John Lepore | February 1st, 2020
The New England Patriots were 12-4 this season. They finished as the third seed in the AFC and faced the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card round. The Patriots’ struggles on offense came back to bite them and the Titans won 20-13. Let’s take a look back on the season and what 2020 will hold.
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What Went Right
The defense looked incredible, especially through the first eight weeks of the season when they went 8-0 and surrendered just 61 points including shutouts against the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. The Pats would finish with the number one defense in the league allowing just 225 points on the season. They also allowed the fewest touchdowns (20) and caused the second-most turnovers (36). The secondary played a huge role. Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, and J.C. Jackson combined for 16 INTs, 37 PDs, and 147 tackles. The defensive MVP of the team may have been Jamie Collins though. Bill Belichick used Collins effectively all over the field. The LB led the team in tackles with 80 and TFL with 10. He also contributed three picks, three FFs, seven PDs, and seven sacks. Everything was pointing toward another number one seed for the Patriots…
What Went Wrong
…then the second half of the season came, and the Patriots started playing good teams. In the first half of the season, they played one playoff team, the Buffalo Bills. The second half? Five. They didn’t allow a team to score more than 14 points through their first eight games. In the final eight they allowed more than 20 four times, all of them were losses. Which brings me to the next problem the Pats had. The offense was just like the defense, which feasted on teams in the beginning of the season and sputtered against the good teams.
They put up 30+ points six times in the first half, yet only once in the second half, and that was against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals. All in all, it was a tale of two halves outscoring their opponents 250-61 and going 8-0 to begin the season, and only outscoring their opponents 170-164, going 4-4 the rest of the way. It showed that there may be a changing of the guard in the AFC as the Pats lost to three teams with young studs at QB: Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, and Houston Texans.
Outlook for the Offseason
Just as the New Orleans Saints will be looking for that solid #2, the Pats will be doing the same. Julian Edelman caught 100 passes this season, but no other WR caught 30 (James White caught 72). The Patriots have a couple young internal options that may take the next step in 2020 with N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers. They also have veteran Mohamed Sanu coming back, but he has never been a top option having never eclipsed 70 catches or 850 yards in a season. They could also be looking to add some depth on the defensive side as they have a few key players heading toward free agency.
The Team’s Free Agents
Tom Brady – Yes, this is the elephant in the room. What will Brady do? Retire? Sign with another team? Come back to the Pats for another run? It really is anyone’s guess at this point. If he retires, he will go down as arguably the greatest QB ever. If he signs with another team, he will have a chance to prove he can win without Belichick. If he comes back for another run with the Pats, we could see one final championship for the greatest dynasty ever in the NFL.
Devin McCourty – He had one of his best seasons this year with five INTs, the most since 2012. He has been a lifelong Patriot after being drafted out of Rutgers 27th overall in the 2010 draft. McCourty will be 33 before the season starts, but he has been extremely durable, missing only five games in his 10-year career. The Pats would be smart to bring him back as he is a solid veteran presence, a good corner, and is comfortable with whatever the Pats want to do on defense.
Jamie Collins – As mentioned earlier, he was the team’s defensive MVP. After being exiled to Cleveland for two and a half years, the Pats brought him back this season. He is another player who is quite familiar with Belichick’s defensive schemes and can do a little of everything, being solid in pass coverage as well as stopping the run. Another sound veteran at the second level of the defense, Collins should be one of their priorities this offseason.
Other key free agents include Kyle Van Noy, who has been solid at the LB position since getting a starting role in 2018, and Matthew Slater, the special teams wizard who has always been a favorite of Belichick.
Open Market Free Agents
Names like Amari Cooper, A.J. Green, Robby Anderson, and Breshad Perriman will be talked about. Spotrac has the Patriots sitting on over $44 million in cap space. Signing a top WR could easily be done and may very well be where they spend that money. How much they wind up with will also depend on what Brady does and how much it might cost New England to keep him. If they can hang onto the aforementioned McCourty, Collins, and Slater, all of whom are over 30 and affordable, the Pats could possibly bring Brady back and have the cash to grab a top WR.
Projecting the NFL Draft
1st Round (#23) – This pick will depend heavily on which free agents are signed by the Patriots. They could go in a multitude of directions here. Jalen Reagor, Henry Ruggs III, or Laviska Shenault Jr. are options if New England goes with a WR. Kenneth Murray looks like a very good fit for the defense if he falls and if the Pats are looking to replace Collins and/or Van Noy. C.J. Henderson or Trevon Diggs could be the choices if the McCourty doesn’t come back.
*3rd Round (#87) – This will be where Belichick takes the best available player on the board as the Pats need depth at a few spots. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a few names fall to this spot like Antonio Gandy-Golden, the WR from Liberty or Jaylon Johnson, the CB from Utah.
—*The Patriots are receiving two 3rd round compensatory picks from their losing Trey Flowers and Trent Brown in free agency last year. Aside from the four picks in the first three rounds, the Pats have eight other picks later in the draft. Belichick has a lot of draft capital to move up if he sees a player he really wants. Expect some maneuvering on during the draft.
Since the Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on February 3rd, 2002, the expectation has been a championship every year. The Brady-Belichick era may be at an end. With the influx of excellent young QBs coinciding with an overall improvement of the AFC in general, the Patriots will face a tougher road to get that seventh ring. As always though, you can’t count out Bill, especially when he has 12 draft picks, money to spend, and possibly his boy Brady coming back for another season.
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