A Fresh 2021 New England Patriots Look to Bounce Back
The Return of The Mac
The New England Patriots have announced rookie Quarterback Mac Jones as Week 1 starter. After releasing former MVP Cam Newton coming off of a rough 2020 campaign. Newton’s lack of consistency and inability to be healthy plagued New England. As the Patriots dynasty era hit a wall. Missing the playoff for the first time since 2007, going 7-9 in 2020.
This pre-season Mac Jones threw for 36 completions, 388 passing yards, a touchdown, and zero interceptions. While totaling a 92.2 passer rating and going undefeated in three games. Jones was top three amongst 2021 first-round Quarterbacks in completion percentage, touchdowns, pass yards, passer rating, and fewest interceptions. Pro Football Focus ranked his pre-season the highest out of the rest of the rookie QBs in his draft class.
The Patriots made a lot of moves ahead of the 2021 season. Acquiring Tight Ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, last season they combined for 12 receiving touchdowns. Also, two offensive linemen, Tackle Trent Brown via a trade with Las Vegas and Center Ted Karras from Free Agency. Changes were made on defense too, including letting Jason McCourntey walk in free agency and Kyle Van Noy was acquired back from Miami. During the pre-season Running Back, Sony Michell got shipped to the Los Angeles Rams for a late draft pick.
One of the promising aspects of New England was their standout defense. The Patriots finished the 2020 season with the 7th best defense in the entire NFL. Creating a league-high 18 interceptions on top of the 4th fewest completions allowed. New England has one of the best secondaries in football, consisting of Devin McCourty, J. C. Jackson, and 2019 Defensive Player of The Year winner Stephon Gilmore. A lot of trade rumors have gone around about Gilmore though. Many speculate how much longer he will stay on the team after taking a step back in 2020 in his production. The Patriots still have linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who took a year off due to COVID-19. New England has a top-tier defense that should keep them in many games this season.
AFC East Outlook
Undoubtedly the AFC East is the Buffalo Bills’ division, a tough opponent to face twice a year. Outside of Buffalo, the division is wide open. The Miami Dolphins are fresh off of a shaky 10-6 season, missing the playoffs. There has been discussion on Miami being a top destination to land DeShaun Watson. But with his legal case is still unknown and the Houston Texans have not come out saying they are pushing to move him. Seems unlikely that Watson will be a Dolphin. So it seems are completely bought into Tua Tagovailoa at starting Quarterback. As he traded starting jobs with now Washington Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throughout last season. Miami has a great defense but has gone without a winning culture for many years.
It is clear no matter what the roster looks like in New York the Jets still find a way to suck. A team that cannot be trusted. Rookie Quarterback Zach Wilson had an incredible preseason much like Mac Jones. The Jets see Wilson as “the man” for them going forward. New York nearly went winless in 2020; finishing with a 2-14 record. In a dumpster fire season that stirred a lot of drama around Head Coach Adam Gase and his players. Now the reins turn over to Robert Saleh from San Francisco’s coaching staff. In his first season ever as a Head Coach. Expect nothing too out of the ordinary from the Jets this season.
This will be another strange season for the Patriots, but you cannot undermine Bill Belichick. If there is anyone that can turn this team around it would be Belichick. He brings an attitude of excellence and success every year.
Expect some struggle from Mac Jones as most rookies face. It is obvious Jones has talent, but New England has far from the best Wide Receiver core. The Tight End depth looks promising, that depth will come in key in the blocking and passing game. There is plenty of responsibility on the Running Backs, Damien Harris and James White to make plays in Jones’ replacement. I do not expect a massive jump from the Pats this season, but I see a step in the right direction. New England could go 11-6 and Jones could have a standout rookie year. Maybe finishing 2nd place in the AFC East and potentially contend for a playoff spot come January. There are new beginnings ahead in Foxborough.
Home of the Braves: Part One
A series on how "America's Team" became the team to forget.