The New England Patriots entering the 2019 season had made the Super Bowl three years in a row. The Patriots had previously won two of the past three Super Bowls, including 2018, beating the Los Angeles Rams in what was one of the lowest offensive Super Bowls ever played. The 2019 season started out fantastic for Tom Brady and the team as they started 8-0 against a weak schedule. Unfortunately due to injuries across the offensive line throughout the year and a lack of receivers
The team would go 4-4 over the second half of the season and would finish the year with a 12-4 record. The Patriots would for the first time in almost a decade not have a first-round bye entering the 2019 playoffs. They were unfortunately seeded third, which led to one of the biggest upsets in recent NFL history. The Patriots would lose to the Tennessee Titans in the wildcard round. The team started the year off strong but fumbled the second half and the playoffs as they did not reach their expectations of reaching the AFC Championship game.
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New England entering the offseason had many uncertainties. Their franchise player, Tom Brady, was slated to be a free agent. The ageless veteran quarterback was the center piece to the Patriots offseason, and Brady’s decision would dictate what direction the Patriots would head to. Brady would not re-sign with the Patriots, thus ending his 20-year tenure with the team. Brady was not the only notable player that left New England. The team lost Kyle Van Noy (Miami), Jamie Collins (Detroit), Danny Shelton (Detroit), Ted Karras (Miami), and Elandon Roberts (Miami).
The team also traded away Duron Harmon to the Detroit Lions, thus creating a thin depth chart to the safety core. Bill Belichick was not done there, as he would trade a ‘retired’ Rob Gronkowski to the team that Brady had left for, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although they received a fourth-rounder for Gronk, it was just another heartbreak for New England.
In the 2020 draft, the Patriots used their 10 draft picks to select players for depth purposes. The most notable player drafted was safety Kyle Dugger, who is slated to replace Patrick Chung or Devin McCourty once they retire. The team also drafted two tight ends in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. Along with three offensive linemen for depth, and two linebackers in Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings to help rebuild the outside linebacker core. Although the most notable transaction that the Patriots did after the first half of the offseason was the signing of former MVP Cam Newton. They signed the veteran quarterback to a one year deal, to compete for the starting job.
The Patriots have a new quarterback for the first time since 2001. Brady had left the New England Patriots for various reasons, leaving a major hole for the Patriots. The team has a second-year and backup to Brady, Jarrett Stidham. Although Stidham is unproven and had a terrible debut against the New York Jets last season, Belichick and the organization are still high on the young quarterback. The team had also recently brought in former MVP Newton on a one-year minimum deal. Both quarterbacks will have an equal chance of replacing Brady this season.
The Patriots are still without a great receiving core. Julian Edelman is getting older, Mohamed Sanu has been disappointing since joining the team last year and N’Keal Harry is still developing. Although the receivers are not elite, the running game should be the highlight of this season offensively. James White and Sony Michel are coming back. If Michel can replicate his rookie season and bounce back from the sophomore slump, the duo could wreak havoc against the league.
The major problem that the Patriots had last year was the health of the offensive line. This year, the biggest problem the team could face is having the commitment of the offensive line. Marcus Cannon has already opted out of the 2020 season. Meanwhile, guard Joe Thuney has not signed an extension, thus making him an unrestricted free agent again next offseason. The team had placed Thuney on a franchise tag, and tried to trade him or reach an extension. Yet, neither was done and Thuney had been vocal about his feelings on the topic.
The New England Patriots had one of the best defenses if not the best defense in 2019. Headlined by their secondary, and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. Most of the defense is returning, as the team had not signed a big free agent for the defense side of the ball. The Patriots did re-sign Patrick Chung and Adam Butler but lost Van Noy in free agency as they did not want to pay him 12 million a year.
The secondary is still elite, as they should still headline the team’s defensive focus. Gilmore and J.C. Jackson will be great on each side of the field and should come close to replicating another historic season. The defensive line is still good and filled with depth. Deatrich Wise should have a breakout year along with Derek Rivers, as they can try to replace Van Noy. Chase Winovich should take another step forward into becoming the star player that he was projected to be.
The biggest hole in this defense will be from the defensive linebackers. Dont’a Hightower, who is a captain on the defense will not participate this year as he opted out due to the pandemic. Leaving the linebacker position run by young developing players. The best situation would be to have either Winovich or Wise move to one of the outside positions. This would theoretically create more of a pass rushing defense which is what the Patriots were inconsistent with last year.
Predicting the 53-man roster
Newton came to the team in early July, even though the team was very confident in Stidham. It is unknown what Belichick is thinking when it comes to who will be the week one starter. But Newton is a former MVP in the NFL and has yet to show a regression in talent. Newton should be the week one starter barring any injuries.
White and Michel will headline the running game. Burkhead is undoubtedly the third-string running back and will be used to throw defenses off as he is a swiss knife type of talent. Harris and Taylor could get some snaps, but they will be used more for late games when the game is over.
The receiving core is complicated. Edelman is getting old, Sanu hasn’t played great since joining last year and Harry has not been able to stay healthy. If Harry can stay healthy he will undoubtedly become their number one receiver. Meyers and Byrd could end up higher on the depth chart if they perform well.
This is the weakest tight end depth chart the Patriots have ever had in two decades. Izzo is a decent receiver, but not a threat. Keene and Asiasi are unproven, but if they can block and help out the offensive line they can find a role on the team this season.
The New England offensive line will be filled with starting talent. Thuney, Mason, and Andrew (if he is healthy) should be enough to keep the line mostly afloat in games. However, the team will need Wynn to stay healthy to have a great unit. The team could find themselves trading for another vet at any point in the season to bolster the line.
Guy and Butler will start in the trenches for New England. Allen and Williams will make the roster but could not finish with the team. That will all depend on the production of rookie Bill Murray, who has high expectations to help close in the running lanes.
Headlined by Simon, the edge group will have to find a player to place on the other side of Simon. Wise and Rivers will have the best chance to get the most playing time as they have both succeeded in the past.
The potential for this core of linebackers is high. But the experience is lacking. Winovich will most likely move back into the linebacker position with Hightower opting out. Calhoun and Bentley had good seasons last year and should retain their snaps. Uche and Jennings could by season’s end start for the team if they perform well.
Gilmore and the legion of J’s will be once again the best secondary in the league. Every player on the depth chart has a chance to become a pro-bowler. Williams and Jones had flashes of excellence last year, and should come back better with more experience now. Gilmore should compete for another DPOY award as well, but could be threatened by Jackson’s incredible development.
The safety position will be unique this year. Expect Steve Belichick to have his younger corners convert into hybrids, and play some snaps into the safety position. McCourty will have himself a tough year, playing tons of snaps every game. Either Melifonwu or Brooks need to step up and perform well enough to help the veteran Pro-Bowler. Dugger, who was just reported injured recently during training camp, could find himself starting the season on injured reserve.
Bailey and Cardona will be with the team long term. The kicker position will be interesting to watch throughout the season. Before getting cut last year, Folk had played well during his time with the Patriots. The Patriots are now without a future Hall of Fame kicker for the first time since the late 90’s.
The Patriots are in a weird position. They have the potential and talent to make the Super Bowl again. But they could also be a team seeking a top 10 pick in the 2021 draft. The team has enough young players to blow up the roster and rebuild if they start slow. They could also afford to trade for a receiver mid way through the season if they believe they can be true contenders. The Patriots are a team riddled with uncertainties without Brady running the helm. Belichick will have his greatest challenge of his career leading this team.
Season Prediction: 9-7, a wildcard spot
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