2020 New England Patriots Preview
The post-Tom Brady era for the New England Patriots finally begins Sunday against their division rival, the Miami Dolphins.
After months and even years of speculation of how the Patriots would look without the greatest quarterback of all time. we'll finally get our answer as the squad kicks off the 2020 campaign.
Obviously the biggest change for the team is the head of the offense.
Former NFL MVP, first overall pick, and Heisman trophy winner, Cam Newton, will take the helm at quarterback to start the season for Patriots. A player who represents a complete departure from the Patriots traditional idea of a quarterback.
Newton is a player that has thrived off his athleticism, listed at 6'5" and 245lbs, the former Auburn standout was always a freak of nature with his combination of size, speed and strength.
But health issues led to his untimely departure from his original team, the Carolina Panthers. Newton has spent the last two years dealing with nagging injuries starting late in 2018 with an injured shoulder. In fact, he only played the first two games of 2019 before being forced to sit out the rest of the year due to a foot injury.
The concerns about quarterback's health led to him not being signed by anyone in the NFL until the Patriots signed him to an incentive-laden, team friendly deal, on July 8th.
Since entering Patriots camp, Newton clearly separated himself from his competition for the starting job from the other two quarterbacks on the roster, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. Not that that should surprise anyone considering Newton is a former MVP, Stidham is a 4th round pick in his second year, and Hoyer is a career journeyman that has seen some time as an emergency starter.
What will be interesting right from the gate, is how coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels manage Newton as he adjusts to a new system, specifically one that lacks athleticism on offense.
The team's clear weak spot is the targets available to Newton at wide receiver and tight end.
For the second year in a row the team is banking on someone from their stockpile of undrafted receivers to break through, Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd and Gunner Olszewski to name a few.
Their best option at receiver remains 34 year old Julian Edelman who, while still productive, is starting to rack up a lot of mileage as all slot receivers do. The offense should be able to put faith in 2019 first round pick N'Keal Harry but after a less than stellar rookie year which unfortunately started with an injury that kept him out half the year, Harry has reportedly looked unimpressive in camp and some are even questioning the young wide out's conditioning.
Obviously it's too early to turn the book on Harry, but if he's unable to be a productive member of the offense he'll add his name to the list of less than stellar draft picks the team has taken the past few years.
The offense also has a hole on the offensive line. Partially it's not's the teams fault, starting right tackle Marcus Cannon decided to take the season off due to concerns over COVID-19 leaving reasonably large shoes to fill in a spot that's been pretty good for them the past few years.
The team's left tackle situation however, is a different story. Former 1st round pick Isaiah Wynn is expected to resume duties in the most important spot on the line but concerns over his health and his size made the position a weakness for the team in 2019.
In addition to those two holes on the line the team is without longtime offensive line coach Dante Sacarnecchia who retired for the second time this offseason.
Given the questions on offense, the team will most likely once again rely on its defense much like it's done each of the last two seasons.
The secondary is still the strongest point of the team, led by veterans Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty. They'll be without Patrick Chung, who is sitting out due to concerns over COVID-19, which is reasonable hit to the team as he has been relied on to cover opposing tight ends for much of his career in New England. The defense should be hopeful that the organizations first pick in 2020, safety Kyle Duggar, can use his large size to fill that role in the secondary.
No position outside of quarterback has gone under more changes than linebacker. The entire linebacking core of the 2019 team will not be taking the field when the Patriots start on Sunday leaving many question marks on a position that was considered a strength for the Patriots thru their last three championships.
Of all the Patriots sitting out the year due to COVID-19, none will hurt more than Dont'a Hightower who has been the glue in the middle of Patriots defense throughout the second phase of their dynasty.
What will be the biggest concern regarding the linebackers won't be speed or their ability to cover, but who will be the signal caller in the middle of the formation due to Hightower's absence.
The Patriots will also have the leagues toughest schedule entering the year and will have play a multitude of good quarterbacks. On the schedule are Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and DeShaun Watson who many may consider the four best quarterbacks in the league right now.
Given the concerns surrounding the team, the tough schedule, the unprecedented circumstances given the pandemic, and a formidable foe in the division in the Buffalo Bills, 2020 may be the first year in a long while that we understand the true meaning of bad football here in New England.