The start of the NFL’s 2020 regular season is only a few days away, which is why season previews of all kinds are currently en vogue. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell released his own earlier this week by compiling the 40 “most compelling people and storylines” of the upcoming campaign — a list that also includes three members of the New England Patriots.
The first is quarterback Cam Newton, who is listed under the category of “new arrivals.” Barnwell had to say the following about him:
My suspicion is that we’re going to see a Patriots offense that looks a lot like the one Newton was running under Norv Turner in 2018. The goal will be to get the ball out quickly into the hands of playmakers and let them do their thing after the catch while keeping him healthy. Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore aren’t here, of course, but the Patriots have a little more left in the tank than people think. Newton is not going to be Lamar Jackson, but he’s going to have a few designed runs and the ability to check to run concepts when the numbers in the box are in his favor. Nobody has a wider range of outcomes in 2020: Everything from MVP to falling out of football is on the table for him.
The next man on Barnwell’s list is head coach Bill Belichick, who will head into the season with Newton as his new starting quarterback after working alongside free agency departee Tom Brady for the last two decades:
Unlike Tom Brady, Belichick has already had a successful NFL career without the other half of his dynasty. Most of that success, though, came as a defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells. Belichick has gone 219-64 (.774) as a head coach with Brady as a starter, but just 54-63 (.462) without the legendary quarterback taking snaps. To be fair, many of those losses came in Cleveland; Belichick went 13-6 (.685) in New England with Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett as fill-in starters.
Finally, Barnwell takes a look at this year’s rookies. Of the four that were listed, three were picked in the first round. The lone exception is second-round linebacker Josh Uche, who was selected 60th overall by the team and could take over a big role on a Patriots defense that saw considerable personnel turnover this offseason:
The Patriots are starting over at linebacker after losing Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and (part-time fullback) Elandon Roberts to free agency and Dont’a Hightower to an opt-out. Uche, who saw only one season of significant snaps for Michigan, figures to play a lot as a replacement for Van Noy or Collins from the jump. (Second-year linebacker Chase Winovich, another Michigan product, should also have a larger role.) The only linebacker to top 500 defensive snaps in his rookie season for Belichick over the past decade was Hightower. Uche might be next.
The Patriots may have lost Tom Brady and some serious talent on the defensive side of the ball, but as Barnwell’s list illustrates there is still plenty of intrigue surrounding the team in 2020. Whether or not that is a positive or not will be seen starting September 13, when the Patriots open their season versus the Miami Dolphins.