The Mac Jones era is about to begin in Foxborough after the Patriots surprisingly released Cam Newton. Jones, the 15th player taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, impressed Bill Belichick and the Pats enough to move on from the former league MVP. The hope in New England is that the rookie can lead them back to the postseason after missing it for the first time since 2008. Luckily for Jones and the Pats, the roster looks much different than it did at the end of the 2020 season after a huge free agency spreading spree and a good draft.
The Pats had money to spend and boy did they. They added tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry and wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and lineman Ted Karras on the offensive side of the ball. On defense, the Pats added defensive lineman Henry Anderson, Deatrich Wise Jr, and Davon Godchaux. They also added linebackers/edge Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy, and defensive backs Jalen Mills and Cody Davis. After free agency, the Pats added defensive tackle Christian Barmore and edge Ronnie Perkins in the draft, among others.
The Pats are much improved but they will have their hands full in the AFC East with the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins. Here I will give you a small preview of what to expect from New England this season, from the best and worst position groups to the surprise players and even a season prediction.
Best Position Group
Any Bill Belichick-coached team will almost certainly have a good defense. The Pats’ defense is good and ahead of the offense, even though they boast one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. With that being said, the strongest position group for the Pats is the edge position.
The Pats brought back Van Noy and signed Judon. Judon came over from the Baltimore Ravens and was a two-time Pro Bowler in 2019 and 2020. Plus, Josh Uche had a great camp and preseason and he could make some noise this season. Chase Winovich, who led the Pats in sacks last season, and Ronnie Perkins add depth to the unit.
Worst Position Group
It is no secret that the wide receiver unit has struggled the past couple of seasons. This includes Tom Brady’s final season in Foxborough in 2019 as well. The only consistent option last season was Jakobi Meyers who was the Pats leading receiver with 59 receptions and 729 yards. Julian Edelman only appeared in six games before he was lost for the season, and he retired this off-season. The Pats did upgrade the unit with the additions of Agholor and Bourne.
These additions make this group better, but they are still far away from being an elite unit. Jones should be able to get the ball downfield on a more consistent basis than Cam Newton did last season and that will help this group out. Of course, the additions of Smith and Henry at tight end will help out as well. This group may not be great but they will surely be better and much improved than they were before.
Surprise Star Player
Josh Uche was a 2nd round pick out of Michigan in 2020. He appeared in nine games as a rookie and started one. He was hampered his rookie season due to a foot injury, but finished with nine tackles, one sack, and was fifth on the team in quarterback disruptions. After having a great training camp and preseason, Uche has a great chance to be a breakout player for the Pats this season. He has received praise from his teammates in camp.
Dont’a Hightower even compared Uche to Judon saying Uche is “like a little Matt Judon.” That is high praise coming from a veteran like Hightower, and if Uche plays like Judon the Pats defense will only be better than before. He will only benefit from the additions they have made to their pass rush.
Record and Playoff Prediction
The NFL moved from a 16 game regular season to 17 games starting this season. Now teams may have to win 11 games to get in the playoffs, maybe even win 12 to be assured. The Buffalo Bills won the AFC East last season with a 13-3 record and are favored to do so again this season. The Pats will not only have their hands full with the Bills, but the Miami Dolphins won 10 games last season as well, and the New York Jets have a new head coach in Robert Saleh and drafted quarterback Zach Wilson with the number two pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Pats are coming off a 7-9 season and will start a rookie quarterback of their own in Jones. The roster is very much improved. Defensively they will be good again, but in the AFC it will be a dogfight to make the postseason.
I believe the Bills will win the division and the Patriots will get in as a wildcard and finish 11-6. Jones will have some growing pains, but the Pats will not ask too much of him. Instead, they will rely on their offensive line and strong running game. Belichick and Josh McDaniels know their offense will not be limited like they were last season with Jones under center. The Dolphins, I think, will be in the playoff race the entire season and could get in. The Jets will be improved and should win more than the two games they won last season.
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