Welcome back to our 2018 NFL season review series, where we’re going to be taking a look at all 32 National Football League teams and how they stack up heading into the new season.
Last time out we previewed the New York Giants, coming off their leanest win total in franchise history. There’s a new offensive minded coach in town in Pat Shurmur, and his scheme coupled with the addition of Saquon Barkley and the return of Odell Beckham Jr, could transform their fortunes rapidly. The schedule is mightily tough though, and whilst they should win more games than last season, a playoff push will be tough in one of the best divisions in football.
Today we’re focusing on the New England Patriots. It was more of the same in 2017 for Belichick and Brady, running through the AFC with few troubles and reaching an eighth Super Bowl in 18 years. The ending didn’t quite match up though as Nick Foles and the Eagles put on an offensive show to down the Pats in one of the most thrilling championship games in history. The hunger will be stronger than ever to regain their throne in 2018, so let’s see how they’re stacking up…
As always the season began with title ambitions and the Pats as strong favourites to retain their crown. What followed over the next 17 weeks was regulation Belichick and Brady for the most part.
The week one loss to the Chiefs in Foxborough caused typical media overreaction but they went 15-2 after that, so we can scratch that threat off the long list of past Patriots doom predictions.
The defense was horrible in the first month or two, and propped the entire league up for total yards allowed per game for most of the first half of the year. Matt Patricia’s unit picked it up a bit as the year wore on but they still finished as a bottom four defense overall.
The offense was the best in the NFL in terms of total yardage and Tom Brady pieced together another elite season throwing for 4577 yards, 32 TD’s and just eight picks. Impressive wins included a 36-20 week two victory on the road at the Saints, well and truly silencing the Falcons 23-7 at home in week seven, and a two week stretch against the Broncos and Raiders in which Josh McDaniels offense put up 74 total points whilst the D only shipped 24 in return.
The playoffs rolled around once again it was business as usual as Belichick’s charges took care of the Titans with ease winning 35-14 in the divisional round. The AFC Championship game against the Jags was no easy win though, as Brady was forced to orchestrate an impressive late comeback to sneak a 24-20 win.
Another year, another conference title, and when a Carson Went-less Eagles awaited them in the Super Bowl it seemed like it would be yet another world championship. Then Nick Foles and the Philly Special happened.
The pair of losses in the big game to the Giants hurt, but this one left a bad taste in the mouth for the organisation and it’s fans. Foles straight up outdueled Brady in an offensive showdown for the ages and the Eagles really looked like the better team, scoring at will to run out 41-33 winners in Minnesota.
Despite the loss at the final hurdle it was another successful year to add to the impressiveness of the dynasty that’s been established in New England, and they’ll be hungrier than ever to go one better in 2018.
Free Agency Moves
As usual there was big movement in and out of Foxborough in the free agent market.
The big losses were longtime left tackle and chief Brady protector Nate Solder, Super Bowl hero/villain Malcolm Butler, the ever reliable Danny Amendola, and versatile back Dion Lewis.
Solder is a huge loss to what has been a solid left side of the O-Line, and it hurts even more that his supposed replacement and first round pick Isaiah Wynn is out for the entire season.
Butler’s situation has become so bizarre and it’s not surprise he was allowed to walk after the Super Bowl benching debacle. Amendola seemed overjoyed to be out of the building and his presence is a big loss to Josh McDaniels’ offense particularly in the clutch.
Lewis was a valuable asset but Belichick has never failed to find the next guy along on the running back production line. Former Bengal Jeremy Hill arrived and he could fill some of that hole, though he’s a very different kind of rusher to Lewis.
Adrian Clayborn was the biggest name in the door and the former Falcons DE should help bolster what was an average pass rush in terms of talent last season. Meanwhile, veteran receiver Eric Decker is a typical signing that should make some kind of impact amidst the Pats’ plethora of mid-range receivers.
Jordan Matthews also arrived as another option for depth in the receiving corps but he’s already been released.
1) Isaiah Wynn, OT, Georgia
1) Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
2) Duke Dawson, CB, Florida
5) Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB, Purdue
6) Christian Sam, LB, Arizona State
6) Braxton Berrios, WR, Miami (FL)
7) Danny Etling, QB, LSU
7) Keion Crossen, CB, Western Carolina
7) Ryan Izzo, TE, Florida State
Fans Eye View
In all our 2018 previews we’ll be speaking to a fan to get their opinion on the current state of their team. Representing the Patriots is GMS Writer Scott Wilson.
GMS: How would you rate your team’s offseason?
Most fans would be concerned when their team loses its starting cornerback, starting left tackle, two receivers and a player as dangerous as Dion Lewis in the offseason, but the Patriots did a nice job of replacing them.
I’m a fan of what we did in the draft; first round picks Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel should both make an immediate impact.
I expected us to target a linebacker in free agency or the draft but hopefully one of the young guys steps up.
Overall, it was a solid offseason.
GMS: What’s the general opinion of the job the head coach is doing?
I live by the mantra ‘In Belichick we trust’.
He makes a number of decisions that make little sense, like trading Jamie Collins during the season, but he’s always able to put out a team that wins at least 12 games a season.
It’s for that reason why I’m not too concerned by the decision to trade Brandin Cooks, who was our best receiver last season, to the Rams.
That said, it’s hard not to feel that Belichick handled the Jimmy Garoppolo situation very poorly.
It really does look like he would have been the perfect replacement for Brady.
GMS: Your opinions of the offense? (What’s good, bad, different from 2017)
I’m excited to watch the offense this season.
There was a chance that the unit would look very different but we managed to convince Josh McDaniels to reject the Colts and Rob Gronkowski hasn’t retired.
There’s plenty of change at the skill positions, as there usually is on a year-to-year basis with the Pats, but with Tom Brady still under centre I expect us to be among the highest-scoring teams.
If Michel isn’t the week 1 starting RB then I doubt it’ll be long before he is.
GMS: Your thoughts on the state of the defense? (What’s good, bad, different from 2017)
I still haven’t forgiven the defense for their measly effort in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots pass rush hasn’t been good enough for some time now but the return of Derek Rivers, who missed his rookie season after tearing his ACL during training camp, will help.
There’s a noticeable lack of talent at the linebacker position. Dont’a Hightower is a Pro Bowl player but he can’t be counted on to play 16 games a season. The pass rush and secondary will have to make up for those deficiencies.
Malcolm Butler’s loss still hurts but a cornerback duo of Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty remains impressive.
GMS: What’s your deepest concern for 2018?
Father Time catching up to Tom Brady.
Tommy believes in the TB12 Method – and therefore so do I.
But he is 41-years-old (**not sure when this will be published but he turns 41 on August 3rd**) and he took a lot of hits last year.
Every season, Patriots fans fear Brady’s level falling and I think it’s wise to realise that this could be the year it happens.
If it does happen, or he suffers a serious injury, we’re screwed.
Brian Hoyer is the backup and the third string is seventh-round draft pick Danny Etling.
Yes, I miss Jimmy G.
GMS: Give us a name to watch out for?
The defensive end had a breakout season in 2016 and followed that up with 6.5 sacks in 2017.
This is the final year of Flowers’ rookie contract and that will provide all the incentive he needs to reach double figures in sacks this season.
I’m sure the Patriots will want new arrival Adrian Clayborn to offer any tips to Flowers.
GMS: And finally…your crystal ball prediction for the season?
You’ll probably expect me to say Super Bowl champions… and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
The Jets and Bills drafted QBs in round one but we’re still the best team in the AFC East.
The other threats in the AFC are the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, and I’d back us to beat each of them if we meet in the playoffs.
The offense still has its three most important pieces – Brady, Gronk and McDaniels – and the defense should be just fine.
With Brady and Belichick at the helm, winning the Super Bowl simply has to be the expectation.
Week 1: vs Texans
Week 2: @Jags
Week 3: @Lions
Week 4: vs Dolphins
Week 5: vs Colts
Week 6: vs Chiefs
Week 7: @Bears
Week 8: @Bills
Week 9: vs Packers
Week 10: @Titans
Week 11: BYE WEEK
Week 12: @Jets
Week 13: vs Vikings
Week 14: @Dolphins
Week 15: @Steelers
Week 16: vs Bills
Week 17: vs Jets
In what will be a high powered passing attack yet again, Tom Brady is a no brainer as a top five QB.
The 41-year-old has finished as QB4 or better in five of his last seven full seasons and there’s no reason to believe he won’t push for those kind of numbers again in 2018.
His weapons on the outside aren’t great, but they rarely have been and he still has Gronk so he’s a sure fire first round pick in my books and only Aaron Rodgers should definitely go ahead of him.
As for those weapons on the outside, Chris Hogan will be the go-to guy in the absence of Julian Edelman for the first month of the year but none of the Pats wideouts are reliable points scorers due to their committee type approach game by game.
Hogan will eat one week then it’ll be someone else’s turn, and though Edelman should get regular production upon his return it’s always going to be Gronkowski who gets the majority of the targets.
Having said that, Hogan’s red zone targets have exceeded the All Pro tight end’s over the past two seasons and he could be a good pick up for the first month until we know more about the tendencies of the 2018 Patriots offense.
Gronk will undoubtedly by a top three TE if he stays healthy so he’s also a no brainer if available at a non-crippling price.
The running game is anyone’s guess. It’s always been a position of change literally by the week and though first round pick Sony Michel could become the clear RB1, it’s too early to tell who will get touches when at this stage.
Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill, Mike Gilislee and James White will get their touches too depending on who makes the final roster, but it’s probably advisable to steer clear of Patriots backs if possible. They’re valuable guys in the flex spot but it’s doubtful any one guy will exceed 1000 yards on the ground.
There will come a year when this thing finally implodes and the Pats go 6-10. 2018 will not be that year.
They’re still easily the best team in the division and the clear favourites in the AFC with the Steelers, Jags and possibly the Texans and Chargers chasing hard.
It’s hard to see them not winning at least 11 games and securing home advantage throughout the postseason. The week 15 matchup in Pittsburgh will be a key decider on that, but Belichick has always had one over Mike Tomlin and his staff and there’s nothing to suggest that won’t continue to be the case.
The offense under McDaniels and Brady will be elite once more regardless of the personnel, and though Matt Patricia has departed one would expect some kind of defensive improvement to a unit that ranked in the bottom five in the league last season.
Overall the schedule is relatively kind, though the AFC South could provide sterner opposition than expected depending on the health of Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson.
Brady will slow down one of these days, but considering his last full outing included 505 passing yards and three TD’s we can safely assume this won’t be the year he falls off a cliff physically a la Peyton Manning in 2015.
They could stutter in the opening few weeks, but we predict a 12-4 record and another deep postseason run for the Patriots in 2018. Another tough NFC foe could oust them once again should they reach the Super Bowl, but that’s a question to ponder closer to the time.