Patriots Preview: Setting Expectations For A Very Totally different 2020 Season

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By Michael Hurley, CBS dangolka

dangolka (CBS) — Totally different.

Totally different, totally different, totally different.

Totally different totally different totally different totally different totally different totally different totally different totally different totally different.

You’ll be able to’t speak concerning the upcoming NFL season or particularly the New England Patriots with out first stating the plain: Issues are totally different. Very totally different.

For one, there’s the entire pandemic state of affairs, which makes your entire 2020 season really feel as if it’s standing on precarious floor. No preseason, bizarre coaching camp, just about no followers, a bunch of soppy tissue accidents (in all probability), an absence of sport form, an absence of crisp on-field operations, and a lot extra is certain to  make this season … totally different.

And in New England, there’s that complete matter of Tom Brady leaving city after a cool 20 years below middle in Foxboro. Life strikes on, however Brady enjoying for an additional NFL workforce will stay an odd actuality for fairly a while.

However actually, Tom Brady has nothing to do with the success or failure of the 2020 Patriots. And for the primary time in a few dozen years, we’re all not going to really feel like now we have an ideal deal with of what to anticipate out of the Patriots on a week-to-week foundation.

They may go 11-5. They may go 5-11. Every little thing in between stays a risk. A blowout win one week may simply lead right into a lopsided loss every week later. All of these tv adverts that you simply’ve heard smashing you over the top with the “in these unprecedented instances” line? Nicely, it applies to the native soccer workforce as effectively. It should be unusual.

In that sense, it ought to be an entire lot of enjoyable to observe this one play out. Because of that little signing of Cam Newton simply earlier than July, the Invoice Belichick-led Patriots are certain to be as compelling as they’ve ever been.

It’ll simply be a bit of bit … totally different.

 QB1

Cam Newton (Photograph by Maddie Meyer/Getty Photographs)

As , for the primary time since 2001*, QB1 is not going to be TB12 for Week 1.

*Sure, we’re all going to faux that the 2016 suspension by no means occurred, as a result of it’s a joke. Shifting on.

As you additionally know, this time round will probably be Cam Newton below middle for the Patriots — and that appears to be a fairly good factor.

Not solely is Cam wanting wholesome and sounding as if he’s absolutely purchased in to the best way the Patriots do enterprise, however second-year QB Jarrett Stidham doesn’t seem to have taken any nice strides ahead in his personal profession. So coming into the 12 months with a bona fide NFL MVP at quarterback actually provides the Patriots an entire lot extra promise — and albeit, an entire lot extra juice — than the choice of beginning both Stidham or Brian Hoyer.

Realistically, there ought to be some bumps for the brand new QB, particularly early on. Operating performs on the follow discipline is all effectively and good, however working those self same performs in an actual sport in opposition to an aggressive protection is an entire different story.

On the optimistic aspect, although, Newton could also be in the most effective bodily form he’s ever been in. And he hasn’t felt this degree of motivation since his one 12 months at Auburn … when he led the Tigers to an undefeated season and a nationwide championship.

Supplied he can keep his well being, he ought to completely be a difference-maker for what’s sure to be a new-look offense below Josh McDaniels.

Talking of the OC …

Josh McDaniels, Cam Newton (Photograph by Steven Senne-Pool/Getty Photographs)

Two years in the past, the Patriots’ offense simply wasn’t working the best way that Brady and McDaniels envisioned it. However a late-season realization allowed the offense to vary its identification on the fly, and the Patriots bulldozed their method to a Tremendous Bowl title, thanks largely to an unstoppable floor sport.

Final 12 months, with two tight ends and a left sort out and a beginning middle getting changed in addition to an harm to the fullback, that working sport couldn’t fairly get going. And an underwhelming receiving corps led to a irritating season for everybody concerned. This time round, there was no artistic late-season epiphany that allowed the offense to achieve a championship degree.

Now with a brand new quarterback who possesses a wholly new skill-set and has no preexisting relationships with the receiving corps, McDaniels ought to be free to let his offensive creativity blossom.

What that appears like, precisely, we received’t know for certain till we see it. However for an offense that gave the impression to be caught within the mud for almost all of final season, a serious revamping ought to assist in making a extra environment friendly, stronger offense in 2020.

The Continuity Issue

Patrick Mahomes, Jimmy Garoppolo (Photograph by Tom Pennington/Getty Photographs)

Whereas there’s loads of purpose for optimism with Cam and Josh, there’s nonetheless the simple actuality that they haven’t run any stay snaps in opposition to a stay protection in a sport setting. Figuring that out on the fly will likely be … not really easy.

Actually, the groups with probably the most offensive continuity determine to be at a supreme benefit this 12 months, particularly early within the season.

Take into consideration an offense like Kansas Metropolis’s or Baltimore’s or San Francisco’s or New Orleans’, the place the important thing elements are intact and the programs can form of reboot on their very own. Going up in opposition to defenses that aren’t fairly at their finest simply but when it comes to the velocity of the sport and conditioning and an entire host of different areas ought to give a large benefit to these groups.

The Patriots should not a kind of groups. As such, for as a lot as you should purchase into Newton and the working again depth and no matter you’d like with the receiving corps, all of us ought to count on some hiccups and a few ugly-looking three-and-outs via the primary month or so of the season. It will solely be pure.

Downgrade On Protection

Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower (Photograph by Ezra Shaw/Getty Photographs)

Final 12 months, the Patriots had the most effective protection within the NFL. It acquired them completely nothing.

OK, that’s an overstatement. It acquired them some large regular-season wins, like two victories over Buffalo, and a tighter-than-it-seemed Thursday contest over the Giants, and a rock struggle in Philly, and a moist mess vs. Dallas. The protection received some video games, therefore the 12-Four document.

On the identical time, Baltimore had no drawback buzzing proper via the Patriots’ protection. Nor did Kansas Metropolis, nor did Houston. Nor did … Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Miami Dolphins. And nor did Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans.

So regardless of having the most effective protection, the Patriots nonetheless have been susceptible on protection.

Now, that protection is about to be undeniably worse than it was a 12 months in the past.

You’ve certainly heard the record 1,000,000 instances by now: Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton — all gone. The rationale you’ve heard it so many instances is as a result of that’s lots of expertise, measurement, ability, expertise and angle now subtracted from the Patriots’ protection. Van Noy was on the sphere for 80.75 % of the Patriots’ defensive snaps final 12 months, third-most on the workforce. He was a do-it-all defender, a job which took him a few years to carve out and one that may’t be simply replicated. Collins is an athlete amongst athletes, able to making performs that few dwelling males could make. Hightower is a rock. Chung is an intimidator. They’re all gone.

When you can really feel optimistic vibes about rookie linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings, and whilst you may maintain out hope that Belichick went basic Belichick along with his Kyle Dugger decide, and whilst you might even really feel heat and fuzzy concerning the ascent of Ja’Whaun Bentley to workforce captain … there isn’t a denying that the protection will likely be sliding again to the center of the pack this 12 months. The defensive again group — led by Stephon Gilmore, plus a few McCourtys, and J.C. Jackson — continues to be elite. But when the entrance seven can’t do its job, even an elite defensive backfield will battle to do its job. (It’s a workforce sport. You may need heard that earlier than.)

Don’t be stunned when opponents in 2020 rating with an entire lot extra ease than they did a 12 months in the past. In consequence, video games simply may get full-on wacky within the fourth quarter.

Sounds Of Silence

Kansas Metropolis Chiefs followers (Photograph by Jamie Squire/Getty Photographs)

In a standard world, journeys to Seattle and Kansas Metropolis within the opening 4 weeks can be an absolute nightmare for any workforce. Within the COVID world, issues will likely be lots quieter.

The “12s,” as they obnoxiously name themselves whereas patting one another on the again for being “12s,” is not going to be in attendance in Seattle. And the seats at Arrowhead will likely be extra empty than full. With that actuality, the Patriots dodged a few the loudest buildings on earth of their first 4 weeks.

Now, in opposition to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs … it’d probably not matter. But it surely does assist. (Chiefs followers appeared loud on TV within the Thursday night time opener, nevertheless it nonetheless doesn’t evaluate to a full home.) And definitely, that Week 2 journey to the Pacific Northwest on Sunday Evening Soccer appears an entire lot extra manageable for a Patriots offense that can nonetheless very a lot be figuring itself out on nationwide TV. Avoiding the deafening roar in Seattle will likely be an enormous increase for the Patriots early on.

Maintain Your Judgments

Invoice Belichick walks off the sphere, with the Patriots’ six Tremendous Bowl banners within the background. (Photograph by Maddie Meyer/Getty Photographs)

Look, given … every little thing, we all know that issues may go sideways for the Patriots this 12 months. It’s solely potential.

Simply don’t go writing them off within the first six weeks of the season. That will be unwise.

The Patriots below Belichick typically use September as an prolonged preseason, figuring out {that a} 2-2 begin is sufficient of a base to construct from within the months that observe. They have been 1-2 in 2018 and ended up successful a Tremendous Bowl. They have been 2-2 a 12 months earlier than and made the Tremendous Bowl, which they might have received if Malcolm Butler had performed. They usually have been 2-2 in 2014; we all know how that season ended.

Conversely, some years they begin out nice, and it seems to imply nothing. They went 10-Zero to start out 2015, finally dropping in Denver in January. They went 8-Zero to start out final 12 months, and so they didn’t even win a playoff sport.

The purpose is … it’s at all times unwise to make any grand declarations concerning the Patriots after 4 or 5 weeks, nevertheless it’s particularly unwise to try this this 12 months. Every little thing’s bizarre, and as coaches and executives navigate the brand new world of NFL soccer in COVID instances, don’t be stunned if by the tip of the 12 months, Belichick proves to be the most effective at capitalizing on the entire wrinkles and twists of the system in 2020. That will develop slowly — with IR strikes, follow squad conditions, and a lot extra — nevertheless it looks like a certainty that no workforce is in higher place to take benefit than the one in New England.

Odds/Ends

Julian Edelman throws a move in opposition to the Packers (Photograph by Maddie Meyer/Getty Photographs)

–Offensive line speak doesn’t put butts within the seats, no. However the Marcus Cannon opt-out is a doozy. If the Patriots don’t get fundamental safety and run blocking from that spot, it could possibly be a protracted, painful 12 months.

–THIS author’s OFFICIAL 2020 Patriots prediction? 9-7. Who cares?

–Perhaps 10-6 although.

–Arduous to say however they may get to 11 wins in the event that they steal a sport or two.

–However 8-Eight is not off the desk.

–What a wild time to be an NFL rookie. They’ve been knocked round a bit on the follow discipline, certain, however they’ve by no means skilled something like an NFL sport. Now they get to make that debut, most of them doing so in empty NFL stadiums, with hundreds of thousands of followers watching and critiquing their each transfer. Wild instances certainly.

–The inevitable move from Julian Edelman to Cam Newton will likely be ab-so-freaking-lutely electrical. (Newton hasn’t caught a move since his rookie 12 months in 2011, and he hasn’t been focused since his second 12 months. Josh McDaniels will see to it for that to assuredly change. Maybe as quickly as Week 1.)

You’ll be able to electronic mail Michael Hurley or discover him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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