New England Patriots Season Prediction

Overview:

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)

Analysis:

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.

Looking Back…Who Won the Colts-Pats Jacoby Brissett Trade?

The History

To start 2016, Tom Brady was serving a four-game suspension as punishment for his role in Deflategate. Jimmy Garoppolo replaced him, but a week 2 injury led to Brissett taking the reins.

While his play was far from exceptional, it was still impressive for a third-round rookie thrown into the fire. He showed great rushing ability, although his passing was extremely inconsistent even with coddling from the play-calling.

Still, between his three games in 2016 and an excellent showing the following preseason, he displayed enough potential to become a valuable asset. So, the Patriots trading him days before the next season for an underwhelming return definitely came as a shock.

For an Indianapolis team expecting to be without Andrew Luck for the whole year, this was a no-brainer. New England’s asking price was only Dorsett, who had failed to live up to his draft day expectations. I picture Chris Ballard hanging up the first time he got this offer expecting it to have been a prank call.

Indianapolis Post Trade

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Brissett played as well for the Colts as anyone could have realistically expected. After Scott Tolzien embarrassed himself, the team, and all of America with his pitiful week one performance, Brissett started every game the rest of the way.

Statistically, it was ugly, but that doesn’t take into account just how bad Indianapolis was. In 2016, a healthy Luck was only able to will them to eight wins. Expecting Brissett to surpass or even meet that with less than a week of preparation would have been insane.

With the most sacks allowed in the league, his offensive line play was terrible. T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle were solid top targets, but it’s hard to get them the ball when you get drilled instantly every play. Old man Frank Gore didn’t move the needle in the backfield, either.

It was a terrible situation, and Brissett still managed to make the most out of it. Getting four wins was somewhat of an accomplishment, though it’s worth noting that those came against the 0-16 Browns, the 4-12 Texans (twice), and the 6-10 49ers before they acquired Garoppolo.

Whether by his own volition or the team’s game plan, Brissett didn’t take many risks. He barely topped 3,000 yards and sported a 13:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. While it was by no means perfect, just surviving that season was impressive.

In 2018, Brissett was relegated back to his natural role as a backup. Luck returned and led the team to 10 wins and another in the playoffs. The ensuing divisional round beatdown proved to be Luck’s final game, though, as he shockingly retired just weeks before the season opener.

Once again, Brissett was thrust into a starting role with little time to prepare, but this time he and the team handled it a lot better. Indianapolis showed faith in their new starter with a two-year extension. Eight weeks into the season, Brissett was making that investment look genius, playing the best ball of his career and captaining a 5-2 team.

Then, a knee injury sidelined him against the Steelers, and everything changed. After sitting out one game, he returned a much worse player. So bad, in fact, that the Colts signed Philip Rivers this offseason to start. Now, Brissett will collect a cool $15 million to likely warm the bench behind one of the most durable quarterbacks in NFL history.

Even though he may have squandered his last starting opportunity in the league, Brissett was still a huge steal for Indy. They got 3 years and 30 starts of solid play. For a worse player at a significantly less valuable position, that’s a win any day.

New England Post Trade

Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports

To some degree, trading your third-string quarterback for a recent first-round pick is impressive. That’s about the only way you can like this trade for the Patriots, though.

Like I said before, Brissett’s play had already greatly surpassed his draft evaluation, so getting only Dorsett back was underwhelming. Interestingly, after New England traded away Garoppolo for a similarly disappointing return months later, theories began to emerge that this was Bill Belichick’s payback for Robert Kraft refusing to move on from Brady.

If true, that would explain the peculiar timing of and return for the Brissett trade, but it still wouldn’t justify it. Belichick is one of the most methodical and unemotional coaches in sports history, so sabotaging his own team out of spite certainly would come as a surprise.

To make matters worse, Dorsett did even less in New England than Indianapolis. At just 528 yards, 2016 remains his best season as a pro. In three years with the Patriots, he averaged just over half that. Even last season when the team’s receiving core was uncharacteristically awful, he failed to make his mark.

Even though he bombed this trade, Belichick deserves a smidgen of credit for declining Dorsett’s fifth-year option. Teams are often too stubborn to admit they were wrong about a player. That usually results in overly long leashes and undeserved contract extensions, so props to the Pats for cutting their losses.

Instead, the Pats resigned him to a cheap one-year deal for 2019. Now, he’s headed to Seattle where a roster spot isn’t guaranteed. 5 years after getting a call night one of the draft, he might have just received his final call for a contract.

Besides the terrible return, I can’t help but think New England would have been much better off keeping Brissett. The Garoppolo trade at least made sense in that he was due for a new contract, but Brissett had three years left on his rookie deal. He certainly could have been a trustworthy backup to Brady if not his future successor.

Belichick doesn’t miss often, but this one was undeniable. It was questionable then and looks even worse now.

Final Verdict: Colts Win

Outside of an inclination to give New England the benefit of the doubt, there was never a reason to like this trade for the Pats. They gave up a great backup quarterback for a bad receiver. In his first year as Colts GM, this was great move by Ballard in a short career full of them.

Who do you think won the trade? What deal should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

Looking Back…Who Won the Pats-Saints Brandin Cooks Trade?

The History

Most teams would coast after a Super Bowl win, but we know the Patriots aren’t most teams. Bill Belichick saw an opportunity to get an elite receiver at a fair price and took it. No one is better than he at avoiding complacency after success.

Unlike the parade-having Pats, the Saints hadn’t tasted playoff football in years. Three consecutive 7-9 records were the impetus for once again trading away Drew Brees’ top target.

On the two-year anniversary of the Jimmy Graham trade, Cooks got the boot. Back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons weren’t enough to convince management of his importance, apparently. Instead, the Saints opted to roll with Michael Thomas, whom had already begun to challenge Cooks for alpha status as a rookie, as their top receiver.

New England Post Trade

Photo by Charles Krupa/AP

Cooks’ time in New England was pretty status quo for both the player and team. He finished 18 yards shy of a third straight 1,100-yard season as the Patriots returned to the Super Bowl, albeit in a losing effort this time around. Had Cooks not gotten knocked out by Malcolm Jenkins in the big game, New England might have gotten title number six a year early.

That injury-plagued Super Bowl turned out to be Cooks’ last game with the Patriots. That offseason, he was traded for the second time in as many years. This offseason, he was moved again.

It isn’t the greatest legacy to have, but Cooks has to be up there for the most times an NFL player has been traded for a meaningful return. At just 26 years old, he still has plenty more time to be sloppily passed around the league.

Despite his inability to stick with a team long term, Cooks has been productive wherever he’s gone. In New Orleans, he broke out in his sophomore year and followed that up with a great third season. In his lone year with the Pats, he and Rob Gronkowski formed one of the most devastating receiver duos Tom Brady’s ever had. And, in his first season with the Rams, he posted a career high in yards.

2019, though, was by far the worst year of his career. Maybe that was the first sign of a steep decline, or maybe that will be just a blip on a borderline Hall of Fame-level career. Personally, I think 2020 will be a rebound year for Cooks.

In the Patriots’ deal with Los Angeles, they received first and sixth-round picks in exchange for Cooks and a fourth. So, in the grand scheme of things, they traded a first, third, and fourth for one year of Cooks, a first, fourth, and sixth.

It should be said that their incoming fourth rounder was never used due to Deflategate punishments, but for the purposes of evaluating this trade, we can assume it yielded an average player for the round—a career backup or low-level starter.

Also, the Pats’ incoming first-round pick (23 overall in 2018) landed nine spots higher than the one they sent out (32 overall in 2017). To me, that more than makes up for the extra third they sent out.

You have to look at the overall value Cooks gave the Patriots, and that includes the return they got for trading him. When you look at the net of the two trades, they essentially got a highly productive receiver for a year at no cost.

Somewhat off-topic, but you could make the (admittedly weak) argument Cooks made almost no impact on the Patriots’ success. They made the Super Bowl the year before he came, the year he was there, and the year after he was traded. In fact, the only one they lost was with him. To be fair to Cooks, he also made the Super Bowl the year after he was traded, with his Rams losing.

Anyways, the Cooks saga is some of Belichick’s finest and most underrated work. Only a GM as savvy and bold as he could have pulled off such resounding victories across the board.

New Orleans Post Trade

Photo by Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

While the Patriots killed this trade in a roundabout way, the Saints did so in a more straightforward fashion. For starters, they got outstanding value for Cooks. As we’ve learned, first and third-round picks are a great return for a star receiver (yes, I’m still mad about the Deandre Hopkins trade).

What they did with those picks is even better. Ramczyk has started 52 of 53 (including playoffs) possible games in his career and earned a first-team All-Pro nod last season. Offensive line play has been a huge reason for the Saints’ recent success, and Ramczyk has been instrumental to their excellence.

Hendrickson isn’t nearly as good as Ramczyk, but he’s a good player nonetheless. As a rotational defensive end, he does his job well. It’s no coincidence his best season (4.5 sacks in 2019) coincided with the Saints having one of the better defensive fronts in the league.

Including those guys, the Saints’ 2017 draft was historically great. Marcus Lattimore, Marcus Williams, and Alvin Kamara were all picked that year and are some of the team’s best players entering 2020.

That prolific 2017 class has fueled the Saints’ turnaround. Since that draft, New Orleans has been an annual contender, finishing each of the last three seasons with at least 11 wins. They’re arguably one horrible call away from a Super Bowl appearance and possible victory.

Part of that progress could have something to do with the style shift that concurred with the Cooks trade. In 2017, Brees averaged his fewest attempts per game since 2005⁠—a trend that’s continued the last two years. Instead of directly replacing Cooks’ targets, the Saints opted to become a more balanced team, and to great results.

Record-wise, New Orleans has greatly improved sans Cooks, and you could say the same position-wise. Trading him away opened the door for Thomas to set countless records.

I want to say now that should the Saints ever decide to trade Thomas, they have earned my complete benefit of the doubt. Their track record of trading away and replacing productive receivers is sterling.

The only thing you can point to of the Saints missing Cooks is their struggle to find a robin to Thomas’ batman, and even that has never been more than a minor issue. Plain and simply, New Orleans nailed this trade.

Final Verdict: Patriots Win

This deal was a textbook win-win. Both teams got amazing value, but if I have to pick one winner, it’s New England. After enjoying a great year from Cooks, they flipped him for essentially the same package they spent to acquire him. Getting something as valuable as a year of Cooks virtually for free makes them the clear winners.

Given that, the fact that the Saints are even in the discussion speaks to how insanely well they did in this trade. Despite doing slightly worse than their counterparts, New Orleans aced this deal without a doubt.

Who do you think won the Cooks trade? What trade should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.