New England's loss to Philadelphia in Super Bowl LII no doubt still stings, but it also begs the question did it represent the end of an era for the Patriots? Bill Belichick and Tom Brady remain, but between coaching staff and personnel changes is this the season the NFL's premiere franchise since 2000 finally takes a step back?
Brady remains the key to the offense, but he'll have a new left tackle (at minimum) up front, a re-shuffled wide receiving corps (and will be without Julian Edelman for the first four games), and a new mix of backfield options. The defense will have a new coordinator and a revamped line, but also should get its top linebacker back in the fold.
Even with all of the changes and Brady's continued attempts to hold off Father Time, New England should have little trouble winning a 10th straight AFC East title to get back to the playoffs. But just how good is this version of the Patriots?
Athlon Sports asked several experts to share their predictions for how New England's 2018 season will play out and what the team’s record will be when all is said and done.
New England Patriots Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster)
Let’s see — are Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski still wearing the red, nautical blue and new century silver? Is Bill Belichick still a few years away from hanging up the hoodie? Yes? Then the Patriots are contenders. It’s that simple. There are cracks in the New England dynasty, to be sure: There were a (normal) number of free-agent defections in the offseason; there was the lingering controversy over the Super Bowl benching of Malcolm Butler; defensive coordinator Matt Patricia skipped town for Detroit; and there was the continued advancement of Father Time, who remains undefeated. But the Pats have endured chaos in the past, and prospered. Brady continues to play like a man half his age, and a disappointing Super Bowl loss leaves a bitter taste and a little extra motivation for a franchise that otherwise has nothing to prove.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
We saw some serious cracks in the Patriots' foundation given the way their defense played most of last season and while the depth is better in 2018, I’m not convinced of a huge, wholesale improvement. They’ll still be solid enough on that side of the ball to where it probably doesn’t matter until they play elite teams but it’s enough to call into question yet another trip to the Super Bowl out of the AFC. Offensively, this will be a very versatile group and I’d imagine there’s going to be a focus on lightening Tom Brady’s load earlier in the season as a result. A division title seems like a lock but after that I think things get a lot more questionable going into the postseason.
John Gworek (@JohnGworek)
I don’t think the Patriots are what that once were, but they are still going to win the AFC East comfortably. Looking at each game on its own, you can always make a case for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to win, so picking which ones they will lose is a guessing game. They’re not as dominant as they once were, but they’re also unlikely to lose two in a row. Of course Brady and Rob Gronkowski must stay healthy, and veterans such as Julian Edelman and Don’t’a Hightower returning to form after injuries last season would also help. But however it plays out, odds are it will just be another ho-hum season with 12-plus wins for the Pats.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMark)
There are three guarantees in life – death, taxes and the Patriots are going to win the AFC East. So even if New England takes a step back from last year, which is entirely possible given the coaching and personnel changes, the Patriots are still the class of their division. In fact, the schedule is not that daunting overall so Bill Belichick and company could be at the front of the pack for home-field advantage when December rolls around. However, it also would not surprise me if there's a hiccup or two along the way because I think the Pats' margin for error has shrunk.