It seems crazy to say, but even with Tom Brady leaving the Patriots this offseason, the organization is still looking at Super Bowl expectations heading into 2020. This has been a seismic offseason for New England as it not only lost the greatest quarterback of all-time in free agency, ending a 20-year run of dominance together, but the club also saw a number of key pieces to its previous Super Bowl championships depart. Kyle Van Noy signed with the Dolphins. Jamie Collins inked a deal with the Lions. Dont’a Hightower opted out. Still, it’s Lombardi or bust for the fellas in Foxborough. 

Heading into this season, the Patriots are still poised to have one of the top defenses in the league and quite possibly are looking at a dynamic offense headlined by quarterback Cam Newton. That said, there are a number of challenges awaiting Bill Belichick and company as they enter 2020. While the AFC East is still able to be had, juggernauts like the Chiefs and Ravens are roaming around the conference, and the Steelers, Colts, and Titans are other clubs vying to be the next face of the AFC. 

Sure, it’s going to look different in New England this year without No. 12 slicing his way up-and-down the field, but the goal remains the same for Belichick’s crew. Here are four reasons to believe that the Patriots will be able the climb the NFL mountaintop for the seventh time in the franchise’s history. 

1. Belichick will put together one of the finest seasons of his coaching career

It seems cliché to say, but it rings true: As long as Bill Belichick is still roaming around the sidelines with his short-sleeved hoodies, the Patriots should always be considered a Super Bowl threat. The major variable heading into 2020, however, is that he won’t have Tom Brady, the quarterback he’s won all six of his Super Bowl titles as a head coach with, under center.

While losing the greatest quarterback of all-time in free agency isn’t ideal, I do think Belichick relishes the opportunity to see what he can do without Brady. This is an opportunity for both Belichick and Brady to carve out a different chapter in their Hall of Fame legacies and prove to the rest of the NFL-viewing world that they can succeed without one each other. That type of challenge is one that I believe Belichick, who did go 11-5 with Matt Cassel as his quarterback in 2008 when Brady suffered a torn ACL, will embrace. Belichick (who has 273 career wins) is also breathing down the neck of George Halas (318) and Don Shula (328) on the all-time wins list, so the motivation is there for the head coach on multiple fronts. 

That brings us to 2020, where Belichick has a roster — if everyone remains healthy — that can make a legitimate run at a Super Bowl with the proper coaching. This season is set to be unlike any other in the league due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of offseason activities, preseason and limited training camp will put a lot of pressure on coaches across the league to get their players up to speed. There should be no doubt that Belichick will be able to do that in Foxborough. In fact, this may even give New England an advantage over other clubs if coaching takes on even more value in 2020. 

While the AFC East is improving, no club has really pulled away as the clear favorite, leaving the door open for the Patriots to win their 12th-straight division title in 2020 and put Belichick in line for the fourth NFL Coach of the Year award of his career. 

2. Cam Newton is healthy and ready for a comeback

Everything coming out of Foxborough as it relates to Cam Newton is five-star. Since the former Panthers quarterback signed on with the club back in July, he has received rave reviews, including from Julian Edelman, quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch and even Belichick himself. To this point, it feels like a foregone conclusion that Newton will eventually be named the starter to open up the regular season. 

What makes Newton’s arrival in New England so exciting as it relates to their Super Bowl chances is that the 31-year-old is finally healthy. He’s had no real limitations due to his shoulder or his foot, a pair of injuries that have hampered his production over the past few years. If that remains the case, the Patriots have themselves a quarterback who was league MVP at the peak of his powers and was able to take Carolina to Super Bowl 50. Of course, it may be too much to ask for Newton to return to his 2015 self, but if he can get close to that type of production both with his arm and legs, the Patriots offense will have a versatility that they’ve never been able to utilize before. Newton has also shown the ability to be a very accurate quarterback, completing 67.9% of his passes over 14 games played in 2018. 

The writing appears to be on the wall for Newton to bring above-average quarterback play to the Patriots in 2020, which may mean more of the same in Foxborough in 2020, even without Brady at the helm. 

3. The defense will continue to be among the top units in the NFL

A lot has been made about the Patriots losing a number of key figures on defense, specifically at linebacker, and rightfully so. Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Elandon Roberts all leaving in free agency is unquestionably a big blow to a New England defense that was arguably the best in the league a season ago. The opt-outs of fellow linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung also make things that much more difficult for Belichick. Despite those losses, the Patriots do have the pieces to not only replace them to a degree but continue to be looked at as an elite unit. 

The secondary will continue to be the best the league has to offer, headlined by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. There’s no reason to believe that Gilmore’s play will dip in 2020. He’ll continue to be a black hole for opposing passing games. According to Pro Football Focus’ metrics, Gilmore was the highest-graded corner in the league when quarterbacks targeted him with a clear pocket, allowing zero touchdowns and totaling five interceptions. Gilmore also allowed just a 48.0 passer rating when targeted last season. He should continue to eliminate opposing offenses’ top receiver in 2020. 

What makes this secondary so dangerous, however, is how deep they are. Opposite of Gilmore, veteran Jason McCourty and J.C. Jacskon are stellar corners in their own right. Specifically with Jackson, he’s poised to take another leap in his ascension as a premier corner in the league. When targeted last year, the 24-year-old allowed the lowest pass-rating (37.0) in the entire league. With more opportunity heading into Year 3, Jackson may be another elite option for New England’s secondary. 

Of course, at safety, the Patriots will need to figure out how to recoup the production lost by both Chung and Duron Harmon, but they do have options to pair alongside star safety Devin McCourty. The club added Terrence Brooks, drafted Kyle Dugger in the second round of the 2020 draft and have been trying second-year defensive back Joejuan Williams, a 2019 second-rounder, at that spot as well. 

That all being said, the key factor in the Patriots defense maintaining that elite production will come at linebacker and off the edge. Both second-year pass-rusher Chase Winovich and veteran John Simon should line up on the edge to start, while Ja’Whaun Bentley could be asked to take over Hightower’s spot in the middle of New England’s defense. Bentley has flashed his promise over the last few years and Chase Winovich is primed to build off a promising rookie season. A youth movement along New England’s defense should blossom in 2020. 

4. Patriots ground attack will be prolific

It remains to be seen how the pecking order in the Patriots backfield will ultimately shake out, but regardless of who is getting the lion’s share of the reps, New England’s rushing attack is poised to be fantastic in 2020. 

First, let’s look at what they have along the offensive line, which is much healthier than where they were a year ago: Center David Andrews is set to return after missing all of 2019 due to blood clots in his lungs and left tackle Isaiah Wynn is heading into 2020 healthy after missing time last year thanks to a toe injury. Those two will now be paired with a strong guard combo of Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason. Starting right tackle Marcus Cannon opting out of 2020 isn’t ideal, but the club does have a number of in-house options like Jermaine Eluemunor and Yodny Cajuste. The interior of New England’s O-line is still the core that helped the club rush for 485 yards and nine touchdowns over three playoff games en-route to their Super Bowl LIII title in 2018. Those rushes, particularly in the AFC Championship against the Chiefs, were largely ran through the A-gaps (in between the center and guard). Fullback James Develin is no longer there to pave the way, but Jakob Johnson is poised to take over. 

As for the backs, this is arguably one of the deeper areas on New England’s roster. James White will continue to serve as the main receiving back while Damien Harris, Sony Michel, Lamar Miller and Rex Burkhead will be fighting for carries. Harris has put together a fabulous training camp and is in a position to possibly start in a potential breakout second season. Meanwhile, Sony Michel, the incumbent starter, has since been activated off PUP and if he can return to his 2018 playoff form, he may be able to live up to that first-round billing as long as he’s healthy. 

The X factor for taking this rushing unit to elite levels, however, is Cam Newton. The former league MVP currently has the inside track to start under center for the Patriots and, if that comes to fruition, he adds another wrinkle to this rushing attack. His presence allows Josh McDaniels to get a bit more creative with his play-calling and give opposing defenses another body to account for when New England lines up to run the ball, particularly n the red zone. From all accounts, Newton is fully healthy and that should mean great things for the Patriots offense both through the air and on the ground. For his career, Newton has 4,806 yards rushing over the regular season and 58 touchdowns. 

It likely won’t be to the level of success the 2019 Baltimore Ravens had, but the Patriots will have a dangerous ground game to support their top-of-the-line defense. 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here