The NFL season kicks off this week, and there’s a level of uncertainty about what this season will look like in New England.
Due to COVID-19, the team has had to deal with a range of things out of their control so far: an unconventional training camp, no preseason games or scouts present, the absence of fans. Ahead of the season-opener against the Dolphins on Sunday, the Patriots are not sure what to expect from their opponent — yet offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said that the players are prepared for anything.
“When we did have a preseason, there was still a lot of anxiety and unknowns that you were dealing with, relative to what you may or may not see, where players may or may not line up, who may or may not be playing across from you,” McDaniels said on Tuesday. “I know our players are prepared for a lot of different scenarios and situations, as we are.”
As for what the Patriots will do offensively, all eyes are on quarterback Cam Newton. Questions remain as to whether he can lead the offense, if injuries will creep up on him, and how he’ll fit into the team’s system and work alongside head coach Bill Belichick.
The general consensus among experts, however, is that Newton should not be counted out. Experts even predict that he could win Comeback Player of the Year.
The Ringer’s Tyler Tynes, who profiled Newton in his podcast, “The Cam Chronicles,” told NBC10 Boston’s Kwani A. Lunis that Newton’s attitude could be the key to his success this season.
“This is going to be a Cam revenge story,” Tynes said. “He’s going to turn the New England Patriots into the 2010 Auburn [team]. Y’all better be ready for that.”
Newton — who said playing in New England feels like a “match made in Heaven” — is just as excited to play with wide receiver Julian Edelman. The 12-year veteran is the longest tenured player on the Patriots right now, and Newton told WEEI’s Greg Hill on Monday that he admires his experience.
“I see guys like Julian, I can say I’ve never had a receiver like that, outside of like Steve Smith; a person who was a veteran and understood what it took. Everybody else was pretty much a young guy who you had to mold and shape.”
Meanwhile, NBC Sports’ Boston’s Phil Perry predicts that the Patriots’ defense, “will fall out of the top 10 (points allowed) for the first time since 2011”
“Defense is also something that is very difficult to predict year over year,” Perry wrote. “Smarter people than I can explain that to you here at Five Thirty Eight. Expecting a performance like last season’s to repeat itself seems unlikely.”
As for the postseason, ESPN’s Football Power Index is predicting there’s a 44.2 percent chance of winning the AFC East title, a 63 percent chance of them making the playoffs and 3.6 percent of them making the Super bowl.
Here’s what other NFL experts are predicting.
Predicted regular-season record
“With the Patriots struggling mightily to score 20 (Nick Folk and Jake Bailey are their most potent weapons before Halloween), they start the season 2-4 as the Bills make it a one-horse race.”
John Breech, CBS Sports: (10-6)
“I actually think Newton is going to have a monstrous year. For one, the Patriots are going to have the element of surprise on their side in 2020. For the past two decades, every opponent knew what the Patriots offense was going to do (even if they couldn’t stop it). This year, no one has any idea what the Patriots are going to do on offense, and because of that, it could be tough to stop. Also, Newton gives the Patriots something they never had with Tom Brady: A quarterback who is a threat to run the ball.
“If Newton can throw 30 touchdown passes this year and rush for 10 more, that will likely be enough to lead the NFL in total touchdowns, and that’s exactly what I’m predicting.”
ESPN Staff: 5-11
AFC East finish
- Buffalo Bills (11-5)
- New England Patriots (8-8)
- Miami Dolphins (7-9)
- New York Jets (5-11)
Perry: Pats finish 1st in the AFC East
- *Patriots: 10-6
- *Bills: 9-7
- Dolphins: 6-10
- Jets: 4-12
- New England Patriots: 10–6
- Miami Dolphins: 8–8
- Buffalo Bills: 7–9
- New York Jets: 6–10
Del Don: Pats will win the AFC East title
Louie DiBiase, Radio.com: Patriots win AFC East, get 3rd seed in conference playoffs
John Clayton, Washington Post: Will miss the playoffs.
“The New England Patriots will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008…In Bill Belichick, Patriots fans trust. And they should. But after New England lost its top four linebackers, two of its three best safeties, right tackle Marcus Cannon and many others — oh, and don’t forget, that includes future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady — this looks more like a 5-11 team than a playoff contender.
“Belichick’s coaching could get the Patriots to eight wins, especially if a rejuvenated Cam Newton performs well as New England’s starting quarterback. But that’s not going to be good enough to catch the 10-win Buffalo Bills, especially given the Patriots’ schedule, which is the toughest in football based on last year’s records.”
Peter King, Pro Football Talk: Will miss the playoffs.
“New England is the mystery team of the NFL, and I’m sure Bill Belichick likes it that way. While the world will rightfully focus on the acclimation of Cam Newton to Belichickland, watch and see how the Patriots adjust to the loss of four starting-caliber linebackers.”
Cynthia Frelund, NFL.com: 8.3 wins, wild card team
“Cam Newton connects with his receivers for 21 or more touchdowns in 56.4 percent of simulations en route to the Patriots making the playoffs for the 18th time since 2000 (which happens in 57.4 percent of outcomes). I spent a lot of time this offseason learning about roster-construction philosophies and studying their relationship to wins. This season, when teams will be playing with an expanded practice squad amid the COVID-19 pandemic, roster depth could play an even bigger role than usual, which certainly suits Bill Belichick’s strengths as a highly successful architect of the last 15-plus roster spots (and practice squad). It’s extremely likely Belichick will yet again have his team in the postseason despite the club’s losses via opt outs and free agency.”
Del Don: Will make the playoffs.
“They are a big wild card with Tom Brady gone, but the system, strong defense, and benefit of playing in this division results in yet another AFC East title … Jarrett Stidham replaces Cam Newton at some point during the season, as the Pats make the playoffs while the Bucs don’t in 2020.”
Tom E. Curran: No
Phil Perry: Yes, losing in the divisional round