Will the Patriots make it in the AFC playoffs?
By: Jeremy Trottier
Last season the New England Patriots lost the AFC East division title for the first time since 2008, in their first season without their former franchise QB Tom Brady. These struggles were not solely due in part to the loss of Brady however, as they had many opt-outs in the 2020-2021 season as well due to Covid-19. Early on in the season the Patriots looked somewhat competitive for a period of time, but then started to fall off after Cam Newton took to Covid protocols and they lost all their momentum.
With that said, this bout of poor play could continue into the 2021-2022 season. Will it? That remains to be seen. However, in this article, I will be going over three reasons as to why the Patriots could miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
One of the biggest reasons the Patriots struggled last year on top of the roster issues was how strong the division had become. The Buffalo Bills made it all the way to the AFC Championship and won the division, which was impressive on its own. With Josh Allen finally having that breakout season the Bills were waiting to see, and Stefon Diggs being a phenomenal WR1 for them, they really showed that they are a hugely competitive team in the NFL again. Adding on the pass rush in the form of Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham JR will exponentially increase their defensive capabilities, as they lacked it heavily last season. The addition of Emmanuel Sanders and his Super Bowl pedigree/veteran leadership will also really help out with their offensive attack.
The Miami Dolphins also has continued to improve this offseason after just barely missing the Wild Card spot last season. With Tua Tagovailoa as the new full-time starter, if he can prove himself to be the dual-threat QB everyone saw him be in college, the Dolphins could be primed for a playoff appearance. The additions of Jaylen Waddle, Will Fuller, Jaelan Phillips, Jevon Holland, and Liam Eichenberg should all hugely improve the team at their respective positions.
Finally the New York Jets, who had a sneakily decent offseason and have pushed themselves into a spot to win quite a bit this year if things go right. The first spots they improved were along the defensive line, bringing in Carl Lawson, Sheldon Rankins, and Vinny Curry, who will all be huge improvements to this unit. Corey Davis, Tyler Kroft, Tevin Coleman, Lamarcus Joyner, and Jarrad Davis highlight some of their other signings who could improve the team. Obviously the biggest two talking pieces being Zach Wilson and Alijah Vera-Tucker, who both should be massive upgrades.
The quarterback position for the Patriots is basically just a throw-up in the air right now, between Cam Newton and Mac Jones. Trying to work with both of them this season will be quite the task as if whoever starts turns out to have a bad start, they have to completely change the offense for the other QB. They are so wildly different in terms of play style that this would be a huge detriment to Bill Belichick and would likely lead to a few losses as they rotate everything around.
Cam Newton would play more with the ball in his own hands rather than anyone else’s, as he rushes a ton, which is fine because he is good at it, but it really does not space the offense out at all. Mac Jones on the other hand is the polar opposite, he wants the ball out of his hands and into the hands of the teams playmakers, which is not good in improvisational situations. This leads to quite the dilemma, where either way they go, they could end up having to switch at some point. As of now, Bill says Cam is in the driver seat to start, to quote him:
“I think he’ll (Jones) be able to process the offense, It’s obviously gonna take a lot of time, we’ll see how it goes. Cam’s our quarterback. Whatever time Jarrett (Stidham) or Mac are ready to challenge and compete, we’ll see how that goes. Right now, Mac, he’s just got a lot of learning in front of him.”
This is an interesting quote, as Stidham is also included here, possibly just to be fair to him. If Stidham is truly in this conversation, that deepens things even further as the Patriots then would have three QBs vying for one spot by the mid-season mark.
Even with the offseason moves the Patriots have made, they still lack a true WR1 currently. Bringing in Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne is a good start to create some depth/WR2 and WR3 options, however, neither are a true first option. Jakobi Meyers was solid last year as the starter, but he was not exceptionally strong in terms of yards even with 59 receptions and 81 targets. Some may say the TE position can carry the production, however that is unlikely as we saw that type of offense for a few years in Baltimore where they have Mark Andrews, but he alone cannot take the brunt of all the receiving, and even they have Marquise Brown.
At the end of the day, both Cam Newton and Mac Jones will need a primary wide receiver to throw to, its as simple as that. Whether they make a trade, find someone in free agency (even though the options left are not optimal for a WR1), or even draft one next season, it will need to happen without a doubt. The Patriots best option here in my opinion would be using this year to figure out the QB position and settle in all their new players into the scheme. Once the 2022 Draft rolls around, grab a receiver like Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, or Justyn Ross, and make their push for the playoffs with a true receiving core and set in stone QB.