The NFL season is about to kick off in its entirety as we approach the first NFL Sunday of the 2020 season. For the site, we have already previewed the Seattle Seahawks and the Dallas Cowboys. As a life-long New England Patriots fan, I will preview their 2020 campaign for the site.
The Patriots’ dynasty will forever go down in the annals of NFL lore as the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick partnership led the Patriots in a 19-year span to six Super Bowl championships, nine Super Bowl appearances, 17 division titles and 13 12-win seasons.
Last season, the Patriots started off as strong as ever with a 10-1 record heading into December, a month they usually excel in.
This was not the case in 2019 as the Patriots went 2-3, including an embarrassing 27-24 loss to the last-place Miami Dolphins in their season finale at home. It was the first time the Dolphins had beaten the Patriots at Foxborough since 2008 and more importantly, it prevented the Patriots from having a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The Patriots played the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans in the wild card round. Led by the resurgent Ryan Tannehill and the NFL’s rushing champion Derrick Henry, the Titans won 20-13, the first time since 2009 the Patriots lost in the wild card round. Brady struggled to get into a rhythm with his receiving corp all season long and it came back to bite them as they were shut out by Tennessee in the second half. Despite being top-five in total and passing defense and having the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in cornerback Stephon Gilmore, they could not carry a faltering offense to the divisional playoff round.
Brady came into the 2020 offseason as a free agent and due to the direction of the franchise and the lackluster receiving corp, Brady left the Patriots to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This move ended the Brady/Belichick dynasty and the team’s goal this offseason was to determine how to move forward.
The Patriots’ spent free agency and the NFL Draft building up their depth across the roster rather than make splashy moves. In free agency, they signed wide receiver and return specialist Damiere Byrd and safety Adrian Phillips. The Patriots traded out of the first round in the NFL Draft, accumulating 10 draft picks. Instead of making a splash, the team as usual drafted depth over splash, picking up pieces for help the entire roster.
The biggest offseason move, however, would not come until mid-June when the Patriots signed former NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton, who spent the first nine years of his career with the team, on an one-year incentive-laden deal. Newton missed the last 14 games of the 2019 season with a fractured foot, ending his time with the Panthers with a whimper. The Patriots brought him in hoping he can recapture some of the magic from his 2015 MVP season.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL gave players until Aug. 6 to decided whether players can opt out of the season and reason a $350K stipend. Players on 29 of the 32 teams chose to opt out but no team was hit as hard by this decision as the Patriots, who saw eight players deciding to sit out the season. Among these eight players included tackle Marcus Cannon, middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung.
These were all key players on the 2018 Super Bowl champion team and their void will be felt. Hightower has led this defense for years as a hard-nosed and disciplined linebacker. His absence will be noticeable as will Chung’s physical presence from the safety spot. Cannon’s stability at tackle will be sorely missed as the inexperienced tackle Jermaine Eluemunor takes over the right tackle spot.
The offense looks mostly the same from 2019 aside from the quarterback and the loss of several wide receivers such as Phillip Dorsett and Mohammed Sanu Sr. Super Bowl LIII MVP Julian Edelman returns, looking to provide Newton a lethal weapon in the slot. On the perimeter, there is much to be desired. Second-year receiver N’Keal Harry returns after an injury-prone 2019 season that saw him missed nine games and make minimal impacts in the games he played. Jakobi Meyers and Byrd have speed but are hardly weapons sufficient to building an efficient offense.
The running game took a step back from their strong 2018 showing as they dropped from the fifth-ranked rushing offense to the 17th in 2019. A big reason for this was running back Sony Michel could not find nearly the same amount of running room he did in 2018. Because, of this the Patriots had to rely on Brady and the struggling receiving corp to keep up.
Defensively, the Patriots return Gilmore but lost their leading tackler, sacker in linebacker Jamie Collins who left for the Detroit Lions in free agency. They also lost linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who was second on the team in sacks, to free agency as he signed with the Dolphins. They return defensive tackle Adam Butler, who had the third-highest number of sacks on the team.
With the linebacker corp depleted, the Patriots will rely on rookie Josh Uche along with Shilique Calhoun and Ja’Whaun Bentley to fill the void left by the events of the offseason. The McCourty twins combined with Gilmore allow the Patriots to still field an elite secondary. However, the weakened front seven will put more pressure on the secondary to stop opposing offenses.
The Patriots have a lot of holes across the roster and field a lot of youth and inexperienced. Newton should provide flashes of his MVP form but there simply isn’t enough talent to compete for a division title or playoff spot.
I hate to admit it but the Patriots’ reign of terror over the AFC East is over. I expect them to finish in the 6-10 range as they rebuild for the future.