New England Patriots 2021 Team Previewby Charlie Parent July 20, 2021 0 comments
Well, the post-Tom Brady era did not necessarily start off too well for the New England Patriots last year. The team went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for only the second time in the last 20 odd years. While the Patriot Way is to not make excuses, there were a fair amount of extenuating circumstances that held this team back a bit, and a lot of these have been fixed, setting them up nicely for a bounce-back year.
Make sure to check out all of our other 2021 NFL Team Previews.
Bill Belichick and company made an absolute splash this offseason. As most fans know, historically this team is one of the most, if not the most, conservative teams in the offseason in the past two decades. However, this year was so much different. The cycle started with a huge signing of Jonnu Smith, the versatile, athletic tight end. They then followed it up with trades for Trent Brown, as well as signing Hunter Henry, Jalen Mills, Kyle Van Noy, and Matthew Judon among others. The front office really took advantage of the cap space they had available to them and made some serious moves.
After the free-agent period, all eyes turned to the 2021 NFL Draft. There were so many rumors about the Patriots trading up in the first round to grab one of the top quarterbacks, but instead, they stood pat and selected Mac Jones at pick number 15. They then made a trade in the second round to grab former Alabama star, Christian Barmore. All in all, they had a fantastic offseason, one that puts them in a winning position now, and in the future.
This unit is far and away going to be the most improved, and the one with the most question marks. Obviously, Cam Newton‘s play last season was not up to par. Did he not have a full offseason? Yes. Did he get Covid-19? Yes. So there are some reasons for this, but he still needs to improve drastically. If he doesn’t we may see Jones a little bit earlier than expected, but it will be Newton starting the season.
Besides the quarterback position, this offense is built from the middle of the field to the outside. The line is phenomenal with Brown, unexpected star Michael Onwenu, captain David Andrews, among others. The tight ends, Smith and Henry, fix a more than gaping hole at the position and both are super versatile which is just what Belichick likes. The running back committee is still in play, however, it seems that Damien Harris is running away with the starting role from Sony Michel.
Finally, the wide receiver position. Another one that was more than subpar last year, and it’s gotten some big upgrades as well. Guys like Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne have come in to help alongside Jakobi Meyers and crew. Overall, the weapons that Newton has to play with are far more advanced than they were last year, and we can expect this unit to crack the top-15, if not top-10, in total offense.
Let’s just start off by saying that this group did not play nearly as well as expected in 2020. Now, they did have a ton of opt-outs, including Dont’a Hightower who is the heart and soul of this defense. However, once again, the Patriot Way is not about excuses. This season, we can expect a ton of improvement from the unit itself and its players. Guys like Ja’whaun Bentley will benefit from not having to be the main linebacker in the middle. Even Stephon Gilmore, who had a bit of a down year by his standards, should be back and ready to go on the outside. J.C. Jackson is set up to have another successful campaign opposite Gilmore, and the young bucks like Josh Uche and Barmore look to breakout.
While the secondary is really going to be great, the biggest need on this defense was pass-rush and the front-seven. This is a squad that ranked 26th in the league in sacks last season, which is not nearly enough to win football games. Signing Judon was a really nice boost, and the Patriots now have several pass-rushers to rotate through. Uche, Judon, Ronnie Perkins, Chase Winovich, and Anfernee Jennings all possess unique skill sets and all of these guys need to come up big to get after the passer.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
We’ve talked about this a good bit already, but Newton is the clear-cut starter as of now. However, Jones has made fantastic strides already in OTAs and minicamp, which is very promising for Patriots fans. We’ve also gone an interesting route here with only two quarterbacks. The Patriots did re-sign Brian Hoyer this offseason and would love to keep him or Jarrett Stidham around for their experience in the system, but there’s just not enough space left on the roster for a third quarterback.
This group, at the top, is very easy to predict but as we go deeper, it gets a little trickier. As mentioned, Harris is going to be the starter. He’s not going to be some bell-cow back, though, and Michel will get his fair share of touches. Stevenson, the rookie out of Oklahoma, is likely to take more of a redshirt year if you will, and see his touches increase in 2022. Now, here the prediction is that the team cuts Brandon Bolden and keeps Taylor. Taylor is a fan favorite because he runs hard and plays fast. However, Bolden is a solid special-teamer, so it will be interesting to see what route they go here, and it should just be a preseason battle.
A couple of things jump off the paper right away. First, the lower amount of players on this roster. Commonly, a Belichick team takes five receivers, but this year it is a little different. Olszewski is really only a returner and rarely lines up out wide, and having only four true receivers is really hard. Second, N’Keal Harry. The former first-round pick has requested out of New England and is likely to be traded or cut by the time the season starts. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t work out, but now the Patriots have to turn to Ross, or potentially Isaiah Zuber, to pick up the slack on the back half of this unit.
The NFL’s worst tight end group in 2020 now has the talent to be the best in 2021. Smith and Henry are the two big changes in this group, as we’ve mentioned before, but the two others bring some nice narratives as well. Asiasi seems to finally be living up to his potential after a poor rookie season. Reports have come out that he played extremely well in OTAs, and is looking good for the future. Keene, another second-year player, sits in an interesting spot. Keene isn’t really fitting New England’s system but is still a young guy with lots to prove. He can also get some reps at fullback if the Patriots decide to cut Jakob Johnson and go without a true fullback this season.
This group, once again, is a little difficult to predict the depth side of it, but certainly easy to predict the starters. We’ve eluded to this but this is a really great line. Brown and Wynn manning the tackle spots with Mason and Onwenu at the guard positions and Andrews at center are what is the most predicted lineup here. The rest really comes down to training camp performances. Karras is pretty much a lock, but nothing is guaranteed. Sherman is a rookie this year, so they may see something in him but he could lose out to Alex Redmond, Justin Herron, or Yodny Cajuste.
Let’s just start off by saying there’s a real grey area between defensive tackle and defensive end. Anyways, this is still a very solid position group. It is a little sad to see guys like Byron Cowart, and recently signed Montravius Adams be cut so early, but it is necessary. This unit has a really nice balance of stopping the run and rushing the passer, which is essential for a Belichick team. It’s yet another improved unit from last year’s and they’ll impress early on.
There are no real superstars on this front-seven but all six of these edge rushers, and all 10 of the defensive lineman, can really make an impact on the field at all times. As for the edge spot, there’s a whole assortment of skill sets that can combine nicely to take down the quarterback. Judon and Uche use brilliant speed and finesse moves from a more outside linebacker role. The other four are your more traditional lineman who gives you a lot of everything. Overall, this group will improve from the woes of last season.
The first thing to note is that Cameron McCrone won’t actually be on the 53 man roster to start the year. He’ll start on the PUP list and most likely hit injured reserve when the time comes. This is what was expected from the moment the Patriots drafted him this year, and they are completely fine with letting him sit a year because he’s only 21 years old. The other three guys are great. All three are veterans, leaders, and the epitome of the “do your job” slogan that the Patriots implore every season. This group of linebackers will be one of the best units in the league this year, as they try to return to 2019 boogie man form where they dominated week in and week out.
From a pure talent standpoint, this is the best group on the roster. Then you look at what each guy brings to the table and it’s cause for pure excitement. Gilmore and Jackson are the two lockdown guys on the outside. Jones will shut down the slot, while Mills will be used in a multitude of ways. Williams is still trying to gain his footing in the league, but his unique size helps out with tight end mismatches a good bit. This is by far the most intriguing group on the team and one to watch out for this season.
This is another really, really, talented group, but one that does not get nearly enough credit. Obviously, the star player here is McCourty. While he is getting up there in age, the guy is still a Hall of Famer and his pure knowledge of the position is key. Phillips is one of the most underrated players in the league, while Dugger and Bryant are two players who also just do their job and make the plays they need. As for Bledsoe, he’s only a rookie, and there has been a strong voice that he will not be making the roster. However, they should give him at least a year to take a shot at making some plays in whatever way he can.
New England’s best-performing side of the ball last year is back in 2021. Folk did a fantastic job, hitting 93 percent of his field goals last season and proving all the doubters wrong. Bailey is a top-three punter in the league and was a first-team All-Pro last season. Of course, everyone’s favorite, Slater, returns at the age of 35, as probably the best true special teamer ever. Davis and Bethel are also superb special teamers and are next in line once Slater retires. As for Cardona, he, once again, nails down the long snapping spot for the seventh year in a row.
One Player to Add
If there’s anyone who knows how to revive a player’s career and play to their skill sets it’s Belichick. The player in mind here is 26-year-old safety Malik Hooker. Hooker is a former first-round pick out of Ohio State and is he talented. Injuries and system fit just did not pan out for him in Indianapolis. If his torn Achilles is fully healed by camp, there’s no reason New England shouldn’t bring him in. The safety group is talented, yes, but they could use another guy and why not give Hooker a shot if healthy. Some other names to consider would be Brian Poole, Melvin Ingram, Kenny Stills, and Dede Westbrook.
2021 Outlook & Odds
After finishing third in the AFC East last year, the Patriots now see what can be considered an easier schedule than in the past. Their first three games against Miami, the New York Jets, and New Orleans are all games they should win before going up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4. After Tampa, they take on the Houston Texas, another very easy game, then the Dallas Cowboys, and then the Jets again. So, if the offense clicks like so many hope it will, this team could very well start off at 6-1. This would be phenomenal considering the current over/under win total is projected at 9.5 for the Patriots.
After the first seven games, New England does have to face the Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, and the Buffalo Bills twice, however, they also meet up with the Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Chargers, Carolina Panthers, and Jacksonville Jaguars in this span. Overall, the schedule has tough sides to it, as it has for the past 20 years, but its easier sides are much more facile than in the past.
Season Prediction: 10-7 and Make the Playoffs as a Wild Card Team
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