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Football NFL

NFL Team Previews: New England Patriots

They can replace his blocking, but they can't replace his receiving production and swagger.

2018 Season Review: 12-4 (AFC East & Super Bowl Champions)

Well the Patriots made it to another Super Bowl, they won another Super Bowl, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick now have 6 rings, and you can’t pick against them until they actually lose which means you can’t pick against them until 2020 if they lose in 2019.

The Pats started off their 2018 season at 1-2 and the sky was fucking falling. The went down to Jacksonville and got beat soundly, and then visited Detroit on a Sunday Night and got beat even worse. Tom Brady was old. Rob Gronkowski was old. The defense was bad, everything was bad. All the Patriots did have that was win six games including wins of playoff teams like the Colts, Chiefs, and at the Bears. Then the sky was falling again after they got stomped by the Titans in Tennessee. The Pats would lose two more games on the year, one in a very good game at the Steelers and they other in unbelievable loss to the Miami Dolphins. If that Miami game doesn’t happen, the Patriots would have earned the #1 overall seed in the AFC. Instead they went 11-5 and earned the #2 seed over a tie breaker with the Houston Texans.

The Patriots actually seemed vulnerable going into the playoffs. For one, they had lost some games in poor fashion and really other than their division opponents and the Colts (who they own), they weren’t blowing teams out. So when the 12-4 Los Angeles Chargers came to town in the Divisional Round, many people including myself picked the Chargers to win. Instead, the Patriots picked the Chargers apart and dominated them in route to a 41-28 win.

Next up was the Chiefs. I went into depth in this game in the Chiefs preview, but the Patriots played a very good three quarters until the 4th quarter where they let the Chiefs score 24 points. The Patriots pulled out the win but lucked out on a stupid mistake by Dee Ford. Tom Brady threw a bad pass to Gronk that was tipped and then picked off by the Chiefs, but Dee Ford saved the Patriots season and Tom Brady got the ball in OT and did what he does. Although Brady threw for 348 yards against the Chiefs defense, he only threw 1 TD and had 2 INT – and should have had 3 INTs. The Patriots during the playoff relied on two things to win: their defense, and the ground game.

Rookie Sony Michel ran for 336 yards and 6 TDs in the post season for the Patriots. In the Super Bowl, Michel ran for 94 YDS and had the lone TD in the game. The Patriots used a great defensive game plan in the Super Bowl to stifle the Rams offense and hold them to only three points. Not only did Michel have success on the ground, but Rex Burkhead ran for 43 yards on just 7 carries and Tom Brady played his best when he needed to. Brady had another so-so game for his standards, but threw for 262 YDS and 1 INT. Hes two big targets had good games though, Julian Edelman had 10 catches for 141 YDS and Rob Gronkowski had 6 catches for 87 YDS. The Patriots defense, mainly their secondary, made the two biggest plays of the game against the Rams. One was a pass breakup in the back of the end zone on a wide open Brandin Cooks, and the other was an INT by Stephon Gilmore who some think is the best CB in football. At the end of the day, the Patriots won one of the most boring, close, football games you will ever watch.

On offense Tom Brady threw for 4,355 YDS, 39 TDs, and 11 INT. He was obviously voted another Pro Bowl, and didn’t attend another Pro Bowl. He threw to a ton of different guys. His main target Rob Gronkowski only played in 13 games and had a down year, he only had 47 catches for 682 YDS and 3 TDs. At receiver, Edelman played 12 games and had 74 catches for 850 YDS and 6 TDs, Josh Gordon played in 11 games and had 40 catches for 720 YDS and 3 TDs, and Chris Hogan had 35 catches for 532 YDS and 3 TDs. Edelman was suspended for the first four games, and Gordon had some off the field issues and he didn’t even play in the playoffs.

The Patriots got contributions from a lot of different RBs also. The aforementioned Sony Michel had 931 YDS and 6 TDs in just 13 games, James White had 425 YDS and 5 TDs while also catching 87 balls (the most on the team) for 751 YDS and 7 TDs. Rex Burkhead also played in 8 games and had 186 YDS rushing. The Patriots also found a way to use Cordarrelle Patterson in unique ways lining him up at RB at times. Patterson had 42 carries for 228 YDS and 1 TD, he also had 21 catches for 247 YDS for 3 TDs.

On defense Trey Flowers led the team with 7.5 sacks, he also had 57 tackles, 9 TFL, and 20 QB hits. Behind him was Deatrich Wise who had 4.5 sacks, 30 tackles, 4 TFL, and 16 QB hits. Their leading tackler was Kyle Van Noy who had 92 tackles, added in 3.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 TD and 1 INT. In the secondary, the Patriots were led by Stephon Gilmore who earned a First Team All-Pro spot. Gilmore had 2 INT’s on the year but had 20 pass deflections. 20 of them. There were times that teams were not even thinking about throwing at Gilmore, he had the ability to shut down a side of the field and was constantly on other teams best WRs.

Overall the Patriots scored 27.3 PPG which was 4th in the league and gave up just 20.3 PPG which was 7th in the league. The Patriots yet again were an incredibly balanced team in 2018, and with Belichick at head coach the Patriots would play any style of football they needed to. In the past few years, the Patriots were a team that let Tom Brady sling the ball around and ran to finish teams off. In 2018 during their playoff run, the Patriots went back to 2001 and won by running the ball, and playing great defense. The difference between 2018 and 2001? Belichick trusts Tom Brady to do whatever the fuck he wants.

Key Off Season Acquisitions

DE Michael Bennett (via trade with the Philadelphia Eagles)

Look at this, the Patriots are picking up a player who most teams probably don’t want because of either A. his attitude, or B. he’s getting old. You could say both for Michael Bennett but the Patriots don’t care and he’ll probably play like a Pro Bowler for them. Bennett will most likely be a starter for the Pats come Sunday night against the Steelers.

2019 Draft

Round 1 Pick #32: WR N’Keal Harry

What is this? The Patriots are drafting a WR? Harry was a stud at Arizona St. but I’m not sure how much to expect from him during his rookie year. It will take a while for Harry to click with the offense and Brady not only because he’s a rookie, but Brady has been vocal at how complicated this offense can be for a WR to learn.

Round 3 Pick #77: DE Chase Winovich

Winovich fell in the draft a bit and the Patriots got a steal here. Winovich won’t be asked to start but he has a motor that doesn’t stop. He plays well against the run and pass, and with Belichick coaching him I can see big things for Winovich later on in the year.

Round 3 Pick #87: RB Damien Harris

This was an interesting pick for a team that has Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead. Harris was very good with Alabama but split carries with 1st Round Pick Josh Jacobs. When you spend a pick this high on a RB it usually means you want to play him, but the Patriots are not everybody. First off, Michel and Burkhead both have injury histories so Harris seems like a stash. I would not be surprised at all to see Harris take over the #2 role behind Michel, but if Michel stays healthy I just don’t see Harris passing him up.

via the New England Patriots

Key Off Season Departures

TE Rob Gronkowski (via retirement)

Although Gronk didn’t play too well in 2018, he was still Brady’s go to guy in the playoffs, just go watch that Chiefs game over again. Gronk was such a huge weapon and mis-match for the Patriots it is going to be impossible to replace him at TE. They can replace his blocking, but they can’t replace his receiving production and swagger.

OT Trent Brown (via free agency to the Oakland Raiders)

The Patriots OL coach turned Trent Brown into the highest paid LT in the league. Brown had a disappointing career before he became the protector of Tom Brady’s blindside. No he’s off to Oakland, and the Patriots will turn to Isaiah Wynn from Georgia who didn’t play last year but was their first round pick in 2018.

DE Trey Flowers (via free agency to the Detroit Lions)

Flowers got a big contract from Detroit the Pats weren’t going to match and he goes gets to play for his old DC in Matt Patricia. Flowers was the Pats main pass rusher last year and now the Pats need to fill that void. They added Michael Bennett, drafted Winovich, and have Deatrich Wise who they drafted in the 4th round in 2017.

DT Malcolm Brown (via free agency to the New Orleans Saints)

Brown started 14 games for the Patriots and was a clog for them in the middle of their defense. Brown has played his whole four year career in New England, and he’ll big a big miss for the Patriots. In Patriots fashion though, I am sure they will find some random guy to replace him and they’ll be just fine. However, if the Patriots are giving up a lot in the run game then I would look to this loss as reason #1.

2019 Preview

I mean what is there to question about the Patriots going into 2019? You can probably point to a few specific positions. The first is the TE position and the loss of Rob Gronkowski. Do I think this will be a major factor? No, but the presence of Gronk on the field made the opposing defenses play the Pats differently. What the Patriots have going for them is the fact that they’ve played without Gronk multiple times and survived. Their receiving core as a hole should actually be pretty good.

First off, Julian Edelman will be there from Week 1 and Phillip Dorsett has another year of playing with Tom Brady under his belt. You have the rokkie in N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers who has splashed for them so far. But maybe the biggest target for Brady will be Josh Gordon who just got reinstated again. If Gordon plays a full 16 games, I think he can have a Randy Moss type revival season with Tom Brady. Do I think Gordon will catch 20 TDs? No. But this is Gordons second year with Brady and the offense, if Gordon plays a whole year I can easily see a 1,500+ yard and 12+ TD season from him. That is a big IF though.

The other question on offense is that LT spot. Yes Isaiah Wynn was a high draft pick but he is an unknown for the Patriots. If he struggles early, that means more pressure on Tom Brady which isn’t good for this team. Other than that, I would expect this team to be run first with Sony Michel, and then dump the ball off to James White and just chip at teams all the way down the field until Brady unloads a shot downfield to Gordon.

On defense the main question here is pass rushing. Wise had a few sacks last year but they lost their leading Trey Flowers. Can Bennett still play at a high level? Can Winovich make a difference as a rookie? The Patriots didn’t exactly blow people out of the water with their pass rush last year, but they were still effective in getting pressure. The defense on the back-end should be just fine, same with LB core which still has the staples in Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy. They also added Jamie Collins who came over from Cleveland and played very well during his first stint with New England.

Maybe one of the biggest obstacles for the Patriots this year is their division which has NEVER been the case. Part of the Patriots success is due to the fact the AFC East has been absolute dog shit since 2000. The Bills have made the playoffs once at 9-7, the Dolphins made the playoffs twice and once was because Tom Brady was out for the year, and the Jets have had the most success getting to two AFC Championship games during that span and even beating the Patriots one year in the playoffs. But this year the Bill and Jets are both going to be vastly improved and could steal a game from the Patriots.

Schedule

The AFC East plays the AFC North and NFC East this year. The Patriots also play the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans.

It’s the Patriots, you’re going to see them a ton. In prime time they start off Week 1 on Sunday Night Football at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 6 they play at home on Thursday Night football against the New York Giants, Week 7 they play on Monday Night Football at the New York Jets, Week 9 they play on SNF at the Baltimore Ravens, Week 13 they play on SNF at the Houston Texans. The Patriots also have a ton of late afternoon games where they are going to be the nationwide game. First off, Week 8 at home against the Cleveland Browns, Week 11 at the Philadelphia Eagles, Week 12 at home against the Dallas Cowboys, and Week 14 at home against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Patriots schedule is really back half loaded. If you’re looking at how good teams are projected to be in 2019, their season really gets tough come Week 8 against the Browns. From there they play five playoff teams from 2018 in a row.

Their bye week falls on Week 10 which is good for them. Their division games are bunched together at the start, Weeks 2-4 they play each division opponent and then they end the year at home against the Bills and Dolphins.

via the New England Patriots

Fantasy Player You Want

This one is easy for me especially in a PPR league and that is James White. He led this team in catches last year, Brady trusts him, and he’ll carry the ball probably 40-50 times. Love getting White in the 5th round as a RB2/3 or Flex.

Fantasy Player to Avoid

Any TE or WR behind Edelman and Gordon. There is no value right to take one of their TEs or roster Phillip Dorsett in normal sized league.

Ceiling

It’s the Patriots, until they don’t win 10+ games I’m not going to say they won’t. I say with their roster and schedule, the Patriots can win up to 13 games.

Floor

Again, they’re going to win at least 10 games. They will be in the playoffs.

New England Patriots running backs Brandon Bolden, James White, and Rex Burkhead during mandatory minicamp at the Gillette Stadium practice field. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
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