After 18 wild weeks of football, it is finally time for the NFL playoffs to begin! The Patriots will make their return to the postseason after last year’s 7-9 finish, and will open against the hated Buffalo Bills (11-6) on Saturday. Interestingly, this will be the third matchup between the two teams in the last 40 days. After splitting the season series, it is time for the rubber match!
Here’s what to expect during this Wild Card matchup.
1. Can the Patriots protect Mac Jones?
The two regular season matchups against Buffalo were wildly different experiences for Mac Jones. In the first matchup, he was only asked to throw the ball 3 times, and he competed 2 of them during the 14-10 victory. In the second matchup, Buffalo got after him early and often, as the rookie struggled during the 33-21 loss. The Bills have a stingy and savvy defense, led by stalwarts such as Matt Milano, Jordan Poyer, and Micah Hyde, who can make life incredibly difficult for a quarterback. If the Patriots want to have any semblance of success, they need to be able to give Jones a clean pocket, and hope that their pass-catchers can get separation downfield. Hence, it is imperative that they attempt to establish the run, which they were able to do during the two earlier matchups. Doing so can help with play-action, and could result in lighter coverages in the secondary. If Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson can get going, it would definitely serve as a catalyst to the rest of the offense. In that vein, the Patriots need to hope that the return of Nelson Agholor will help boost their vertical passing game, as opposing defensive backs will need to respect his speed down the field. Agholor missed the second matchup against Buffalo, when the Patriots clearly struggled to gain downfield separation. All in all, establishing the run could boost New England’s passing game, and also help keep Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense on the sideline.
2. Can the defense contain Josh Allen?
Just like Mac Jones, Josh Allen had two different experiences when these teams squared off. He missed a few key throws during Buffalo’s loss, but dominated the Patriots in Foxborough a couple weeks later. Allen’s dynamic abilities were on full display in Week 16, as he diced the Patriots up using his arm and legs. It is imperative that the Patriots keep Allen in the pocket if they want to ensure success. If he is able to break contain, that could prove fatal for New England, as it would enable his receivers to get open down the field. Buffalo does not have the most physically-imposing run game, but Allen’s presence means that a mere scramble could result in a 25-yard carry. Stefon Diggs has had his fair share of success against the Patriots in recent memory, and will likely draw the attention of JC Jackson throughout the game. Even if Diggs does not break free, the Patriots should be wary, as proven by Isaiah McKenzie’s brilliant performance in Week 16. With Cole Beasley back in the lineup, along with Emmanuel Sanders, the Patriots defense will likely have its hands full on Saturday.
The Patriots will need to ensure that the Bills do not get off to a hot start, as a comeback victory is likely not feasible with their style of offense.
3. Injury Report
Jamie Collins (ankle) – Questionable
Cody Davis, Wrist – Questionable
Kyle Dugger, Hand – Questionable
Nick Folk, Left Knee – Questionable
Lawrence Guy, Shoulder – Questionable
Damien Harris, Hamstring – Questionable
Dont’a Hightower, Knee – Questionable
Brandon King, Toe – Questionable
Jakobi Meyers, Thigh – Questionable
Adrian Phillips, Knee – Questionable
Christian Barmore, Knee – Questionable
Isaiah Wynn, Hip/Ankle – Questionable
David Andrews, Shoulder – Questionable
No players listed
4. What’re they wearing?
The Patriots have matched up well against Buffalo this season, but this trip may feature too much for them to handle against a very talented Bills team.
It seems like a lifetime ago when the Cam Newton-led Patriots ran all over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3, en route to a 36-20 victory. Unfortunately for the team, Newton tested positive for COVID-19 the ensuing Saturday, right before their Week 4 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. That game was delayed and played on Monday night, with Brian Hoyer & Jarrett Stidham at quarterback during the 26-10 loss. The Patriots were meant to play the Denver Broncos (1-3) in Week 5, but Stephon Gilmore’s positive COVID-19 test led to this game being delayed to Week 6.
Here’s what to expect entering this Week 6 contest.
1. Can Cam & the offense regain their rhythm?
As I mentioned earlier, this game will be three weeks since the last time Cam Newton took the field for the Patriots, which makes this game important for New England’s offense to regain its footing as the season becomes increasingly difficult. Denver’s rushing defense ranks amongst the top half in the league, but I’d still expect Josh McDaniels to focus on establishing the run throughout the game. Having a strong rushing attack with Damien Harris, James White, & Rex Burkhead will help take pressure off of Newton in his first game back, and also open up play-action passes down the field. As Sony Michel is still on IR, and has also tested positive for COVID-19, it wouldn’t be surprising to see JJ Taylor back in the lineup as the fourth running back.
Hopefully the extended break helped Julian Edelman heal from his knee ailment that has bothered him for the past few weeks. More than anything else, I’m sure that he can’t wait to get back out there to make up for his crucial drop against the Chiefs. The Patriots need continuous production from N’Keal Harry & Damiere Byrd, as they have been able to establish some chemistry with Newton. I’m intrigued to see what practice squad receiver Isaiah Zuber can do, as his brief appearance in the Chiefs’ game was intriguing, due to his speed. It’s also been disappointing to see the lack of production from the tight end position, even though the team has been hyping up their production at practice.
If the Patriots can protect Newton from Denver’s pass rush, I would expect the offense to have a good performance tomorrow.
2. Can the Pats’ D contain the banged up Denver offense?
After a hard fought bout against a high-powered Kansas City offense, the Patriots’ defense will be facing an offense that is missing several key playmakers. Despite the return of second-year quarterback Drew Lock after a several week absence, Denver will be playing without their top running back, wide receiver, & tight end. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Denver try to establish their running game, due to the strength of the Patriots’ secondary & the relative inexperience of Lock. Limiting the effectiveness of Phillip Lindsey will be heavily important if the Patriots’ defense wants to ensure success.
I’d expect Bill Belichick’s defense to focus in on rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy, as he will clearly be Denver’s top threat down the field, with Stephon Gilmore likely drawing the assignment. In addition, I think that Belichick will test Drew Lock with heavy pressure, hence challenging the young quarterback to beat the Patriots’ secondary with his arm.
I would be surprised if the Patriots’ defense has a down game tomorrow, but anything is possible in the NFL!
Adam Butler (shoulder) – Questionable
Julian Edelman (knee) – Questionable
Isaiah Wynn (calf) – Questionable
Drew Lock (shoulder) – Questionable
Mike Purcell (knee) – Questionable
Jeremiah Attaochu (quadriceps) – Out
Melvin Gordon III (illness) – Out
KJ Hamler (hamstring) – Out
Noah Fant (ankle) – Out
What’re they wearing?:
Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 6 contests.
Following an “encouraging” loss in Week 2, the Patriots bounced back against the Las Vegas Raiders (2-1) with a 36-20 victory that featured contributions from all three phases of the team. This win moved the Patriots to 2-1 on the season and second place in the AFC East, behind the Buffalo Bills (3-0).
Here are some takeaways from this Week 3 contest.
1. The Pats’ offense rode their groundgame to victory
The Patriots’ offense has constantly demonstrated their ability to morph from week to week, and yesterday was no exception, as they focused on establishing the run to attack a weak Raiders’ defensive line. Even though Cam Newton was shaky early, New England was able to score points by leaning on Rex Burkhead (who had a career day with three total touchdowns) & JJ Taylor. The best sign from yesterday was the fact that Sony Michel appeared to finally turn a corner after a mediocre start to the season, as a lack of snaps appeared to light a spark for him. Michel entered this game without any career rushes for more than 35 yards, but against Las Vegas, he had two of them on a day where he rushed for 117 yards off 9 carries. If Michel can continue to play like this, the Patriots could have a solid 5-man rotation at running back when James White & Damien Harris return.
One of the biggest factors for the revival of the rushing attack was the shuffled offensive line, which featured star guard Joe Thuney at center (due to David Andrews’ injury) and rookie Michael Onwenu at guard. The Patriots were able to dominate the line of scrimmage throughout the game, and only gave up two sacks. Cam Newton had an ugly interception in the first quarter, but he mostly rebounded, with a smart & decisive performance in the second half. Unlike the game in Seattle, Newton didn’t have to put the team on his shoulders, and he thrived as a complementary piece to the dominant rushing attack. However, Newton did flash his rushing ability once again, with a 21-yard run that helped put the game away in the fourth quarter. After an impactful Week 2, the receiving corps was quiet against Las Vegas, but Josh McDaniels probably won’t complain due to the 250 rushing yards they picked up.
It’s always great for the Patriots to easily win a game when their star quarterback isn’t asked to do a lot, but Cam Newton will definitely have to be his usual self if the team wants to win going forward.
2. Takeaways win games
The Patriots‘ defense wasn’t very sharp during certain stretches of yesterday’s game, but their saving grace was their ability to force turnovers. For instance, on Las Vegas’ first big drive of the game, the defense was able to force a fumble from star running back Josh Jacobs. Later on, Chase Winovich got to Raiders QB Derek Carr and stripped him, giving the Patriots the ball at midfield. Despite these smart plays, the Patriots’ secondary was uncharacteristically sloppy towards the end of the first half, as they allowed Las Vegas to drive 75 yards in 38 seconds to cut their lead to 13-10. Despite being two of the best Patriots’ defenders, Jonathan Jones & Stephon Gilmore struggled heavily on that drive, as they gave up a deep pass and penalty, respectively.
In the second half, the Patriots stiffened up, as they gave up 10 points in garbage time, and prevented the Raiders from maintaining the momentum they gained at the end of the second quarter. The only “low” point of the second half was when the Raiders‘ top weapon Darren Waller caught his lone reception of the game in the fourth quarter after being blanked for more than three quarters. The defense sealed the game with five minutes to go, when Deatrice Wise Jr. recovered a fumble by Carr in the end zone to give New England a 36-13 lead. The referees initially ruled the play as a safety, but after a review, it was clear that Carr lost the football before his knee hit the ground.
All in all, the defense had a good performance, but mental errors once again marred their overall efficiency. Most importantly, Bill Belichick had to use all three of his second half timeouts by the beginning of the fourth quarter, just to make sure that his defense was correctly aligned. I’m willing to bet that the film sessions for the defense won’t be fun when Belichick begins to point out all of their mistakes from yesterday’s game.
Passing: Cam Newton – 17/28 for 162 yards, 1 touchdown & 1 interception
Rushing: Sony Michel – 9 carries for 117 yards
Receiving: Rex Burkhead – 7 receptions for 49 yards, & 1 touchdown
When you put these words together, you’re bound to get one hell of a football game, and yesterday was no exception. For the third straight matchup between these teams, the game came down to a goal line stand by the victorious team, with Seattle securing a 35-30 victory. This loss drops the Patriots to 1-1 and second place in the AFC East behind the Buffalo Bills.
Here are my takeaways from this Week 2 game.
1. Cam & Jules came to play! After lighting up the Dolphins on the ground in Week 1, many people wondered how Cam Newton & the Patriots would look when #1 was tasked with beating defenses with his arm. Newton delivered yesterday, as he threw for 397 yards, and almost led the Patriots to a dramatic fourth quarter comeback. Newton primarily connected with Julian Edelman, who totaled 179 receiving yards on a career night. For the first time in multiple seasons, Edelman was a deep threat, with several clutch catches against star safety Jamal Adams, including a 49 yard reception to spark a scoring drive in the fourth quarter. However, Edelman was visibly exhausted and dinged up near the end of the game, which is a situation worth monitoring as the season progresses. Other than Edelman, Damiere Byrd & N’Keal Harry both stepped up, as they both recorded 72 receiving yards. It was great to see Byrd step up after being held without a catch in Week 1, but Harry’s game was even more encouraging, as he made some tough contested catches, including a 4th down play in the first quarter, when he got hit illegally by a Seattle defender. Cam Newton has expressed confidence in Harry, and performances like this will only help expand his role in the offense.
The Patriots’ rushing attack was primarily run through Newton, as both Sony Michel & Rex Burkhead struggled to gain any traction. Newton recorded 2 rushing touchdowns on his now-signature goal line draw play, but it’s starting to look like that play may be becoming predictable for opposing defenses. This was evident on a failed two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, when Jamal Adams dispatched him through a gap in the offensive line. In addition, on the game’s last play, the Patriots opted to use that play again, which resulted in Newton getting knocked down a few yards short of the goal line. I’m not going to question Josh McDaniels’ decision making, as the play could have worked with better blocking, but an option play, or play-action pass in that situation could have helped the Patriots win the game.
To sum up New England’s offensive performance, it’s safe to say that Cam Newton was otherworldly (apart from a bad interception in the third quarter), as his dynamic playmaking made the offense look explosive for the first time in a long time. Almost beating one of the NFL’s best teams in a shootout on the road is an encouraging sign for the second showing of an evolving offense. As Newton & the skill players continue to become more comfortable with each other, the offense will only continue to get better.
2. Russ & the Seahawks’ offense cooked the Pats
The Patriots’ secondary was thought to be the team’s strongest position group, but they got absolutely annihilated by one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in Russell Wilson, who threw for 5 touchdowns. Wilson only had 1 mistake the whole game, when a pass went through Greg Olsen’s hands, and was caught by Devin McCourty, who returned it for a 43 yard touchdown. Things went downhill from there, as Wilson targeted key members of the secondary, including Jonathan Jones & Stephon Gilmore, with both players giving up touchdowns. Typically, the Patriots stick to tight man-to-man coverage, but with Wilson’s elusiveness out of the pocket, they chose to use zone coverage, which didn’t really work out in their favor. The Patriots were able to sack Wilson twice, but they struggled to keep up with him, as he also gained 39 yards on the ground.
Seattle also had great success running the ball, with Chris Carson accounting for 72 of the team’s 154 rushing yards. The Patriots struggled to win at the line of scrimmage, which should be an area of emphasis for Bill Belichick as the season progresses. Luckily for them, Seattle opted to pass the ball on a crucial 3rd & 1 near the end of the game, which ended up with an incompletion, and gave the Patriots a chance to win the game.
Bill Belichick will likely be ruthless in his evaluation of this game, as his defense was routinely beaten by a blistering air attack, which is something that cannot continue as New England begins to play teams with high-flying offenses.
Passing: Cam Newton – 30/44 for 397 yards, 1 touchdown & 1 interception
Rushing: Cam Newton – 11 carries for 47 yards & 2 touchdowns
Receiving: Julian Edelman – 8 receptions for 179 yards
Defensive: John Simon – 8 total tackles
Passing: Russell Wilson – 21/28 for 288 yards, 5 touchdowns & 1 interception
Rushing: 17 carries for 72 yards
Receiving: DK Metcalf – 4 receptions for 92 yards
Defensive: Jamal Adams – 10 total tackles, including 1 sack
1. RIP Tyrone White
James White was inactive last night, due to the tragic death of his father, who perished in a car accident. White’s mother is also in critical condition.
Tributes for White poured into social media, and Devin McCourty chose to shout out his teammate after his pick-six in the first quarter.
The Patriots will face a stiff test in Week 2, as they head to Seattle to take on Russell Wilson and the Seahawks (1-0) on Sunday Night Football. This game will help serve as a barometer of how good the Patriots truly are, as the Seahawks are considered to be one of the best teams in the NFC.
Here are some things to consider entering this Week 2 contest.
1. Can the Pats stop Russ from cooking?
“Let Russ cook” has been a enduring phrase amongst Seahawks’ fans on Twitter who believed that the team had hamstrung their star quarterback by overly relying on their rushing game in certain situations. Pete Carroll appeared to listen last week, as Russell Wilson dissected the Falcons for 4 touchdowns on a day where he completed 31 of 35 passes. The Patriots had some success causing problems for Ryan Fitzpatrick last week, as they forced 3 interceptions, but Wilson will be much more difficult to defend. He remains one of the NFL’s best deep ball throwers, and it’s impossible to understate his ability to extend plays with his legs. Luckily, New England fields one of the NFL’s best secondaries, so it’ll be interesting to see how they match up against a talented receiving corps, that includes Tyler Lockett & DK Metcalf. I’d expect Stephon Gilmore to be matched up one-on-one with Metcalf, with a combination of Jonathan Jones and a safety on Lockett (due to his immense speed).
In addition to Wilson & their receivers, Seattle also has two good running backs in Chris Carson & Carlos Hyde. Due to the Patriots’ inability to stop the run in recent years, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if the Seahawks choose to punish them on the ground. Wilson is also a threat as a runner, which may necessitate the usage of a QB spy to monitor him at the line of scrimmage.
All in all, this game will show us how cohesive Bill Belichick’s defense is, as they will have little margin for error against such a talented offense.
2. What will Cam & the offense look like?
Last week’s win against Miami was a masterpiece on the ground, as the Patriots compiled 217 rushing yards, due to a game plan that seemed to be designed to take advantage of the Dolphins’ lack of depth at linebacker. This week might look a bit different, as the Seahawks have the NFL’s top middle linebacker in Bobby Wagner, who forms a formidable duo with fellow linebacker KJ Wright. Seattle also features one of the NFL’s best safeties in Jamal Adams, who is very familiar to the Patriots, due to his years with the New York Jets. I’d expect Josh McDaniels to design a run-first game plan once again, but it remains to be seen if Sony Michel & the other running backs will be successful.
One would think that Cam Newton will need to use his arm more tomorrow, as we can’t expect him to rush the ball 15 times on a weekly basis. Newton did look sharp throwing the ball against Miami, but he’ll definitely need to be better this week, as the Patriots cannot afford to play from behind. The Seahawks primarily play zone coverage, which may open up opportunities for receivers such as Julian Edelman to find holes in certain areas of the zone. New England will still likely have issues getting the ball down the field, but they’ll need their young receiving corps to step up and give Newton a chance. I’m still intrigued by the speedster Damiere Byrd, who led the receivers in snaps last week, and appeared to be open down the field on more than one occasion (which is notable due to the strength of the Dolphins’ secondary). If Newton could connect with his former Carolina teammate over the top, it would help add a new level to the Patriots’ offense.
I think that the Patriots will look different than they did last week, but with this being Cam Newton’s second game under center, it’s quite hard to forecast how Josh McDaniels will decide to attack Seattle.
Adam Butler (shoulder) – Questionable
Brandon Copeland (knee) – Questionable
Julian Edelman (knee) – Questionable
N’Keal Harry (shoulder) – Questionable
Dalton Keene (neck) – Questionable
Matthew Slater (knee) – Questionable
Josh Uche (ankle) – Out
Phillip Dorsett (foot) – Questionable
Cedric Ogbuehi (pectoral) – Doubtful
Rasheem Green (neck) – Doubtful
1. RIP Jeannette Belichick
Bill Belichick’s mother, Jeannette, passed away this past week at the age of 98. At a press conference on Wednesday, Belichick mentioned that he spent a lot of time watching football with her as a child, and that she was able to speak 7 languages. Hopefully the Patriots canget a win in her memory!
2. Shades of XLIX?
This game is being billed as a rematch of 2015’s legendary Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona, but these teams have changed a great deal over the past six years. Prominent figures from that game such as Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Malcolm Butler, Richard Sherman, & Earl Thomas have all changed teams, with others such as Marshawn Lynch, Kam Chancellor, and Darrelle Revis having retired as well.
Other than their head coaches, here are the players that remain from that eventful game.
Prediction: Seahawks24, Patriots17
Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 2 contests.
The Patriots started off the post-Brady era with a win, as they knocked off the Miami Dolphins (0-1) with a 21-11 victory in an empty Gillette Stadium. Cam Newton made his heavily anticipated debut as the team’s quarterback, and was efficient as both a rusher and a passer. In addition, Bill Belichick’s defense came to play, as they were able to mostly shut down Miami’s offense throughout the game.
Here are some takeaways from this Week 1 contest.
1. Cam and the offense had their way
As I mentioned in my preview for this game, the biggest question mark for the Patriots was definitely Cam Newton’s health and effectiveness, as we hadn’t seen him in action for almost a year. Newton didn’t disappoint, as he had 230 total yards, including 2 rushing touchdowns. He was a decisive rusher, and most surprisingly, he didn’t shy away from contact, with a clear highlight being his second touchdown, where he got hit hard by a Dolphins’ defender as he crossed the goal line. After two decades with a immobile quarterback, it was fascinating to see the designed runs cooked up by Josh McDaniels, which varied from option runs to simple draws.
Furthermore, Newton’s passing was crisp, and apart from a couple of drops and pass breakups, he was accurate with the football. It was encouraging to see him build a rapport with Julian Edelman (5 receptions for 57 yards), N’Keal Harry (5 receptions for 39 yards), and James White (3 receptions for 30 yards). The trio will need to step up throughout the season for the team to have success getting the ball down the field. Unfortunately for Harry, he had a crucial fumble into the end zone which ended a great drive in second half, and breathed new life into Miami’s comeback attempt. More than anything else, Bill Belichick values protecting the football, so I’m sure that he let the second-year receiver know that mistakes like that won’t be tolerated in the future.
I believe that the offensive line had a great game, as they were able to protect Newton (he was only sacked 2 times), and clear lanes for the team’s running backs. It was encouraging to see David Andrews return to action after missing last season, and it was clear that having him back helped anchor the offensive line. The team’s running backs (along with Newton) collaborated for 217 yards on the ground, setting a record for a Patriots’ season opener. After struggling for most of last season, Sony Michel showed some burst, although he only netted 37 yards, to go along with a touchdown. The biggest surprise from the running back room had to be undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor, who showed his ability to be a power runner despite his shorter stature, as he totaled 28 yards off of 4 carries.
All in all, having a versatile quarterback such as Newton helped change the pace of the Patriots offense, as they’re definitely more versatile than they’ve been in the past. However, it’s important to note that they will probably switch things up as they get through the season, as it’s not sustainable to have Newton rush 15 times per game.
2. The secondary led the defense once again
The last time these two teams met, Miami had their way against the previously impervious Patriots’ secondary, as they were able to drive down the field at will to win the game. Yesterday was a different story, as the Patriots were able to force Ryan Fitzpatrick into throwing three interceptions, with Stephon Gilmore, Adrian Phillips, and JC Jackson responsible for the turnovers. Apart from some mental errors that extended drives due to penalties in the second half, it’s hard to be mad at how the Patriots’ secondary played yesterday. However, they’ll have to be better as their competition becomes tougher.
The Patriots’ defense was much better against the run, as they held Miami to 87 yards as a team, with crafty veterans Matt Breida (5 carries for 22 yards) & Jordan Howard (8 yards for 7 yards) accounting for less than 30 yards combined. My only complaint is that that they struggled to contain Fitzpatrick coming out of the pocket, as he picked up a few first downs, and even scored on a two-point conversion.
To sum up their defensive performance, I was impressed by the way they locked up a sneaky good Miami offense, but there are definitely kinks to be worked up as the season progresses.
Passing: Cam Newton – 15/19 for 155 yards
Rushing: Cam Newton – 15 carries for 75 yards, & 2 touchdowns
Receiving: Julian Edelman – 5 receptions for 57 yards
Defensive: Adrian Phillips – 9 total tackles
Passing: Ryan Fitzpatrick – 20/30 for 191 yards, & 3 interceptions
Rushing: Myles Gaskin – 9 carries for 40 yards
Receiving: Devante Parker – 4 receptions for 47 yards
Defensive: Jerome Baker – 16 total tackles (including 1 sack)
1. New uniforms!
It was great seeing the Patriots debut their new uniforms, which looked great under the September sun, although it wouldn’t be a bad idea to introduce silver or white pants.
2. Artificial crowd
The artificial crowd noise concocted by the NFL left a bit to be desired, as it definitely didn’t sound like a real crowd was in attendance, but I’m guessing that it will be improved as the season goes on.
3. Post game tussle
Cam Newton and some Miami defenders got into it after the game ended, with Newton insisting that they tried to yank one of the chains around his neck. Newton mocked them after the game on his Instagram, although two Dolphins chimed in to say that they didn’t want his “weak” chain.
In the NFL, it’s common knowledge that you’re not entitled to anything. If you want to put your team in a good position to succeed in the playoffs, you need to show up when it matters. Unfortunately for the Patriots, they didn’t seem to get the memo last season, when they unexpectedly dropped their regular season finale to the Miami Dolphins at home. That loss prevented New England from securing a first round bye, and forced them to host Tennessee for a Wild Card game that ended up being Tom Brady’s last game as a Patriot.
A lot of things have changed since that matchup in December, from the pandemic, to the vast exodus of veterans from the Patriots roster during free agency. A win tomorrow won’t change the result from that Week 17 contest, but it would help set the tone for a wildly different season with Cam Newton under center.
With that being said, here’s what to look forward to during this Week 1 matchup.
1. What will the Patriots’ offense look like?
New England’s offensive struggles throughout the tumultuous 2019 season were well documented, as it quickly became evident that receivers other than Julian Edelman consistently struggled to get open against man coverage. Other than letting Phillip Dorsett walk & releasing Mohamed Sanu, Bill Belichick didn’t do much to overhaul the wide receiver corps, which means that the Patriots will be relying on Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Jakobi Meyers to carry the load. Personally, I’m excited to see what newcomer Damiere Byrd can bring to the table, as his pure speed could help open things up down the field. Due to the strength of Miami’s secondary, I’m pessimistic about the Patriots’ chances of winning one-on-one matchups against Dolphin defenders. However, the addition of rookie tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene could help lighten the load for the team’s wide receivers, as they are definitely miles better than the team’s putrid tight end room from last season. Based on what we’ve heard from training camp, both Asiasi & Keene are dynamic, but the learning curve for rookie tight ends is typically steep, so it will definitely be a storyline to follow.
After a stellar rookie season, Sony Michel struggled mightily during the 2019 season, as he had a tough time getting started behind a patchwork offensive line. Luckily for Michel, starting center David Andrews is returning to action, after missing the entire 2019 season due to blood clots in his lungs. Andrews was a key anchor for the offensive line that dominated opponents during the Patriots’ last run to the Super Bowl. Michel had a leg injury that sidelined him for most of training camp, but when he returned, it was reported that he was quicker and more agile than the last time we saw him. As always, the Patriots will turn to the reliable duo of James White & Rex Burkhead to supplement Michel, with the two veterans also playing an important role in the passing game as well. The most intriguing member of the running back room has to be Damien Harris, who had a strong training camp until he suffered an untimely injury that will sideline him for at least 3 weeks.
I think it’s obvious that the biggest question mark surrounding the Patriots right now has to be the health & effectiveness of Cam Newton. Due to a lack of preseason games, we haven’t seen Newton in action for almost a year, which means that his running ability (which typically energizes an offense) is an unknown for now. Hence, we don’t know how comfortable Newton will be scrambling around the pocket and line of scrimmage tomorrow. Most importantly, it’s interesting to wonder if he’ll still initiate contact with defenders, which was a big part of his game back in Carolina. That being said, the mystery around Newton’s game could actually be a boon for Belichick and Josh McDaniels, as Miami’s head coach Brian Flores won’t know exactly what he’s dealing with. Most analysts have said that they expect McDaniels’ plan for Newton to be similar to Norv Turner’s short passing game from Newton’s stellar but injury plagued 2018 season, which actually seems to suit how the Patriots’ receivers play, as they’re definitely more effective across the middle of the field.
All in all, I’m excited to see how the post-Brady Patriots’ offense looks with a more mobile quarterback in Cam Newton, whose strengths may help cover the warts at wide receiver and other skill positions.
2. Can thedefense deliver?
One of the biggest storylines of the offseason was the news that several Patriots veterans, including key leaders Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung had decided to opt out of the 2020 season due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. The absence of these two important defensive contributors will undoubtedly cast a spotlight on younger players on the defense, and test Bill Belichick’s confidence in them.
It may be hard to take the Dolphins’ offense seriously with 37 year old journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, but as the Patriots learned last year, he can hurt you when it matters most. Fitzpatrick’s top two weapons in Devante Parker & Mike Gesicki were key contributors during that December loss, and will likely be an important part of Miami’s game plan tomorrow. Uncharacteristically, Stephon Gilmore struggled mightily covering Parker, so I have to imagine that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is salivating at the opportunity to exact revenge by locking up Miami’s top receiver. Due to the loss of Patrick Chung, it’ll be interesting to see how the Patriots decide to match up against Gesicki, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their top pick Kyle Dugger is given the assignment due to the success he had during training camp. Having Devin McCourty in the back end will be as important as ever, due to his effectiveness as both a player and a leader. New England will also have to deal with Preston Williams & Jakeem Grant, but I’m confident that the rest of the secondary will be able to limit their effectiveness.
However, the team’s defensive line and linebacker corps are much more of an enigma. The defensive line struggled to stop the run throughout last season, with the Wild Card game being a clear example, as Derrick Henry accumulated 182 rushing yards for the Titans. Other than adding veteran DT Beau Allen, the Patriots mostly stayed pat at the position, which means that Lawrence Guy and a slew of younger players will be tasked with playing much better against the run this season. Tomorrow’s game will be a tall task, as Miami has one of the fastest running backs in the league in Matt Breida, and a bruising rusher in Jordan Howard.
Dont’a Hightower’s decision to opt out dealt a devastating blow to the team’s linebacker corps, as he was a steadying force in the middle of the field. Luckily, the Patriots went into April’s draft with the goal of improving at linebacker, due to the departures of Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, & Kyle Van Noy (the latter two players signed with Miami). This led to the team drafting Alabama LB Anfernee Jennings & Michigan LB Josh Uche, who should help add versatility to the position behind three-year veteran Ja’Whaun Bentley. New England will also rely on Chase Winovich and John Simon to set the edge, and get after Fitzpatrick.
The Patriots had one of the NFL’s best defenses last year, so it will be intriguing to see how the retooled lineup looks tomorrow against a Dolphins offense that gave them fits last season.
Yodny Cajuste (knee) – Out
Gunner Olszewski (foot) – Out
Dalton Keene (neck) – Questionable
Cassh Maluia (knee) – Questionable
N’Keal Harry (shoulder) – Questionable
Chase Winovich (shoulder) – Questionable
Clayton Fejedelem (pectoral) – Doubtful
1. New uniforms!
Tomorrow’s game will mark the debut of the Patriots’ new uniforms, which are primarily based on the team’s popular Color Rush uniforms which were worn from 2016 to 2019. Interestingly, this will be the first time the team wears the combination in a non-prime time game.
2. Fans in the stands?
Due to COVID-19, the Patriots will not have fans in Gillette Stadium throughout September. New England has been provided with a recorded track of artificial crowd noise which will be filtered throughout the stadium.
Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 1 slate (apart from Thursday’s opening game).
2020 has been a strange year to say the least, with the NFL being no exception. Tom Brady’s decision to leave the Patriots back in March (with Rob Gronkowski joining him soon after) was surreal, and so was Cam Newton’s departure from Carolina, after 9 seasons with the Panthers. After being linked to the former MVP for over 3 months, the Patriots finally pulled the trigger on signing Newton, as they locked him up on a one year incentive-laden deal.
Former NFL MVP Cam Newton has reached agreement on a one-year, incentive-laden deal with the New England Patriots, league sources tell @mortreport and me.
Newton now will step into the mix to try to help replace former Patriots’ QB Tom Brady.
Here’s what the signing means for the different parties involved.
1. The Patriots
Losing the GOAT was always going to be a challenge for the Patriots, as it’s hard to replace 20 years of sustained excellence. Due to the fact that the Pats opted to pass on free agents such as Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton, many believed that the team was comfortable with the idea of moving forward with second year QB Jarrett Stidham, but certain outlets such as ESPN and Bleacher Report refused to allow the possibility of Cam Newton fade away, due to their constant discussions on why he would be a good fit for the team.
Signing Newton gives the Patriots a dynamic athlete at quarterback, which is a sharp contrast to their previous starter, and also puts them in a win-win situation. If Newton plays well and exceeds his minimum contract, the Patriots got a bargain at the game’s most important position, and if he performs poorly (or gets hurt), they can move on from him without any financial burdens. At the end of the day, this shouldn’t be viewed as an indictment against Stidham, as the Patriots would have been foolish to pass on a former MVP at such a cheap price. As several people in the league have mentioned, you can never have too much talent on your team.
2. Cam Newton
For better or worse, Cam Newton has been one of the most polarizing players in the NFL over the past 9 years, due to constant controversy surrounding his larger than life image and on-field demeanor. As someone who’s watched him with a neutral eye during this period, I’ve always felt like the negativity associated with him was unfair, as he has never done anything to indicate that he’s a bad locker room presence or an unmanageable diva. In addition, it’s hard to look past his great work with the community in Charlotte, with a particular emphasis on the children in the area.
Getting back to Cam Newton the football player, he’s been fantastic when healthy, with his 2015 season standing out as pure dominance. Due to Newton’s enormous stature and status as a dual-threat QB, he’s accumulated a great deal of injuries over the years, with a devastating shoulder injury in 2018, and a Lisfranc (midfoot) injury in 2019. The latter injury forced him to sit out 14 of 16 games last season, and led to his release in Carolina. Newton’s injury history resulted in a lack of interest around the league, and led to him being willing to take such a steep discount to play for Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
Patriots were the only team to make an offer to Cam Newton. But there as one other team that checked in with him.
Cam Newton has a great chance to reestablish his value in the league, with a strong 2020 season giving him the opportunity to cash-in prior to 2021.
The potential success of this signing is contingent on Newton’s health, as a healthy Newton should run away with any sort of QB competition in training camp. If he’s able to learn the team’s playbook and return to his 2018 form, the Patriots should be a force to be reckoned with in the AFC. Personally, I’m interested to see how the offense will adapt with Newton at the helm, as Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels love to be malleable, and having a lethal option at QB would give them an opportunity to overhaul the offensive game plan if they choose to do so.
For the first time in a decade, the Patriots will be playing on Wild Card Weekend, as they welcome the Tennessee Titans (9-7) for a Saturday night matchup in Gillette Stadium.
Even though New England is favored to win by 5 points, there are many pundits and analysts who believe that the Patriots Dynasty will come to an end tomorrow night.
Here are some things to consider entering this Wild Card matchup.
1. Can the offense deliver?
The Patriots’ offense has been inconsistent at best over the last few weeks, with a solid outing against the stout Bills defense in Week 16, before digging an early hole during a surprising loss to the Dolphins in Week 17. Tom Brady is likely itching to get out and play, due to the constant talk about his future in New England, and the surprising thought that he ranks last amongst all the quarterbacks in the playoffs. Unfortunately for #12, he is facing off against a team that features coaches who are very familiar with how he operates, as Mike Vrabel and Dean Pees were both part of the Patriots in the early 2000s. Brady will need all the help he can get if the Patriots hope to emerge victorious tomorrow.
Tennessee features a dynamic defensive line, which gave the Patriots massive problems during a dominant 34-10 Titans victory in 2018. The Patriots offensive line will need to be at the top of their game if they want to keep Brady upright. In addition, the Patriots’ receiving corps (mainly N’Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu) has to get separation and make plays down the field in order to help out Brady and Julian Edelman.
The Patriots will also have to focus on producing a solid rushing attack, as the forecast calls for precipitation throughout tomorrow’s game (which may make it tougher to throw the ball down the field). I believe that Josh McDaniels and his staff have to focus on getting Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead involved from the get-go, as it will help take pressure off of Brady and the passing game, and punish Tennessee if they opt to send blitz packages.
If the Patriots want to have the chance to defend their Super Bowl title, they will need to have a great outing by their offense.
2. Will the defense rebound from last week’s debacle?
The most shocking aspect of last week’s loss to Miami was the fact that the seemingly stout Patriots’ defense fell apart against an offensive attack led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, with Stephon Gilmore getting absolutely bullied by DeVante Parker throughout the game. For the first time all season, the Patriots’ defense let down the offense, as they were unable to hold their late lead, which resulted in the team losing their first round bye.
New England has a quick turnaround, as they face a talented Titans’ offense that features playmakers such as Derrick Henry and AJ Brown. Henry led the NFL in rushing yards, and is a downhill runner that will likely give the Patriots problems (as evidenced by their struggles against Baltimore, Cleveland, and Cincinnati). Due to the forecast, it wouldn’t be surprising if Tennessee opts to feed Henry early and often, which could wear out the Patriots’ defense and keep Tom Brady on the sideline.
One of the most surprising stories of this season was the reemergence of Ryan Tannehill as a viable starting quarterback, as he led the Titans to 7 wins after replacing Marcus Mariota as the team’s starter. Similarly to his head coach, Tannehill is familiar with playing in Gillette Stadium, due to his years in Miami, which could indicate that he won’t be as intimidated as your typical quarterback making their first career start in the postseason.
Stopping AJ Brown will need to be of the utmost importance, as the rookie receiver has flashed his big play potential all throughout this season. Stephon Gilmore and the other cornerbacks will need to bounce back with a vengeance to stifle Brown, Corey Davis and the rest of Tennessee’s receivers.
The Patriots’ strength has been their defense, and they will need to find their rhythm once again if they hope to advance to the next round.
Ja’Whaun Bentley (knee) – Questionable
Terrence Brooks (groin) – Questionable
Jamie Collins Sr. (shoulder) – Questionable
Julian Edelman (knee/shoulder) – Questionable
Jonathan Jones (groin) – Questionable
Jason McCourty (groin) – Questionable
Adam Humphries (ankle) – Out
Kalif Raymond (concussion) – Doubtful
Cody Hollister (ankle) – Questionable
Dane Cruikshank (illness) – Questionable
Here are my picks for the rest of the Wild Card Weekend.
Yet again, the Patriots’ defense and special teams led New England to victory, as they prevailed 13-9 over the Dallas Cowboys (6-5) during a wet and cold afternoon in Foxborough.
This victory improves the Patriots to 10-1 on the season and keeps them atop the AFC through 12 weeks.
Here are some takeaways from yesterday’s game.
1. A defensive masterpiece
Bill Belichick’s defense came to play yesterday, as they absolutely stifled the NFL’s top offense and kept them out of the end zone. Dak Prescott entered this game with 3 straight 400 yard performances, but was held to 212 yards, without any touchdowns. The weather obviously had an impact on Prescott, as he was seen changing his gloves on several occasions, but the Patriots were able to take away his top weapon in Amari Cooper. Stephon Gilmore continued his campaign for Defensive Player of the Year by blanking Cooper, who was targeted only twice. Cooper’s first target resulted in a Gilmore interception that set up the Patriots’ second score.
Other than a 59-yard catch and run by Randall Cobb, the Patriots were able to limit big plays and mostly held Dallas’ secondary receivers in check. Due to the inclement weather, most analysts expected the Cowboys to utilize Ezekiel Elliot early and often, which was evident, as he averaged 4.1 yards per carry during a 86-yard performance. The Patriots will need to shore up their run defense, as rushing the ball will likely be a point of emphasis for opposing offenses.
2. The offense was efficient, if not explosive
In the eyes of many “experts”, yesterday’s game adds to the narrative that Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense are no longer elite. Of course, these people won’t mention that Brady outplayed an MVP candidate in inclement weather, and did so without two of his top targets in Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett. The offensive line was fortified by the return of Isaiah Wynn, who shook off a rough start (which included a strip sack of Brady), en route to a group performance that was a far cry from the debacle in Philadelphia.
For the first time in several weeks, the team eclipsed 100 rushing yards, as Sony Michel accumulated 85 yards off of 20 carries. With the absence of Sanu and Dorsett, the Patriots got a major contribution from Jakobi Meyers, who had 4 receptions for 74 yards. Julian Edelman was his usual self, with 8 receptions for 93 yards, including a huge catch on 3rd & 20 that helped extend a drive in the second half. N’Keal Harry had his first professional touchdown on a fade route in the red zone, with his athleticism on full display. At the same time, Harry still has room to improve, as evidenced by a couple of dropped passes.
The Patriots’ offense still has a long way to go, as they cannot continue to depend on their defense and special teams to win them games as the season progresses. If Brady continues to build chemistry with Meyers and Harry, the Patriots should be able to have a solid 5 receiver rotation that helps take pressure off of Julian Edelman. In addition, Michel’s performance is something to build upon, as having a balanced attack will open up the field through play action.
3. Special teams was game changing once again
Throughout this season, the Patriots’ special teams unit has been able to make momentum shifting plays, and yesterday was no different. Perennial All-Pro Matthew Slater added to his stellar season with a blocked punt in the first quarter that led to Harry’s touchdown. Jake Bailey wasn’t as effective punting the ball, as he did shank some punts, but he was able to pin the Cowboys on his last attempt.
As I mentioned earlier, special teams shouldn’t have to elevate the Patriots on a weekly basis, but it is definitely appreciated by Bill Belichick and the coaching staff when it does happen.
Passing: Tom Brady – 17/37 for 190 yards, and 1 touchdown
Rushing: Sony Michel – 20 carries for 85 yards
Receiving; Julian Edelman – 8 receptions for 93 yards
Defensive: Jamie Collins – 10 total tackles
Passing: Dak Prescott – 19/33 for 212 yards, and 1 interception
Rushing: Ezekiel Elliot – 21 carries for 86 yards
Receiving: Randall Cobb – 4 receptions for 86 yards
Defensive: Jaylon Smith – 8 total tackles
What’s next?: The Patriots head down to Houston to take on Deshaun Watson and the Texans (7-4) on Sunday Night Football.