Our 2018 Regular Season Preview rolls along as we head back up north to check in on the New England Patriots, who will be looking to erase the failure of last year’s defeat in Super Bowl LII. Everything was set for New England to hoist their Sixth Lombardi Trophy in Seventeen Years, what with an MVP Quarterback defying Father Time leading the charge against a team that was starting a Backup Quarterback on the grandest of stages. It was a classic case of the Haves versus the Have-Nots, for in one corner, we had the Patriots, the most successful franchise that the NFL has seen in recent years, versus the Philadelphia Eagles, who were largely known for coming up short. Fortunately, the game did not follow it’s boring stereotypes, as the highest-scoring contest in Super Bowl History ensued, with both teams accounting for a combined Seventy-Four Points and 1,151 Total Yards of Offense. However, it did not end with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft celebrating in unison, for it was the Eagles who earned their first Super Bowl Triumph in Franchise History. For the first time since after the 2011 Super Bowl, it was the Patriots who were left to pick up the pieces, and find a way to avoid that dreaded Super Bowl Hangover. Granted, in 2012, they managed to advance all the way to the AFC Championship Game before coming up short against the Baltimore Ravens, but that’s a different story. Anyways, the Offseason has been nothing short of busy for this team, who have seen a myriad of players come and go, as their talismanic Quarterback continues to age into the twilight of his career, which brings us to the three key storylines that will ultimately dictate how successful the New England Patriots will be in this upcoming season, and if their dynasty will be coming to an end anytime soon.
Brady versus Father Time
Again and again, year after year, Tom Brady has defied the rules of aging. After winning his Fifth Super Bowl in 2016, the future Hall of Fame Quarterback claimed his third MVP Trophy, and very nearly secured his Sixth Lombardi Trophy to boot, all at the ripe old age of Forty Years Old. What he’s been able to do at this advanced stage of his illustrious career has been nothing short of remarkable, though one can’t help but wonder just when in fact it will end. Granted, we know that he takes ridiculously insane care of his body, but at some point his performance is bound to decline, right? After all, there isn’t much of a precedent for Quarterbacks playing at a high level (or much at all) into their Forties. Even the All-Time Greats hit the proverbial wall at this juncture. So a year after leading the league in both Passing Attempts (581) and Passing Yards (4,577), just what can we expect from Brady in his Eighteenth Season in the NFL? Well, one thing is for certain, it’s clearly not ideal to be relying so heavily on him, particularly given the loss of so many of his Supporting Cast. However, no team has proven to be better at adjusting their game plan than the Patriots, and it would hardly be surprising to see Belichick and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels transition the Offense back to a more Run-Oriented Attack, that would be much more in line with how they operated in his earlier years under Center. And speaking of McDaniels, the rapport that he shares with his Quarterback has had no small role in Brady’s continued dominance of late. From 2012 to 2017 Brady and McDaniels have combined for a 72-20 Record (.800), with the former throwing for 188 Touchdowns in comparison to a scant Forty-Five Interceptions. Oh, and did we fail to mention that they won Two Super Bowls in that span? With all that said, if he does happen to fall off a cliff this season, New England cannot rely upon the services of one Jimmy Garoppolo to step in and hold the fort, for the promising young Gun-Slinger was traded away to the San Francisco 49ers in a head-scratching exchange during the previous campaign. Backing Brady up is former understudy Brian Hoyer, who was signed immediately after Garoppolo’s departure, with the 32-Year Old possessing a 16-21 Record as a Starter (.432) over the course of his Nine-Year career.
Losing players following the end of a successful Campaign is nothing new to the Patriots, who over the years have developed a science in replacing those who have departed in search of greener pastures. So why should 2018 be any different for Belichick and C0., you ask? Well, the list of names is pretty lengthy this time around, and it isn’t necessarily exclusive to the Roster either. Starting off, Wide Receivers Danny Amendola (61 REC, 659 YDS, 2 TD in 2017) and Brandin Cooks (65 REC, 1,082 YDS, 7 TD in 2017) were shipped out of town, along with Tight End Martellus Bennett (6 REC, 53 YDS in 2017), followed by Offensive Tackle Nate Solder (95 Starts in last 7 Seasons), Tailback Dion Lewis (180 CAR, 896 YDS, 6 TD in 2017), Defensive Tackle Alan Branch (12 TKL in 2017), and most notably benched Super Bowl Cornerback Malcolm Butler (60 TKL, 2 INT, 12 PD, 3 FF in 2017), who were all deemed surplus to requirements for one reason or another. Incoming are Cornerback Jason McCourty (65 TKL, 3 INT, 14 PD, 1 TD, 2 FF in 2017), Defensive Lineman Adrian Clayborn (21 TKL, 9.5 SK, 2 FF, 1 TD in 2017), Tailback Jeremy Hill (37 CAR, 116 YDS, 0 TD in 2017), Nose Tackle Danny Shelton (33 TKL, 1 PD in 2017), and Offensive Tackle Trent Brown (28 Starts in last 3 Seasons), making up an intriguing group of veteran talents of which we can only wonder what Belichick will get out of. However, there is a sense of urgency to get these new faces acclimated to their new roles for a variety of reasons. With longtime Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia becoming the new Head Coach in Detroit, consistency on Defense will be needed sooner rather than later, while Solder’s absence leaves a rather large void at Left Tackle. Not to mention, with Cooks and Amendola gone, and Julian Edelman, who missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL, serving a Four-Game Suspension to begin the term, the Receiving Corps is looking dangerously thin at the moment. Former Eagles Wideout Jordan Matthews (25 REC, 282 YDS, 1 TD in 2017) was also acquired in the Offseason, but has since been placed on Injured Reserve due to suffering a significant Hamstring Injury in Training Camp, creating an even bigger need for stability on the perimeter, leading to the recent acquisition of veteran Wideout Eric Decker (54 REC, 563 YDS, 1 D in 2017), who made just Eight Starts for the Tennessee Titans last year.
Bill Belichick is synonymous with Defense, with the venerable Head Coach having long been lauded as one of the greatest defensive minds in the history of the sport. With his longtime understudy, the aforementioned Patricia, off to Detroit, it only makes sense that The Hoodie will take a much heavier hand in the proceeds of this side of the football in 2018. Last season was an odd one for the Patriots’ Defense, and ultimately the Tale of Two Seasons for a unit that was remarkably poor in the earlier stages of the year before ultimately rounding into shape as the term progressed. In the first Four Games they were shredded for an average of 32.0 Points on 456.8 Total Yards, including 324.0 Yards against the Pass, though ultimately settled down to limit the opposition to a far more respectable 14.0 Points per Game over the final Twelve Outings of the Year. However, this group was completely and utterly exploited in Super Bowl LII, where the Philadelphia Eagles torched them for Forty-One Points on 538 Total Yards of Offense, including 164 Yards on the Ground and another 374 Yards through the Air. Furthermore, New England could do nothing to get their counterpart off of the field, with Philadelphia converting on a stellar 10-of-16 Third Downs, along with each of their Two Attempts on Fourth Down. Sure, Belichick’s controversial benching of Malcolm Butler played a role in their struggles, but blaming the former Super Bowl Hero for all of his team’s problems on that day is downright wrong. So with such a terrible performance in the back of their minds, and Patricia, Butler, and a host of other names gone, what can we expect from the Patriots’ Defense in 2018? Will they get off to another slow start? Will they round into form as the Season wears on? How will the new faces acclimate to Belichick’s ever-changing scheme? Will former Linebackers Coach Brian Flores step up and become the next Assistant to shine in Foxboro? Only time will tell…
2018 Outlook: 10-6
For the umpteenth millionth year in a row, the New England Patriots are hands down, the favorite to win the AFC East, and likely by a wide margin. However, we don’t expect them to be quite as dominant as they’ve been in recent years, for the simple fact of (dare say it?) the aging Tom Brady, coupled with so many comings and goings along the Roster. Seriously, this may just be the biggest transitional year since the Brady/Belichick Era began back in 2001. If Brady remains healthy, they can absolutely win more than Ten Games, particularly with a schedule that isn’t terribly difficult, and an AFC East that continues to provide little resistance to their reign of terror. However, don’t be surprised if they aren’t quite as sharp as we’ve come to expect, though in hindsight that’s in large part due to them spoiling us over the years.