The New England Patriots have occupied the role of the most interesting team in the NFL largely as the result of playing the role of the villain. In 2020 without the greatest quarterback in the league, Bill Belichick's squad may earn that most interesting moniker largely as the result of truly being interesting.
There's an actual quarterback battle for one, involving a former league MVP. The defense still has plenty of talent to compete at the level they did a year ago but a number of COVID-19 opt-outs have altered that picture. The offensive line is in flux, and the number of true playmakers in the starting lineup is best thought of as a bunch of question marks.
In short, is this a total rebuild for the franchise that has long dominated the NFL headlines or simply more of a rebuild? Given everything going on and the apparent ascent of division rivals, this promises to be a campaign unlike any other up in Foxborough. And with the hoodie still in charge, you just know the Pats are capable of just about anything between the lines.
As a result, Athlon Sports asked several experts how New England's season would play out and what the Patriots' record would be when all is said and done.
New England Patriots Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
It feels so strange to think of the Patriots — and Bill Belichick — with a bit of an underdog mentality. I know the hoodie has always used that as a motivational ploy, but this year it has some additional truth to it with the loss of Tom Brady and the general roster flux the team has gone through. I'm still not convinced that the AFC East is ready to rise up and knock the team off, but the gap is certainly smaller than it's been in a while. If — IF — Cam Newton is healthy though, another banner in the division is very attainable, and perhaps more noise to be made come the postseason. If anybody can navigate the complexities of a season influenced by the coronavirus, it's Belichick and his veteran coaching staff.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Tom Brady is no longer in New England, but as long as Bill Belichick is calling the shots, the Patriots will be a threat. But the coronavirus pandemic has seen a number of key players opt out. I'm not as worried about the quarterback position as some may be (watch Cam Newton rediscover his MVP form), but I do think this could be the season that the roster churn catches up a bit as New England's aura and mystique just won't be the same without Brady under center. That said, I'm not expecting the Pats to completely implode, and while they may lose a game or two that may surprise us, it wouldn't shock me one bit if they extend their NFL record of double-digit wins in the regular season to 18 seasons in a row. And that could be enough to win a 12th straight AFC East crown.
Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
Is it possible that the Patriots' offense could be even better now that Tom Brady is gone? It sounds hard to believe, but keep in mind that over his final nine games with the Patriots, Brady only completed 56.6 percent of his passes and registered 5.91 yards per attempt. Those rates over a full season would have been dead last in the league. Brady is in uncharted territory at 43, and moving on to another recent MVP was definitely the right call for the Patriots. Of course, Cam Newton hasn't been healthy in two years, but this is perhaps the best group of skill-position players he's ever had to work with, and it's fun to imagine what Josh McDaniels can do with him creatively. The Pats' defense should carry the team despite several high-profile opt-outs, and I'm not ready to bet against Bill Belichick just yet.
(Top photo by Eric J. Adler, courtesy of patriots.com)