Home Sports The Patriots still may be an AFC East nightmare

The Patriots still may be an AFC East nightmare

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The final installment of a three-part series examining the Jets’ AFC East foes. 

The day Patriots fans have been dreading for a while is here — life after Tom.

For most of the last two decades, you could pencil the Patriots into first place in the AFC East then just wonder if they would be good enough to get a bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage. Now, their dominance in the division may be coming to an end.

Coach Bill Belichick remains but Tom Brady is now in Tampa Bay, and the Patriots are not the favorites to win the division. Can Belichick thrive without Brady? We’re about to find out.

Here is a look at the 2020 Patriots:

What they were

The Patriots started off last season 8-0 and had a dominant defense. The second half of their schedule was tougher, though, and the team’s play uncharacteristically slipped late in the year. New England went 4-4, including a loss to the Dolphins in Week 17 that cost them a first-round bye. The Titans stunned them in the wild-card round, a loss that ended the Brady era for the Patriots.

Key losses

QB Tom Brady (signed with the Buccaneers), LB Kyle Van Noy (signed with the Dolphins), LB Jamie Collins (signed with the Lions), DT Danny Shelton (signed with the Lions), S Duron Harmon (traded to the Lions), WR Phillip Dorsett (signed with the Seahawks)

Bill Belichick
Bill BelichickAP

Key additions

Veteran: WR Damiere Byrd, DT Beau Allen, S Adrian Phillips, LB Brandon Copeland

NFL draft: S Kyle Dugger (Lenoir-Rhyne), LB Josh Uche (Michigan), LB Anfernee Jennings (Alabama), TE Devin Asiasi (UCLA), TE Dalton Keene (Virginia Tech)

The outlook

The Patriots will be one of the most fascinating teams in the NFL this season. How will they fare without Brady? Can Belichick keep their amazing run of division titles (11 straight) going or will they miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008?

It looks like the Patriots will turn to second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham to replace Brady, unless veteran Brian Hoyer wins the job. Stidham barely played last season and enters the year as a huge question mark. New England did not do much to upgrade the offense around him, but it should have a strong running game with James White and Sony Michel leading the way.

Brady is not the only player the Patriots must replace. They lost several key players on defense — including linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, who had huge roles for the team. Belichick is the master at finding players other teams discard and making them into major contributors.

This will be the biggest test of Belichick’s career. For years the debate has raged over who deserves more credit for the Patriots’ success: the coach or the quarterback. With Brady now in Florida, Belichick can prove he is the football genius many people believe he is.

Reason for hope

The greatest coach in the history of football is still on the sideline. If anyone can survive the loss of Brady, it is Belichick. The Patriots will surely have a chip on their shoulders over people writing them off because Brady is gone. Can they use that as a slight to motivate them to greater things this year?

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Reason for despair

The greatest player in the history of football is no longer in their huddle. Brady may not have been his vintage self last year, but he was still pretty good. Stidham is a complete unknown and could have major struggles as he adjusts to being an NFL starter.

Final word

The Patriots could take a while to jell. There are many new faces on this team, not just at quarterback. Belichick’s reputation is what it is for a reason. If anyone can figure this out, it is Belichick. Expect the Patriots to stumble early but improve as the season progresses.

Too-early prediction

First place in AFC East.

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