Mac Jones leads the charge after an encouraging rookie campaign. Although the Pats may have identified their QB, this team still looks to run the ball and operate through a stall of talented and diverse backs. It seems, in the NFL, that teams either have a complete game changer at quarterback, or you pay for competency at the position, limited turnovers, and blueprint a system to move the ball effectively. Although Jones was a Pro Bowler in ‘21, the Pats align with the latter. They ranked 8th in 2021 for rushing yards and 2nd for rushing touchdowns. If Mac can be average to above average as a passer, the Pats will most likely find themselves in a good spot throughout the season. The challenge comes with Josh Allen being in the division. If New England is to return to AFC East dominance, Mac will need to perform closer to a league leader.
Helping Mac Jones climb that QB hill will be a familiar cast of pass catchers, but the group saw some meaningful change since the last time they suited up. Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne remain, while DeVante Parker and rookie Tyquan Thornton were added to the mix. Expect a tight competition between Kristian Wilkerson, Josh Hammond, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, and Tre Nixon for the remaining target share — Matthew Slater will likely continue to hold down special teams as a WR. Nothing new with the Patriots’ tight ends — last year’s free agent crop of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith hope to lead healthy campaigns and make worthwhile contributions respectively.
The decision to take Cole Strange (Chattanooga) with their first overall pick in the draft was a surprise for most, but he should secure a lot of playing time early. This pick strangely reminded me of the Raiders’ Kolton Miller pick years back. New England typically deploys an elite offensive line, but the loss of Shaq Mason could show up big time. Running behind the New England OL is a robust stack of backs that can relieve Mac of some pressure. Damien Harris and Rhamondrae Stevenson each pack a punch, while Ty Montgomery and rookie Pierre Strong Jr. will try to replicate James White’s consistent availability to this offense.
Defensively, you can always bank on the Pats to be schematically solid, but they’ll be faced with the challenge of not having CB JC Jackson this year (signed away by the Chargers this offseason). They’ll win up front with veterans Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, and Matthew Judon, while also getting meaningful production out of younger guys like Christian Barmore and Josh Uche. The middle of the defense saw the additions of Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson to pair with Ja’Whaun Bentley. More veterans in the defensive backfield as familiar faces Malcolm Butler, Adrian Phillips, Devin McCourty, and Jonathan Jones will remain. Jalen Mills and Terrance Mitchell provide more veteran presence to a group that features promising younger players in Kyle Dugger, Marcus Jones, and Shaun Wade.
The Patriots are unlikely to embarrass themselves in an improved division, but a repeated 10-7 finish should come as no surprise. The holes left by Shaq Mason and JC Jackson will slow their reemergence as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
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