The Patriots had an offseason for the ages and revamped almost every position that needed improvement. People are considering them to be a sleeper playoff team with their bolstered WR, TE, and DB corps, but why not think bigger? Why not run the table all the way to Los Angeles to play in Super Bowl 56? Sure, those goals may be lofty, but they aren’t totally out of the equation. Here are three reasons why this Patriots squad has a chance to represent the AFC when it comes down to playing February football.
- The Run Game
This will be the bread and butter of this team for years to come. Let’s start with the backfield. For years, it has always been a committee approach with rotating starters, but now Damien Harris looks to be a lock for RB1. In his 2nd NFL season, he rushed for 691 yards and scored his first 2 TDs of his young career.
Bringing back James White adds a layer of the air attack and with Sony Michel, rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, and returning opt-out Brandon Bolden joining forces for depth, this run game can knock a defense on its heels in a variety of ways. Oh yeah, and don’t forget about this offensive line. The team traded for Trent Brown and spent top dollar to bring back C David Andrews. Although they did lose All-Pro Joe Thuney to the AFC Champion Chiefs, the versatility of Mike Onwenu should provide a solid replacement. This team has the chance to run for 2k yards if everyone stays healthy and Cam Newton (if he starts) gets some tread on his aging legs.
- The Secondary
The combination of the corners and safeties in New England can be mentioned as the best in the entire NFL. They have 2 legit CB1s with Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson (who signed his 2nd round tender a few months back) and a future Patriot HOFer in Devin McCourty. Sophomores Myles Bryant and Kyle Dugger should take big strides in their developments and Adrian Phillips and newly signed Jalen Mills can give this defense a swiss army knife-like ability to play all over the field.
Losing Patrick Chung to the golden gates of retirement certainly does not help, but he has been giving advice and tips to Dugger all through the offseason. He also has reached out to Former Patriot Rodney Harrison and told Mike Reiss that “right after the draft, they gave me his number and I just called him. I reached out and talked to him. Even this offseason, I text him and say, ‘Hey, send me some clips you want me to look over of you in coverage”. With an improved Dugger and the deep corners that this team has, they can make young QBs struggle to move the ball in the air (looking at you Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Jacksonville).
- Tight Ends
Praise the Lord. For the past 2 seasons, this group has been embarrassing to watch. While we did draft Devin Asiasi (1 TD) and Dalton Keene (0 TD) in 2020, they did not show the leaps in Year 1 that this fanbase wanted. So what did the front office do? They went out and signed not just the best TE in free agency, but the 2nd best as well. Both Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry signed with the Pats in March and have made this team so much better in both facets of the offense. Going back to when the Patriots won the AFC in 2011 with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez is the last time they had 2 productive tight ends that played an important role.
They sent Ryan Izzo to Houston and will get Matt LaCosse back from his COVID-19 opt-out, but that should not make a huge difference whatsoever. These 2 players open up an entirely new section of the playbook that we haven’t seen in a decade. 12 personnel is back baby!
And lastly, the one reason why this team WILL NOT win the AFC
Quarterback Play: They brought Cam Newton back for his second year (2657 yards and 8 TD) and drafted Mac Jones with their 1st round pick a few weeks ago, but until we have a continued starter manning the ship, this team won’t compete for a title just yet. Whether it is Cam next year (God help me) or a young guy receiving the keys like Jones or Jarrett Stidham, Bill Belichick does not care who is the QB unless they can lead this team to a Super Bowl. They filled all of the holes in their roster, but they still have a big question mark at the most important position in sports.