The NFL’s 100th season officially has begun. Here’s everything you need to know about the 2019 New England Patriots ahead of Sunday night’s Week 1 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium:
BIGGEST QUESTION ON OFFENSE
How do the Patriots replace Rob Gronkowski? Or, better put: What will the Patriots’ offense look like in a post-Gronk world? Even in diminished form last season, Gronkowski still commanded constant attention from opposing defenses and continued to be a battering ram as a run blocker.
There is no replacing arguably the greatest tight end of all time, and with Ryan Izzo (zero career catches) and Matt LaCosse (27 catches) as their only current options at the position, the Patriots’ passing game likely will rely more on a Julian Edelman-led receiving corp and a multi-talented running back group this season.
BIGGEST QUESTION ON DEFENSE
With a stable of versatile linebackers complementing a deep, talented and experienced secondary and a proven veteran pass rusher (Michael Bennett) replacing this unit’s lone significant offseason departure (Trey Flowers), New England’s defense has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL. Can it live up to the hype?
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
LT: Isaiah Wynn
LG: Joe Thuney
C: Ted Karras
RG: Shaq Mason
RT: Marcus Cannon
TE: Ryan Izzo
WR: Julian Edelman
WR: Josh Gordon
WR: Demaryius Thomas
RB: Sony Michel
QB: Tom Brady
James White will be the team’s top backfield option on passing downs. … Fullback James Develin will be heavily involved. … Phillip Dorsett and/or Jakobi Meyers could share No. 3 receiver duties with Thomas, who’s recovering from a season-ending torn Achilles. … With center David Andrews is out for the season with blood clots in his lungs, newly acquired veteran Russell Bodine could push Karras for the starting spot in the coming weeks. … Tight ends Ben Watson (four games) and Lance Kendricks (one game) currently are suspended.
Defense (3-4 base)
DT: Lawrence Guy
NT: Danny Shelton
DT: Byron Cowart
OLB: Kyle Van Noy
ILB: Dont’a Hightower
ILB: Ja’Whaun Bentley/Elandon Roberts
OLB: Jamie Collins
CB: Stephon Gilmore
CB: Jason McCourty
SS: Patrick Chung
FS: Devin McCourty
The Patriots’ primary alignment likely will be their 2-4 nickel package with either slot corner Jonathan Jones or safety Duron Harmon coming onto the field and a more versatile linebacker like John Simon replacing Bentley/Roberts. … During the preseason, New England utilized a one-down lineman look — similar to the amoeba defense they frequently used during the second half of last season — on third downs and in obvious passing situations. … The Patriots might keep Bennett off the field on early downs, but he should be a staple in lighter packages, with rookie Chase Winovich likely playing a role in those, as well. … Cornerback J.C. Jackson should see significant playing time even if he doesn’t leapfrog Jason McCourty on the depth chart. He followed up a breakup rookie season with a great camp.
K: Stephen Gostkowski
P: Jake Bailey
LS: Joe Cardona
KR: Gunner Olszewski/Brandon Bolden/Jonathan Jones/Sony Michel
PR: Julian Edelman/Gunner Olszewski
Bailey beat out incumbent Ryan Allen with a superb summer. … The kick/punt returner situation remains a bit of a mystery. Olszewski excelled in those roles during the preseason and could provide some relief for the 33-year-old Edelman, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll be active for Week 1.
The following Patriots players were placed on injured reserve before cutdown day and thus will not be eligible to play this season:
C David Andrews
OL Hjalte Froholdt
ST Brandon King
S Malik Gant
DE Derek Rivers
CB D’Angelo Ross
DE Keionta Davis
Wide receiver N’Keal Harry was placed on IR after the team’s initial 53-man roster was finalized. He’ll be eligible to practice after Week 6 and play after Week 8.
Receiver Cameron Meredith is on the reserve/physically unable to perform list and will be eligible to play after six weeks. Ditto for offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste, who is on the reserve/non-football injury list.
Week 1: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday night)
Week 2: at Miami Dolphins
Week 3: vs. New York Jets
Week 4: at Buffalo Bills
Week 5: at Washington Redskins
Week 6: vs. New York Giants (Thursday night)
Week 7: at New York Jets (Monday night)
Week 8: vs. Cleveland Browns
Week 9: at Baltimore Ravens (Sunday night)
Week 10: Bye
Week 11: at Philadelphia Eagles
Week 12: vs. Dallas Cowboys
Week 13: at Houston Texans (Sunday night)
Week 14: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Week 15: at Cincinnati Bengals
Week 16: vs. Buffalo Bills
Week 17: vs. Miami Dolphins
Despite winning the AFC East last season, the Patriots’ 2019 schedule is tied for the second-easiest in the NFL based on 2018 opponent records. Weeks 8 through 14 will be tough with matchups against the upstart Browns and five 2018 playoff teams, but New England’s first seven games are against teams that missed the postseason a year ago. The Dolphins, Redskins, Giants and Bengals all are expected to be among the league’s worst teams this season.
Home vs. Kansas City in Week 14. A total of nine points separated the Patriots and Chiefs in their two meetings, with New England winning one on a last-second field goal and the other in overtime. This one very well could decide home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
It’s early, but this rookie class looks like the Patriots’ best in years. After just three of nine 2018 draft picks played a snap last season, this year’s Week 1 roster features six of New England 10 selections, plus two undrafted rookies in Meyers and Olszewski.
Losing top pick Harry for the first half of the season hurts, but cornerback Joejuan Williams (second round), Winovich (third), running back Damien Harris (third), quarterback Jarrett Stidham (fourth), Cowart (fifth) and Bailey (fifth) all flashed during the preseason and — with the exception of Stidham, who will serve as Brady’s backup — should contribute in some way as rookies.
BY THE NUMBERS
1,267 and 12: The number of rushing yards and touchdowns Michel recorded in 16 games last season, including 336 and six during a wildly productive playoff run. If he stays healthy — a big “if” considering his history of knee problems — the 2018 first-rounder has the talent to establish himself as one of the NFL’s top ball-carriers.
Eight: The number of passes Michel caught last season. He looked much more comfortable in that area this summer, though. Assuming that improvement translates on Sundays, it should help New England’s offense become less predictable when their lead back on the field.
90.9: Gilmore’s Pro Football Focus grade last season, tops among all NFL cornerbacks. The first-team All-Pro also ranked second behind Chicago’s Kyle Fuller in passes defended with 20, allowed fewer than 20 receiving yards in eight of his 19 games and surrendered fewer than 55 yards in all but one. You won’t find a more talented corner anywhere in the league.
2012: The last (and only) time Gordon played a full 16-game season. The 28-year-old’s reinstatement last month provided a significant and unexpected boost to New England’s receiving corps, but the Patriots must be prepared offensively for the possibility of losing him to another suspension.
2004: The last time a team repeated as Super Bowl champions (2003-04 Patriots).