The New England Patriots may not yet know who their starting quarterback for the 2021 NFL season will be, but they do know that their defense will have to go up against some impressive talent. Whether it is veterans such as Tom Brady or Matt Ryan, former first overall draft picks like Baker Mayfield or Jameis Winston, or the young guns — from Tua Tagovailoa to Zach Wilson — New England will face some top-tier talent this year.
Let’s take a closer look at them by going through each team on New England’s list of opponents (ranked in order of the leaked but not yet official schedule).
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins: Entering his second season, Tagovailoa appears to be uncontested as the Dolphins’ starting quarterback. He had an up-and-down rookie campaign in 2020, though, and will try to make the famous second-year jump — starting with a road game in New England.
Zach Wilson, New York Jets: The Patriots have had tremendous success against rookie quarterbacks in the past, and they will try to make life hard on the second overall pick in this year’s draft. Expect New England to employ its fair share of exotic looks and pressure packages in the two games against Wilson.
Jameis Winston/Taysom Hill, New Orleans Saints: Jameis Winston is the favorite to take over for the retired Drew Brees this year, but there is a chance the Saints roll with Taysom Hill instead. No matter who the Patriots will face, they need to be ready for some dual-thread capabilities.
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The big one. Brady led the Patriots to six Super Bowl wins before earning ring No. 7 with the Buccaneers last year. He will return to Gillette Stadium for one final time, and a highly anticipated matchup against head coach Bill Belichick.
Deshaun Watson/Tyrod Taylor/?, Houston Texans: The Texans’ quarterback situation is one to watch heading into the 2021 season. Under normal circumstances there would be no doubt about the starter, but the sexual assault allegations against Deshaun Watson have put his availability in question. If he is unavailable, Tyrod Taylor might get the call as the team’s QB1.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys: After missing almost the entire 2020 season due to injury, Dak Prescott will be back under center for the Cowboys this year. If he is back at full strength, he is one of the best quarterbacks in football — even though he struggled in his last meeting with the New England defense in 2019.
Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers: While he did win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors last season, Herbert had the worst game of his young career against New England. The Patriots’ defense prevented him from getting into a rhythm with relentless pressure and tight man-to-man coverage. Expect more of the same this year, even though Herbert will be a more experienced passer when playing the Patriots.
Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers: The Patriots and Darnold are no strangers to one another. The Panthers’ offseason acquisition spent the first three years of his career with the Jets, and played three games versus New England. His stat-line? 53 percent completion percentage, 519 passing yards, 1 touchdown, 6 interceptions. Yikes.
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns: The Patriots successfully shut down the former first overall draft pick when they played against him in 2019. For this year’s meeting to be more of the same they will again need to successfully apply pressure.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Even though he will already be 36 years old when returning to Massachusetts, the Boston College product is still projected as one of the better passers in football. This is especially true given the impressive receiving talent around him: Ryan will be joined in Atlanta’s offense by Calvin Ridley, Kyle Pitts and, unless he is traded, Julio Jones.
Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans: The last time Tannehill and the Titans visited Gillette Stadium they were able to knock the Patriots from the playoffs. New England will be out for revenge, and trying to end a two-game losing streak against Mike Vrabel and his QB.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills: There is probably no player in the NFL who made a more prominent jump last season than Josh Allen. He helped the Bills claim the AFC East crown by finally living up to his first-round status, going 2-0 against New England along the way. The two meetings this year will be crucial if the Patriots want to recapture the division title.
Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts: Wentz will try to get his career back on track after getting traded to Indianapolis this offseason. The Patriots, meanwhile, will try to make him look like he did back in 2019 when he completed only half of his throws and was sacked five times.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars: Mac Jones was the fifth quarterback off the board in this year’s draft, Trevor Lawrence was the first. The top selection last month, Lawrence is probably the best QB prospect to enter the league since Andrew Luck in 2012. Luck, of course, famously struggled whenever going up against New England. Will Lawrence follow his footsteps in this regard?
Twelve former first-rounders. Three number one draft picks. One GOAT. The Patriots’ 2021 schedule will feature some intriguing quarterback talent. Of course, the game against Brady stands alone above the rest: his return to Foxborough will be one of the most hyped regular season games in NFL history.