The black suits and ties will be hilariously overdressed when attending the New England Patriots’ “funeral” this season. That’s until the disco ball drops from the ceiling, the defense turns life into a horror show for opposing quarterbacks and Cam Newton helps lead the team to Super Bowl LV in his first season in Foxborough.
Be sure and hang on to the return receipts for those suits.
The Patriots aren’t dead just because Tom Brady wanted to take his retirement tour to South Beach. A little fun in the sun while also throwing to a star-studded group of receivers, including longtime teammate and future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski—can you really blame him?
But the show goes on. No, it isn’t the same show most of you remember with the greatest quarterback of all time as the leading man. It won’t be your typical popcorn flick with gaudy offensive numbers to protect a liable defense that bends but doesn’t break. The roles have been reversed for the new Patriots.
Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore is now the leading man for a defense that simply bends and breaks the opposition.
Most would agree the Patriots still boast a championship caliber defense, even without key players like Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung, who respectfully opted out of the season due to the pandemic. Good luck finding a secondary anchored by two corners better than Gilmore and J.C. Jackson.
.@NextGenStats’ Top 10 coverage players in 2019! https://t.co/nsXvU8LRxk (powered by @awscloud) pic.twitter.com/xlhlChu1Tp
— NFL (@NFL) August 10, 2020
Throw in the McCourty twins, a reliable veteran talent like Terrence Brooks and a pair of exceptional young players in Joejuan Williams and rookie Kyle Dugger and it’s sure to be a defensive soiree in the fall.
Hightower will surely be missed, but the defensive front will also be getting a pair of fresh, young legs with rookie linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings—both of whom should pack a significant punch in their NFL debuts when working alongside standouts like Chase Winovich and Ja’Whaun Bentley.
And even the offense looks significantly better than it ended up looking in 2019. Realistically though, could it get any worse?
Brady went from throwing passes to Antonio Brown, Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon to throwing prayers to Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry and Phillip Dorsett. The tight end position was so barren the Patriots reached into the time machine and brought a 38-year-old Benjamin Watson out of retirement to take on a starring role. The offensive line was beat to hell, and running back Sony Michel moonwalked backwards faster than Michael Jackson in his second year. Meanwhile, Brady sprinted towards the door after playing in an offense that made him look every bit of 42 years old.
Cue the Superman theme as Newton dances his way into the shoes of a predecessor that “fee-fi-fo-fum’d” his way to six Lombardi Trophies, four Super Bowl MVPs, three league MVPs and 14 Pro Bowl invites.
Go ahead and leave the comparisons at the door.
Newton wasn’t signed to be the guy that replaces Brady. He was brought in to be the central cog in the wheel of a ship captained by coach Bill Belichick—you know, the architect behind the most revered dynasty in sports history. The Patriots already knew what they had with Brian Hoyer, and while Jarrett Stidham has shown flashes of talent, he clearly isn’t ready to take the helm of a team ready to compete.
Newton wraps the pretty bow around this Patriots Super Bowl contender. He’s a former league MVP with Super Bowl experience within a Carolina Panthers organization that didn’t put much around him to make his life easier.
Yet, the Patriots have continued to invest heavily at the running back position with Michel, Rex Burkhead, Lamar Miller and James White. The sudden emergence of Damien Harris could put the group over the top as the best in the NFL.
That franchise tag placement on All-Pro guard Joe Thuney is beginning to make a lot of sense now.
A healthier offensive line combined with a deep running back group—and a completely revamped tight end position with rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene—screams smashmouth football.
It also bears an uncanny resemblance to the sort of team Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh is building around Lamar Jackson.
Granted, Newton may not be as electric as Jackson with the ball in his hands, but he is still one of the most lethal players in the game when he decides to take off downfield. Not to mention his rare size and power as a runner. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will have the chance to dip into creative parts of the playbook he’d never even think to look at with Brady behind center.
The Patriots are the most complete team in the AFC.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes isn’t from this planet. Only a fool would deny his greatness after seeing the things he’s doing at the quarterback position. But the Chiefs also have questions on the defensive side of the ball. Meanwhile, the league is sure to close the gap on Jackson and the Ravens after studying and mimicking the teams that had success against him, particularly the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round of the playoffs back in January.
Even the best teams have flaws heading into the season, and in a year where stadiums won’t be rollicking at full capacity, the road to the Super Bowl is much wider than some think.
This was supposed to be the year for the Patriots.
It’s supposed to be the year when they get their comeuppance with the fall of a dynasty that spanned nearly two decades in existence. It’s supposed to be the season when Belichick completes the walk of shame after failing to make the playoffs. It’s supposed to be the time for the crash back down to reality for a spoiled Patriots fan-base that has forgotten what real losing feels like.
This is the year the Patriots continue to prove them wrong.