500 in 2019, so you must ask the question: are their improvements, mixed with the Patriots’ losses, enough to create victories?
In the cases of San Francisco and Baltimore, it’s hard to make an argument that New England can make a game of it, much less win. However, for the other three, there is definitely a pathway for the Patriots to emerge victoriously.
3. Win two of the other five road games.
Outside of the divisional games, New England plays their road games against the Seahawks, Chiefs, Texans, Chargers, and Rams.
Starting with Seattle, there’s a decent chance that this Week 2 matchup will be played without fans due to a mixture of the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice protesting. As a result, it leaves the Washington government with a difficult decision.
However, should there be no fans, that takes away the difficulty of playing against the Seahawks on the road. Thus, it becomes a deeply-flawed Seahawks team against a deeply-flawed Patriots team. Russell Wilson may be a better quarterback than Jarrett Stidham, but you could make a case for the Patriots’ supporting cast over Seattle’s––especially at running back.
It’s easy to chalk up the Kansas City game as a loss because that team is one of the most flawless in the league.
That leaves three teams that are arguably rebuilding. The Texans have a lot of turmoil on offense following the trade of DeAndre Hopkins. The Chargers are certainly rebuilding and aren’t even convinced that Justin Herbert will be their starter in 2019. Meanwhile, the Rams are debatably turning into one of the worst teams in football.
Barring injury, the Patriots could certainly take all three of these games even though they’d only need to win two.
4. Stay healthy in the trenches on offense.
Something that could help Jarrett Stidham adjust to being an NFL quarterback would be having good protection and a consistent running game. The latter of the two stems from the former, as the running game was a lot better last season when Isaiah Wynn was healthy on the left side.
On top of that, they need a major bounceback season from Sony Michel, who regressed a lot in Year 2. If he can get back to rookie season Sony Michel, that takes a lot of pressure of the Patriots’ offense to thrive one-dimensionally.
On top of that, Stidham is going to have to utilize James White more, which seemed to be the opposite of the offense’s intentions last season. It seemed like the former Super Bowl hero was sort of an afterthought for Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady for much of 2019 even though he was quite effective when targeted as a receiver.
5. Big contributions from young pass-catchers.
Both young wideouts seemed to build a great rapport with Jarrett Stidham last summer but didn’t have the same luck with Tom Brady. With the presumptive downtick in production from Julian Edelman, they’re going to need those two receivers to improve drastically––but most importantly, stay on the field.
6. Mohamed Sanu must be worth a second-round pick.
Rounding out this list is a guy who left a lot to be desired in New England last season.
It wasn’t all his fault, as he suffered an ankle injury that required offseason surgery, causing him to lose a lot of explosiveness off the line of scrimmage and thus impeding his ability to get any sort of separation.
However, if Sanu can become a top target for Stidham by accumulating roughly 75 receptions for 900 yards and four touchdowns, the Patriots’ offense will certainly benefit.
The Patriots’ defense, despite all of the losses, is still immensely talented. As a result, the success of this team stems greatly from what the offense can achieve.
It’s going to be difficult, but there’s certainly a path for this team to succeed in 2020. Even with a lot of questions revolving around their offense, it still is loaded with talent.