Schedule: MIA, @SEA, LVR, @KC, DEN, BYE, SF, @BUF, @NYJ, BAL, @HOU, ARI, @LAC, @LAR, @MIA, BUF, NYJ
Additions: QB Cam Newton (FA), S Adrian Phillips (FA), DL Beau Allen (FA), LB Brandon Copeland (FA), DB Kyle Dugger (Draft), EDGE Josh Uche (Draft), EDGE/LB Anfernee Jennings (Draft), TE Devin Asiasi (Draft)
Losses: QB Tom Brady (FA), LB Kyle Van Noy (FA), LB Jamie Collins (FA), DT Danny Shelton (FA), OL Ted Karras (FA), WR Phillip Dorsett (FA), FB James Develin (Retired), S Duron Harmon (Trade), OL Marcus Cannon (Opt-out), S Patrick Chung (Opt-out), LB Dont’a Hightower (Opt-out), TE Matt Lacosse (Opt-out), RB Brandon Bolden (Opt-out), FB Danny Vitale (Opt-out)
As you can see, the “losses” section is a lot bigger and better than the “additions” section. Free agency beat the crap out of this team and COVID-19 kicked them while they were down. This might be the most talent one team has ever lost in one offseason.
A large draft class will get an opportunity to prove itself far earlier than anticipated. Besides the guys listed, kicker Justin Rohrwasser, LB Cassh Maluia, and TE/FB/H-back/football player Dalton Keene bring the total to seven rookies who could receive meaningful playing time or possibly even start. Needless to say, that’s less than ideal.
That’s what happens when you lose virtually half of your starting defense—many of whom had been staples of the unit for years. New England’s tight cap situation severely limited their ability to offset these losses, with the team instead having to rely on the draft. This year’s group will be a far cry from 2019’s dominant unit.
Even the vaunted secondary will take a step back. Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon might not be household names, but they were huge pieces of this defense for years. Even without those guys, this is still an elite secondary, though. Reigning DPOY Stephon Gilmore headlines one of the best cornerback rooms in the league and Adrian Phillips should slot in nicely next to Devin McCourty.
Danny Shelton was great last year and they’ll definitely miss him, but the defensive line isn’t where the Patriots will hurt the hardest, either. That would be linebacker. Knowing Bill Belichick, he would have found a couple Target employees to admirably fill the shoes of Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins after they signed big-money deals elsewhere. Dont’a Hightower opting-out changed everything, though.
He has been the lifeblood of this unit almost from the day he was drafted. The drop-off from those three to whatever trio New England can scramble together is almost unfathomable. Ja’Whaun Bentley, a guy with less than 200 career snaps is now expected to not only start, but hold the entire defense together. He won’t get much support from whichever young, unproven players line up beside him.
The only position with a comparable drop-off is the obvious one. For the first time in nearly two decades, Tom Brady will not enter the season as the Patriots’ starting quarterback. That honor now goes to Cam Newton. Superman is reportedly blowing out Jarrett Stidham in the quarterback competition, which should surprise absolutely no one. Newton remains an elite talent. The only worry about him is health. Sadly, that’s a huge worry. I’m at the point where I don’t expect a healthy Cam for 16 games. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Stidham has to play some this year.
No matter which player starts and for how many games, he won’t have a ton of support. Sony Michel hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in his career and is dealing with injuries right now. He’s poised to get the bulk of the workload, though James White will have his role and Damien Harris is getting some hype. Losing James Develin and his projected replacement could hurt the run game as well. Unless we see a different version of Michel or Harris breaks out, the backfield is closer to a weakness than a strength for the Patriots.
The same could be said about last year’s receivers. Hopefully it will be a different story this season. Julian Edelman was more inconsistent than usual last season while N’Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu struggled with injuries and learning a new offense, respectively. All three should be better this season, but unless Harry breaks out in a big way, the receivers will remain lackluster. At tight end, the Patriots are likely to receive minimal production once again after years of being spoiled with Gronk.
That leaves the offensive line. You’d think they would be in line for a huge bounce-back season given how banged-up they were last season. After all, David Andrews returns after missing all of last season with a perspective-putting health scare and Isaiah Wynn is back after missing eight games himself. But, this cruel, cruel year refused to have mercy on the six-time champs, as starting right tackle Marcus Cannon opted-out. The Patriots’ once-promising depth looks a lot shakier now that a backup will have to take his spot. They’ll be put to the test in the likely event of more injuries along the line.
Honestly, the only reason I have this team going 8-8 is the undying faith I have in Belichick and Co. Between their offseason losses and brutal schedule, this team should be even worse. I’ve learned better than to doubt New England, though. Feel free to do so at your own risk.
What’s your record prediction for the Patriots? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.