Why 2019 Will Be a True Test for New England

Over roughly the last seventeen years, the New England Patriots have been a certified dynasty, winning five total Super Bowl titles and making it a total of eight times. We have heard about their success so much that it’s almost muscle memory for football fans when asked about it. However, coming into this season, I could see the upcoming season turn out differently for the defending AFC Champions.

As a prior note, the New England Patriots should take the AFC East once again, but the problem is in reference to their dominance across the league entering the 2018-19 season.

First Point: Offensive Losses and Handicaps

Image result for Danny Amendola Julian Edelman
Photo Source : Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America

This off-season was fairly active for the New England Patriots, but I would say that they lost more than they gained on the offensive side of the ball. Here is a list of the key offensive pieces that the Patriots lost :

  • Nate Solder (Signed to the New York Giants)
  • Danny Amendola (Signed to the Miami Dolphins)
  • Brandin Cooks (Traded to the Los Angeles Rams for a first-round pick, selected OL Isaiah Wynn)
  • Dion Lewis (Signed to Tennessee Titans)
  • Julian Edelman (PED Suspension, four games)

Offensively, the Patriots did extremely well without WR Julian Edelman and RT Marcus Cannon last season, as they ranked second in overall offense. However, Nate Solder, although inconsistent as a pass-blocker for the last few seasons, was a massive presence on the Patriots offensive line. It was another season of Tom Brady being thrown around, getting sacked 35 times and hit even more. Perhaps moving on from Solder was the right move, but there is a gaping hole at Brady’s blindside. The Patriots did trade for Trent Brown and drafted Isaiah Wynn, who played both tackle and guard in college with Georgia.

Looking at the loss of Dion Lewis, he was by far the top back in New England last season, rushing for 896 yards and 6 TDs, and provided help in the receiving game with an additional 324 yards and 3 TDs through the air. There is depth behind him in the receiving role with James White and first round draft pick Sony Michel, who specialize in pass-catching. As far as in between the tackles go, the depth is very slim.

Rex Burkhead, although impressive last season in between the tackles rushing, could see some reps taken away with new pickup Jeremy Hill from the Cincinnati Bengals. Overall, this is a very shaky topic when discussing the Patriots offense, as they have not had somebody who specializes in hitting the hole since the LeGarrette Blount era.

Viewing the losses at wide receiver with Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and the temporary suspension of Julian Edelman, Brady will need to develop chemistry with all brand new assets. Focusing on Cooks, he was the first legitimate deep threat the New England Patriots have had in a very long time, and Brady only had a single season with him until they had traded him for a first round pick to the Los Angeles Rams. With an unproven Phillip Dorsett and injury-riddled Malcolm Mitchell, the depth isn’t too bright in New England at this position.

As for Danny Amendola loss, the Patriots essentially lost their Edelman backup plan. Amendola played very well in Edelman’s abscense, catching 61 passes for 659 yards on 81 targets, which was only third behind Cooks and TE Rob Gronkowski. Who steps up in the first month of the season while Edelman is absent on the opposite side of Chris Hogan? The rest of the WR Depth chart includes Kenny Britt, aforementioned Phillip Dorsett and Malcolm Mitchell, sixth round pick Braxton Berrios, and newly-signed Jordan Matthews.

Tom Brady is going to have to build all new chemistry through the month of September, and I think this could very well prove to be a gigantic learning curve for this offense.

Second Point: Defensive Losses and Handicaps

Image result for malcolm butler
Photo Source : Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots defense was easily their biggest flaw, as the team ranked in bottom four in yards allowed (5,856) and allowing the third-most passing yards. This defense was atrocious last year, and this season does not look great either. Here are what I consider to be the biggest losses along the Patriots defense:

  • Malcolm Butler (Signed to Tennessee Titans)
  • Matt Patricia (New Head Coach of the Detroit Lions)
  • Alan Branch (Released)
  • James Harrison (Retirement)
  • Ricky Jean Francois (Retirement)
  • Shea McClellan (Retirement)

The only player loss that is to be focused on in my opinion is Malcolm Butler. He was the leader of the secondary right after his infamous Super Bowl 49 interception, and played extremely well up until this past season. With his inconsistent play, head coach Bill Belichick elected to bench the cornerback for the entire Super Bowl. This was met with strong opposition from fans and even with some players in the Patriots locker room.

After months since, Butler got a generous contract from the Tennessee Titans, and the Patriots have attempted to fix the gaping hole left from Butler’s disappearance. The front office went and traded for the other half of the McCourty twins by getting Jason McCourty to play opposite of Stephon Gilmore. In addition, the depth contains Jonathan Jones and Duke Dawson.

The secondary is slightly improving, but the nickel spot is yet to be proven. The role of Jason McCourty is still unknown, and his ability to fit in the Belichick/Flores scheme has yet to be seen.

Another focus on this Patriots defense is their pass rush. Last season, New England ranked tenth in sacks and hardly generated any sort of disruption throughout the season. They have brought in defensive tackle Danny Shelton in a trade with Cleveland, as well as defensive end Adrian Clayborn in free agency. In addition, the NFL Draft brought in OLB Ja’Whaun Bentley and UDFA Trent Harris out of the University of Miami, who was their sack leader in 2017. This pass rush has taken major steps to improve, but once again, none of these players are proven quite yet.

Finally, the loss of defensive coordinator Matt Patricia could prove to be a huge factor in the success of the defense. Although it looked rough in his final year, the team still won games. His role will be unofficially replaced by former linebacker coach Brian Flores. This defense will be in question all the way up to September and will have to prove themselves early on by playing teams like Houston and Jacksonville in select weeks.

Final Point: Harder Schedule Than Years Past

Image result for Josh Mcdaniels Bill Belichick
Photo Source : Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

Over the last twenty years, critics have claimed that the AFC East is one of the weakest divisions in the NFL. Others may argue that select franchises in the division can be sneaky, but aren’t a total threat to the Patriots way. Here is their schedule for the 2018-19 regular season for New England:

  • Sept. 9th : VS Houston Texans
  • Sept. 16th : @ Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Sept. 23rd : @ Detroit Lions
  • Sept. 30th : VS Miami Dolphins
  • Oct. 4th : VS Indianapolis Colts
  • Oct. 14th : VS Kansas City Chiefs
  • Oct. 21st : @ Chicago Bears
  • Oct. 29th : @ Buffalo Bills
  • Nov. 4th : VS Green Bay Packers
  • Nov. 11th : @ Tennessee Titans
  • Nov. 25th : @ New York Jets
  • Dec. 2nd : VS Minnesota Vikings
  • Dec. 9th : @ Miami Dolphins
  • Dec. 16th : @ Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Dec. 23rd : VS Buffalo Bills
  • Dec. 30th : VS New York Jets

Looking at it by month, the first month could be extremely brutal without WR Julian Edelman. The first three games are against top-tier opponents, including a rematch of the AFC Championship with Jacksonville on their turf for round two. Afterwards, New England heads back home to take on the Miami Dolphins in the final week of September. This team could easily go 1-3 to begin this season, as the Patriots in the last three seasons have a overall record of 6-4 in the month of September. The organization is typically a bit slower coming out of the gates, and October won’t prove to be an easier month.

The Indianapolis Colts aren’t extremely threatening as of the moment, but if you underestimate them, they could surprise you. This matchup is followed up by the Kansas City Chiefs, who have had New England’s number in two of the last three meetings, including a Super Bowl Banner opening spoiler in 2017. The team then goes on the road to take on the Chicago Bears, who have upgraded offensively by adding Jaguars WR Allen Robinson to come in and give Mitch Trubisky some assistance.

November is the second-hardest month as far as the difficulty of teams played for the Patriots. The team begins the month with the Green Bay Packers, who some consider to be the highlight of the Patriots schedule with Tom Brady versus Aaron Rodgers being the headline.

From there, New England goes on the road to take on the Tennessee Titans, who have since added Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis. The Titans could very easily bring the Patriots a hard-fought battle and could very well take it from their hands in an upset. To finish out the month, the Patriots are back on the road to take on the New York Jets, who always give their division rival a difficult time in Metlife Stadium. Even with the bye week, the New England Patriots can not get comfortable with these teams.

At home, New England then opens the final month with the Minnesota Vikings, who were in the NFC Championship last year, and are a top-tier matchup on their schedule in 2018. From there, it’s onto Miami, and then Pittsburgh at Hienz Field. Although the Patriots have dominated the Steelers since Brady has come into the league, they are still not a team to look past. Afterwards, New England goes home to play the Buffalo Bills and Jets to close out the regular season.

Conclusion

Image result for julian edelman rob gronkowski
Photo Source : Brian Kersey/UPI

The New England Patriots are still a top tier team in the NFL, and there is no reason to count them out of the playoff race, or even the Super Bowl race quite yet. On the other hand, they could very well take a heavy step back. There are a handful of questions about this Patriots roster, and with the schedule being as underrated as it currently is, New England could be in for a true test entering this season.

Photo Source : BostonSports.com

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