We are three years removed from Tom Brady’s exit from New England and still, his shadow lingers over Foxborough ahead of a potentially make-or-break season for his replacement, Mac Jones, and coach Bill Belichick.
For the second time since Brady’s departure, the New England Patriots missed out on the playoffs last year, posting an 8-9 record.
A lot of the blame was laid at the feet of Jones, who suffered some regression in his second year in the NFL.
But he wasn’t helped by a myriad of other problems, including a lack of options at wide receiver and some poor coaching, particularly by his offensive coordinator, Matt Patricia.
The Pats made uncharacteristic errors, such as giving a game away to the Las Vegas Raiders, that they’ve never made under Belichick’s tenure previously and there’s a lot of work to be done to rebuild the team into a playoff contender.
|What||2023/24 NFL Season|
|When||September 8th, 2023 - February 11th, 2024|
|Patriots Odds||To Win Division +750, To Win Conference +2800, To Win SBLVIII +5000|
3rd in the AFC East (8-9)
The days of New England being automatic to qualify for the playoffs are gone and it's going to be tough to get back on course when the rest of the AFC East all appear to have improved.
Expectations are certainly low, even with Patricia having been replaced as offensive coordinator by former Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien.
Patricia’s offense was a disaster, the Pats ranking 26th in yards per game and 17th in points per game and not enough has been done to address that.
JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Gesicki have joined the receiving core, but it needed a bigger overhaul than that, particularly after losing Jakobi Myers.
They spent their first four picks on defense in the draft and took a kicker before an offensive player.
O’Brien hasn't got a great deal to work with, and neither has Jones, who enjoyed a strong rookie season but fell out of the top-15 in most major quarterback metrics last year.
Jones is under pressure, and so is his boss with team owner Robert Kraft expecting an improvement this year.
He may be disappointed as, while New England have a decent defense, there’s the potential of a letdown by the offense, which needs to stop playing checkers this year and join the rest of the NFL in playing chess.
Once the undisputed kings of the AFC East, the Patriots find themselves with the longest odds to win the division in 2023/24 at +750.
It’s not because New England is a bad team – how could they be with the NFL’s greatest ever coach at the helm – but because of the strength of their division opponents. Six games against the juggernaut Bills, dynamic Dolphins and new-look Jets make for a gruesome schedule.
The Patriots are O/U 7.5 in the Regular Season Wins market, a number they have gone over in 21 of the last 22 seasons, but their two lowest win totals since 2001 have come within the last three years.
One of the reasons for the Pats’ regression is the play of third-year QB Mac Jones, who struggled in his sophomore season.
Jones is near the bottom of the list for Most Regular Season Passing Yards at +8000 and Most Regular Passing TDs at +10000, and Belichick will not hesitate to make a change should NE’s offense look as stale as it did a year ago.
Revenge will be on the mind of New England when they welcome former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ Raiders to Foxborough in Week Six.
The Pats go to Buffalo the following week with the reverse fixture taking place on New Year’s Eve this season.
New England will also be one of the teams heading to Europe this season with a Week 10 meeting against the Indianapolis Colts scheduled to take place in Frankfurt, Germany.
After their bye week, the Pats face a testing run in with five of their last seven games against playoff teams from last year, including a meeting with the reigning Super Bowl champions Kansas City in Week 15.
No active head coach can match Belichick's seniority or success.
The six-time Super Bowl winner and three-time Coach of the Year is the most successful head coach in the business and has been for well over a decade.
's brilliance certainly helped along the way and his record as a general manager is certainly more up for debate than his coaching credentials.
But you won't find many of his ex-players willing to bad mouth him, despite a dour demeanor that led to him being nicknamed 'Doom' as an up-and-coming defensive coordinator with the New York Giants.
Belichick enters this season under pressure for the first time in a while as New England head coach and history suggests that it might not be wise to go against the 70-year-old.
RB Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys)
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (Kansas City Chiefs)
TE Mike Gesicki (Miami Dolphins)
LT Calvin Anderson (Denver Broncos)
LB Chris Board (Detroit Lions)
RB James Robinson (New York Jets)
TE Jonnu Smith (Atlanta Falcons)
WR Nelson Agholor (Baltimore Ravens)
RT Isaiah Wynn (Miami Dolphins)
QB Brian Hoyer (Las Vegas Raiders)
RB Damien Harris (Buffalo Bills)
WR Jakobi Meyers (Las Vegas Raiders)
|Offensive MVP||Rhamondre Stevenson|
|Defensive MVP||Matthew Judon|
|Top rookie||Christian Gonzalez (1st round)|
|Breakout star||Marcus Jones|
With Mac Jones’ future in doubt and a lack of star names in the receiving core, despite some offseason additions, the Pats are likely to be a run-first team again this season.
With Damien Harris now gone, the burden to carry the rock falls to Rhamondre Stevenson, who was a very capable workhorse last year, totalling over 1,400 all-purpose yards and scoring six touchdowns.
The Patriots’ strength lies in their defense and Matthew Judon leads that unit by example.
The all-round edge defender stands out with his red-sleeved undershirt but is even more impressive when the action picks up, recording a career-high 15.5 sacks last season, 13 tackles for a loss and making plays in coverage.
The Pats concentrated on building up that defense in the draft and arguably got a steal in the first round when cornerback Christian Gonzalez fell to them at No.17.
The Oregon product was one of the highest-rated players in the draft and his size, length and football intelligence make him an ideal fit for New England.
Gonzalez joins an extremely talented secondary with Marcus Jones having enjoyed an excellent rookie season in 2022/23.
Jones had two interceptions and a fumble recovery, while he showed flashes of being able to shut down elite wide receivers with further development.
Odds displayed within this article were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.