The New England Patriots will face a favorable stretch of games to start their 2021 regular season: they will host the Miami Dolphins on opening weekend, before traveling to the New York Jets one week later; they will then welcome the New Orleans Saints to Gillette Stadium in Week 3.
Despite their uncertain future at the quarterback position, the Patriots are favored in all three of those games. The closest of them will be the contest versus the Saints, but it would not be a surprise if the line moved form its current 1-point status. New Orleans after all, will likely be without two of its best players.
We already know that defensive tackle David Onyemata will miss the matchup due to a suspension. It now also seems likely that star wide receiver Michael Thomas will be out.
The two-time All-Pro and 2019 NFL Offensive Player of the Year is reportedly expected to miss the start of the 2021 season after undergoing surgery on his ankle last month.
Based on the procedure’s timing and subsequent recovery for a surgery like this, Thomas is very much a candidate to get place on the reserve/physically unable to perform list once the Saints’ veterans are reporting to training camp. If such a move happens, he would miss at least six games — including the one against New England in late September. Needless to say that this would be a win for the Patriots regardless of their impressive secondary.
Thomas, after all, has been the Saints’ most productive wide receiver since entering the league as a second-round draft pick in 2016. However, an ankle injury limited him to just seven games last year and is now very much threatening the first part of his 2021 campaign as well.
The Saints’ offense has therefore suffered another blow after already seeing quarterback Drew Brees announce his retirement earlier this year. Brees’ eventual successor — either Jameis Winston or projected backup options Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian and Ian Book — will be in a tough situation to begin with; losing Thomas won’t make it any easier.
That is especially true given who New Orleans has under contract behind Thomas. A wide receiver depth chart led by Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris likely does not lead to sleepless nights for any defensive coordinators.
Given that the Patriots feature one of the best secondaries in football, Thomas’ likely absence further tips the scales in the home team’s favor.