Mike Fanelli | Aug 14th, 2019
The 2018 NFL season for the New England Patriots ended with their second Super Bowl victory in three years as they defeated the Los Angles Rams 13-3 in one of the most boring Super Bowls in league history. However, the Patriots will take it, pretty, ugly, or otherwise. This team has a true one game at a time mentality and it showed early on in the season. The Patriots started off the season slow, going just 1-2 in their first three games, with loses to Jacksonville and Detroit on the road. However, the team finished strong, winning 10 of their final 13 games.
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Just like every other offseason, the Patriots said goodbye to big price tag free agents, opting to replace them with cheaper options and picking up future compensatory draft picks. Left tackle Trent Brown signed an NFL record contract with the Oakland Raiders while defensive end Trey Flowers joined former defensive coordinator and now head coach Matt Patricia in Detroit. To replace those two, the Patriots drafted offensive tackle Isiah Wynn in the first round last year (he missed his entire rookie year with an injury) and traded for defensive end Michael Bennett.
Aside from trading a fifth-round pick for Bennett and a seventh-round pick, the Patriots had a quiet offseason. They lost Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson but did very little to replace the wide receivers in free agency. However, they did spend their first-round pick on Arizona State star N’Keal Harry, but historically rookie wide receivers struggle in their first season, especially in New England. Coming off his Super Bowl MVP, Julian Edelman was signed to a two-year extension that will keep him a Patriot through the 2021 season. Ironic, or not, the same year Tom Brady‘s new contract extension expires.
While fantasy football players are looking at the Patriots’ offense and cringe, this team repeatedly finds a way to score points and win games. They spent their first-round pick on Harry, though he is currently struggling with lower body injuries, and one of their third-round picks on running back Damien Harris. Combine Harris with last year’s first-round pick Sony Michel and pass catching specialist James White, the Patriots have one of the better running back trios in the league.
Given the lack of proven options at wide receiver and tight end, the Patriots will lean heavily on their running game and take advantage of play action plays. While the offensive line lacks star power, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is the best in the league and will have this unit ready to go. The Patriots start almost every season semi-slow but come October, this offense is clicking on all cylinders.
Much like the offensive line, the defense lacks star power but it is well coached and full of hard-working players that don’t make mistakes. The defense is led by linebacker Dont’a Hightower, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and safety Devin McCourty. Several players on this defense have specific roles or can play several roles. To get playing time in this defense, players must be smart, tough, and willing to give 110% all the time. After holding the Rams’ high powered offense to just three points in the Super Bowl, many believe the Patriots’ defense will be one of the best in 2019. Two names to keep an eye on as the season goes on is rookies Joejuan Williams and Chase Winovich.
The team spent two of their top three picks on Williams and Winovich, and both should have a clear cut role by midseason if not sooner. The depth behind Bennett at defensive end is young and inexperienced, Winovich had plenty of starts at Michigan and could be starting opposite of Bennett at some point this season. Meanwhile, the Patriots took Williams with their second-round pick and he could end up starting very early in the season. Outside of Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, none of the Patriots cornerbacks are over 6’0”. However, Williams is a towering 6’4” and could be called on to match up with bigger wide receivers and tight ends in the red zone.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
QB (3): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
Until he retires, Brady will be the Patriots’ starting quarterback. Hoyer is one of the better backups in the league while Stidham is the fourth round rookie and could be Brady’s eventual replacement.
One of the better running back groups in the league, the Patriots have a guy for every role. Michel and Harris handle the early down and goal line work while White is the pass catching specialist, and Burkhead is the do a little bit of everything back up. Develin is one of the few pure full backs left in the league and the Patriots value his game.
WR (6): Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, N’Keal Harry, Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, Jakobi Meyers
This position group is messy. Edelman, Dorsett, and Harry are the only ones with guaranteed roster spots. Harris, Berrios, and preseason star Meyers will have to fight off veteran Dontrelle Inman to keep their roster spots but all three offer more upside and value. Demaryius Thomas and Cameron Meredith are unlikely to start the year on PUP as they recover from offseason surgeries. The wild card is Josh Gordon, if he is reinstated, he makes this group dangerous. However, he is currently suspended and doesn’t count towards the 53 man roster.
TE (3): Matt LaCosse, Lance Kendricks, Eric Saubert
Unless Rob Gronkowski surprises everyone and comes out of retirement, the tight group is really disappointing. This trio combined with Ben Watson (who is suspended the first four games of the season) makes up a group of former cast-offs that don’t scare opposing defenses. Two guys that could be sneaked onto the practice squad are Ryan Izzo and Andrew Beck.
OL (8): Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaquille Mason, Marcus Cannon, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt, Yodny Cajuste
While this unit is young at several spots, they are coached by one of the best. Thuney, Andrews, Mason, and Cannon all return from last year while Wynn was a first-round pick in 2018. Karras is the back up at all three interior spots while Cajuste could push for the backup swing tackle spot. Dan Skipper could earn a roster spot if Cajuste isn’t ready to start the season as he recovers from offseason surgery.
DL (5): Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, Mike Pennel, Adam Butler, Byron Cowart
This is one of the less talked about groups on the team but has a great blend of run stoppers and pass rushers. The top four players have their roster spot locked in while the fifth-round rookie Cowart might end up on the cutting block and make his way to the practice squad.
EDGE (4): Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise Jr., Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers
Bennett leads a group of three guys on their rookie contracts. Wise is projected to be the starter opposite of Bennett but don’t be surprised to see him get pushed early by Winovich.
One of the reasons why the Patriots can afford to go with so many young edge defenders is because several of their linebackers can also rush the passer. Hightower, Collins, and Simons all have 15 or more career sacks. Each guy in this group has a specific role to fill and can do it well. Ja’Whaun Bentley and Christian Sam are two guys who should be practice squad candidates.
CB (6): Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Joejuan Williams, Duke Dawson
This might be the best unit on the defense and even the team. Gilmore is coming off a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2018, while McCourty is back for another go around. Jones and Jackson are solid depth corners while the Patriots have spent second-round picks on Williams and Dawson in back-to-back seasons. Seventh-round rookie Ken Webster recently came off PUP and should be sneaked onto the practice squad.
SAF (4): Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner
Not much debate to this group. McCourty and Chung are starters while Harmon plays a lot in the Patriots’ three safety sets. Ebner is one of the better special team guys in the league and the Patriots value his impact. Undrafted rookie Malik Gant should end up on the practice squad.
ST (4): Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey. Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater
Gostkowski has been the Patriots’ kicker since 2006 and that won’t change. The rookie Bailey beats out the veteran Ryan Allen at punter. Cardona is a good long snapper while Slater is technically a wide receiver but is one of the best pure special teams guy in the league.
As long as Bill Belichick is the head coach and Brady is healthy, this team has one expectation and one goal; to win the Super Bowl. Despite losing two of their better players in free agency, the Patriots are currently tied for the best odds to win Super Bowl 54, along with the Kansas City Chiefs. Coming off three straight trips to the Super Bowl, many might doubt that the Patriots can’t make it four in a row; I’m not one of them. On paper, this team isn’t the best in the league but football isn’t played on paper and when they step on the field, usually the Patriots are a better all-around team. Expectations are Super Bowl or bust, as they should be.
Season Prediction: 11-5, top two-seed in the AFC and very likely another super bowl appearance.
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