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
Tomorrow, the Patriots will take on the newly-minted Las Vegas Raiders (2-0) for the first time in 3 seasons, in a matchup that will make or break New England’s season due to the mounting difficulty of their season.
Here are some things to consider entering this Week 3 contest.
1. Can Cam & the offense maintain their momentum?
During last week’s loss in Seattle, the Patriots’ offense came alive, with Cam Newton passing for almost 400 yards, along with Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Damiere Byrd having big performances as well. However, as the team has stated all week, you can’t take moral victories from a defeat, which means that the offense will have to show up once again to prove that Week 2 wasn’t an aberration. They may have a golden opportunity against a Raiders’ defense that ranks amongst the NFL’s worst. They have young players throughout their defense, such as Maxx Crosby & Johnathan Abram, to go along with veterans such as Lamarcus Joyner & Cory Littleton. Due to the Raiders’ relatively weak defensive line, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Josh McDaniels decide to emphasize running the football, with either Newton or the team’s running backs. As always, having success on the ground could open up the run-pass option or play action, which could help keep the defense off guard.
Either way, the Patriots will have to adjust to the absence of David Andrews, who broke his thumb against the Seahawks, and will miss at least three games. Andrews has been crucial blocker for both aspects of the offense, which will put a lot of pressure on his replacement. When it comes to the passing game, I’d expect New England to have a similar game plan to last week, with a greater deal of short to intermediate passes, along with deep passes when the opportunity presents itself. If N’Keal Harry & Damiere Byrd can deliver once again and complement the ever-reliable Julian Edelman, it may be hard to stop Cam Newton & the Patriots’ offense this week.
2. Will the defense rebound?
Last week, the Patriots’ defense got dissected by Russell Wilson, who had 5 passing touchdowns, which was more than they gave up during all of the 2019 season. They will face a much more conservative quarterback in Derek Carr, who is definitely more effective when he throws shorter throws. Regardless of his supposed shortcomings, Carr was efficient against the Saints last week, as he found his top weapon Darren Waller 12 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. Waller is best described as a big receiver even though he’s listed as a tight end, as his speed cannot be understated. As Las Vegas’ top speedster in Henry Ruggs is missing this game with an injury, I’d expect Bill Belichick’s defense to double Waller with Stephon Gilmore or Joejuan Williams, along with a safety. This would leave the rest of the team’s secondary with the task of covering Hunter Renfrow, Bryan Edwards, & Nelson Agholor.
On the other hand, the Raiders are much more deadly running the football, due to the ever-brilliant play of Josh Jacobs. Despite some injuries, Jacobs had a strong game against the Saints, as he totaled nearly 90 yards on the ground, and helped to put the game away. If Jacobs is at full health, it may be a long day for the Patriots’ defense, as they have struggled stopping the run lately (with the game against Seattle being a prime example). It wouldn’t be surprising if Jon Gruden & Las Vegas coaching staff decide to primarily focus on their rushing attack, which could tire down the defense, and keep Cam Newton off the field.
If the Patriots want to avoid a tough game, they will need their defense to bounce back with a vengeance, and shut down a potentially potent Raiders offense. More than anything else, the defensive line & linebacking corps will need to step up & stop the run.
David Andrews (hand) – Out
Josh Uche (foot) – Out
Adam Butler (shoulder) – Questionable
Brandon Copeland (knee) – Questionable
Julian Edelman (knee) – Questionable
N’Keal Harry (ankle) – Questionable
Isaiah Wynn (calf) – Questionable
Trent Brown (calf) – Out
Henry Ruggs (knee) – Out
Nick Kwiatkoski (pectoral) – Out
Denzelle Good (thumb/illness) – Questionable
Josh Jacobs (hip) – Questionable
Darren Waller (knee) – Questionable
Sam Young (groin) – Questionable
What’re they wearing?:
Prediction: Patriots28, Raiders20
Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 3 games.
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).
For the first time in 20 years, the Patriots will have a quarterback not named Tom Brady under center. However, that’s not the only big change for the team in 2020, as they recently debuted their “new” uniforms for the upcoming season. Other than the addition of alternate/throwback uniforms in the mid-2000’s and 2010’s, this is the first major tweak for the team since the turn of the millennium.
These uniforms are based on the Pats’ popular Color Rush alternates, which were introduced in 2016, as part of a league-wide initiative for Thursday Night Football. The Color Rush program was ultimately mothballed prior to the 2018 season, but teams such as the Patriots have continued to wear them as an additional alternative uniform. New England essentially took the monochromatic blue uniform, with thick red and white stripes on the shoulders (a nod to their popular Pat Patriot uniforms) and pants, and only changed the numeric font. In order to match their new home uniform, the team created a white counterpart (similar to their AFL away uniform), which features an inverted stripe pattern (with red and blue) and paired it with the same blue pants. Both jerseys feature slight silver accents on the numbers, and are paired with the team’s traditional silver helmet with a red facemask. The Pats also introduced new socks, which feature a color-blocked scheme of red, white, and blue.
Although there are people who think that the team came up with the idea of new uniforms as soon as Tom Brady announced his decision to leave, this change has been in the works since 2018, in cooperation with the NFL’s rules on uniform changes (which requires at least 2 years advance notice from teams to the league office). This means that Tom Brady would have worn these uniforms if he had chosen to stay in New England.
How have Patriots fans reacted?
As most NFL teams (other than the Chargers) have realized this year, it is impossible to please your fans when it comes to changing your uniforms. Even though ESPN’s Mike Reiss mentioned in March that these changes would be “subtle”, most Pats fans imagined unrealistic possibilities ranging from re-adopting the Pat Patriot uniforms to making a modernized version of the polarizing 1990’s uniforms. Hence, fan reaction to this change has been mixed at best, as evidenced by several heated reactions on the team’s Twitter feed.
Are you kidding me? I never liked the color rush look and it thought we were getting royal blue or pat patriot throwbacks
The negative reactions on social media can also be attributed to several blunders on the team’s part. For instance, the uniforms looked clunky on the models they chose, and they even advertised the wrong pants. The studio models were wearing last season’s Color Rush pants, with thick white stripes, while the uniforms sent to player such as Stephon Gilmore and James White featured pants with thick red stripes, which matches up with the stripes on the blue jersey.
Personally, I love the changes the team instituted, as I have been a big fan of the Color Rush alternates from the day they were introduced. Compared to the “Brady era” uniforms, these uniforms are much less cluttered, without unnecessary piping and side panels. There’s no doubt that the team’s previous uniforms are iconic and synonymous with success, due to the team’s unprecedented six Super Bowl victories while wearing that set, but it’s hard to ignore how dated the uniform got as time went on. This became evident when the league switched from Reebok to Nike for their uniforms, as Nike’s materials made the home silver pants look drab and boring, as compared to Reebok’s materials, which had made them look shiny and appealing.
In addition, as Nike’s uniform templates got more advanced, the Pats’ early 2000’s design looked more out of place, as form-fitting uniforms made the team’s piping and side panels look increasingly unappealing.
Going back to the new uniforms, I love the red and white stripes on the home jersey, as they really give a pop of color against the blue base. The white jersey looks sleek, although I do agree with the people on Twitter who feel as though the team would be better off switching the red and blue in the striping pattern, as it is more pleasant to look at. My main gripe with the uniform set is that the team opted not to include white pants (for now), which would have perfectly complemented the current rotation. The all-blue home uniform is attractive, but pairing it with white pants could take it to another level.
At the same time, having white pants would enable the team to also wear all-white on the road, which would be a heavily appealing option. The Pats wore all-white in 2017 against the Buccaneers in their old uniforms, which showed how sleek the combination could be. Hopefully the team chooses to bring them back!
A sign for the future?
Many fans wanted the Pats to bring back white helmets, which would have simplified the team’s color scheme, and enabled them to bring back the popular Pat Patriot throwbacks, which they have not worn since 2012 (due to the NFL’s controversial one-shell rule, which prevents teams from using more than one helmet). Fortunately, comments from the Patriots indicate that there may be changes in the works for the 2021 season, as the press release for these uniforms specifically mentioned the possibility of bringing back the red throwbacks if the league’s rule on helmets is nixed.
Ranking the other new NFL uniforms
The Patriots were one of seven teams to announce uniform changes, with the Rams being the only team to not introduce their new uniforms as of yet.
Here’s a ranking of the uniforms introduced so far (excluding the Patriots)
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.