Can the Pats regain swagger in AFC?

It was bound to happen. New England’s stranglehold on the NFL AFC East couldn’t last forever, right? At least until Tom Brady retired, or as was the case last year, left for sunny Tampa. But was year one post-Brady a glimpse of reality or just a bump in the road in the Pats dominant run to regular season and postseason success over the past two decades? Read more on can the Pats regain swagger in AFC?

With Cam Newton calling the shots when he was healthy, New England limped to the finish line last season with a 7-9 record and a third-place finish in the AFC East. Missing out on the playoffs and watching Brady lead the Bucs to a Super Bowl title led to Pats’ mastermind Bill Belichick retooling the roster for the 2021 season.

But will it be enough? Vegas has New England’s 2021-22 win total at 9, which would put them tied with Miami for second in the AFC East. 

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The Schedule

With Buffalo the odds on favorite to win the East and compete with Kansas City for a berth into the Super Bowl, the Pats will most likely be stuck battling Miami for the second spot in the division and a wild card. The two teams open the season and also wrap up the regular season against one another. 

New England hosts the Dolphins in Week 1 before traveling to South Beach in the finale, which could have huge playoff implications for both teams.

But the game that has everyone buzzing will happen in Week 4 when Brady returns to Gillette Stadium for the first time as a visitor. If New England can play the role of spoilers, it could go a long way in determining the path for the rest of the season.

Bye at the right time

Most teams may frown upon not having their bye until Week 14 of the season. With the way the Pats’ schedule is rolled out, the late off week may be just what the team needs to make a final push towards the playoffs. 

In the two weeks prior to the bye, New England hosts Tennessee in Week 12 before heading to Buffalo for the first of two games against the favored Bills.

Following the bye, New England will travel to Indianapolis before welcoming the Bills to Gillette in Week 16. In week 17, the Pats host Jacksonville before the finale against the ‘fins.

Who will be under center? 

As mentioned above, the Pats retooled their roster in the offseason. The biggest headline was taking Alabama quarterback Mac Jones in the first round. There’s no question the national champion is the future of New England under center, but how soon will he be calling the shots for the Pats? 

Newton started 15 games last season and produced just 2,657 yards with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Those numbers seem pedestrian, and by most standards, they are, but Newton did more damage with his feet. The dual-threat QB finished second on the team with 592 yards on the ground and led the team with 12 rushing touchdowns. 

Early news out of New England has Belichick favoring Newton as the starter this season. Still, with Jones a more reliable backup than last season’s option of Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer, Newton will most likely be on a very short leash.

Other additions

Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, and Nelson Agholor will all be added weapons for whoever ends up under center for the Pats. Smith caught 41 passes for 448 yards and eight touchdowns in Tennessee last season but should see an expanded role with New England.

Henry will provide the Pats with one of the best 1-2 tight-end tandems in the league. The former second-round selection of the Chargers hauled in 60 receptions last season for 613 yards and four scores.

Agholor caught 48 catches for 896 in his first season with the Raiders last season. The trio of weapons should provide a big spark to an offense that finished 27th a season ago with just 327.3 yards per game. 

Defensive add-ons

The Pats finished in the middle of the road on the defensive side of the ball season, ranking 15th. Those numbers should improve this season, as they will need to, with the additions of Kyle Van Noy, Matthew Judson, Jalen Mills, and getting Dont’a Hightower back after opting out of last season due to COVID-19.

Prediction

After starting out 2-5 last season, New England should have a complete turnaround to start this season. With two games against the New York Jets and another game against the Houston Texans all in the first seven weeks of the season, the Pats should come out of the gate running. But can they survive a brutal back end of the season to hit the win total of 9 and gain entry back into the playoffs? 

Final record prediction: 10-7

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