The Patriots just lost Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback in NFL history and the face of their franchise for the past two decades.
But have we reached a point where everyone is selling New England short ahead of the 2020 season?
It’s reasonable to think the Patriots will take a step back in wake of Brady’s departure. After all, New England had plenty of flaws last season, particularly on offense, and it’s been an underwhelming offseason in Foxboro. The Patriots no longer look like beasts of the AFC East, where the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins all seemingly have closed a talent gap that once looked as big as the Atlantic Ocean.
Still, the Patriots have been to nine Super Bowls, winning six, since the 2001 campaign. They’ve secured 17 divisional titles in that 19-season stretch. So, it was a bit alarming to see New England ranked so low in NFL roster rankings published Wednesday on ESPN.com.
The Patriots ranked 18th, one spot behind the Minnesota Vikings and one spot ahead of the Detroit Lions.
The top five consisted of the Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in that order.
The rankings were produced using the Pro Football Focus database with an eye toward the projected starters. PFF grades from the 2019 season, as well as a look at each player’s career (grades and stats), were considered by Ben Linsey, who lauded the Patriots’ pass coverage but expressed skepticism about New England’s pass-catchers.
“If we weren’t taking notice that the Patriots receiving corps struggled to create separation prior to Tom Brady’s passionate sideline plea for faster, more aggressive play, the broadcast camera capturing that moment put the problem in the national spotlight,” Linsey wrote in the piece. “The only wide receiver or tight end on the Patriots’ roster with a receiving grade of 70.0 or higher in 2019 was Julian Edelman (72.4), and even he was among the league leaders in drops (10). The Patriots will be hoping a healthy Mohamed Sanu and N’Keal Harry take big jumps in 2020.”
Of course, the biggest question mark still centers around the quarterback position, where 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham figures to compete with career journeyman Brian Hoyer for the starting role. The Patriots appear to have confidence in Stidham, who has virtually zero NFL experience, but he’s a huge unknown, especially given New England’s dearth of offensive weapons and the inherent pressure that comes with replacing the GOAT.
Will Bill Belichick be able to work his magic this season and ensure the Patriots don’t collapse in the post-Brady era? It remains to be seen, but there’s certainly no shortage of doubters, something New England even might be able to use as motivation.