The New England Patriots — now in Year One after losing the greatest quarterback of all time in free agency — are one of the toughest teams to project entering the 2020 NFL season. While ESPN still has them as a top-10 squad, Peter King of NBC Sports thinks differently in his latest power rankings: he has the Patriots as just the 21st best team in the league, behind their AFC East brethren from Buffalo (13th) and Miami (19th).
King points out head coach Bill Belichick’s losing record without Tom Brady, and also notes the following about the team:
This year reminds me of Belichick’s first year or two in New England, when he and Scott Pioli got the cap right by making do with lesser players and the highest-paid player in football, Drew Bledsoe. By 2002, it was Brady’s team, and he flourished. Now, after jettisoning Brady, Rob Gronkowski, center Ted Karras, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and keystone linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Jamie Collins, Belichick and Nick Caserio can clean out the cap and rebuild.
The reviews on the 133rd pick in the 2019 draft, Jarrett Stidham, are good, but the shadow of the 199th pick in 2000 will always be a long one for anyone who plays quarterback in New England. There is no book on Stidham, a tough kid who will not be afraid of the hot seat, but his goal is to keep New England in games and leave the Patriots with a decision to make on a quarterback in the 2021 draft. Whatever happens, America will be watching: Four of their final nine games will be in prime time. I think this season breaks the Patriots’ 11-year stranglehold on the AFC East, but I’m pretty sure everyone in that building wants to rub our faces in such predictions, and that’s a great motivator.
The Patriots have dominated the league for the last two decades and built the greatest dynasty in pro football history along the way, but will now need to show they can continue their unprecedented run of success even without Brady. The pressure will not just be on Jarrett Stidham, but maybe even more so on Belichick and his coaching staff as well as New England’s veteran core around players such as Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, David Andrews, Julian Edelman, and Matthew Slater.