If you’re the type of football fan who watches games and avoids all of the minutiae from February to August, welcome back. You missed quite an offseason.
The New England Patriots take on the Miami Dolphins at home Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. Here’s what you need to know before kickoff:
So, who’s playing quarterback?
Hopefully, you know that Tom Brady left in free agency to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If not, I’m sorry you had to hear it this way from me of all people.
There was a short-lived quarterback battle in training camp between Cam Newton, Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham that Newton unsurprisingly won.
We don’t know who will be the second-string quarterback just yet. We’ll find out Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET when the Patriots declare their inactives.
What happened to all of those guys I remember from last year’s team?
Great question. Some of them, like linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, right tackle Marcus Cannon, tight end Matt LaCosse and running back Brandon Bolden, opted out for the 2020 NFL season over concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts and center Ted Karras left in free agency and actually will be playing against the Patriots on the Dolphins in Week 1.
Other free-agent subtractions: Linebacker Jamie Collins and defensive tackle Danny Shelton went to the Detroit Lions, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett left for the Seattle Seahawks and safety Nate Ebner sign with the New York Giants.
Fullback James Develin and tight end Ben Watson retired. Safety Duron Harmon was traded to the Lions. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was released and signed by the Tennessee Titans. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was released late in camp and hasn’t caught on with a new team.
Oh, and tight end Rob Gronkowski is back in football and was traded to the Buccaneers.
And who’s replacing them on the depth chart?
Some combination of linebackers Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings (both rookies), Ja’Whaun Bentley (a defensive captain), Shilique Calhoun, Brandon Copeland and Shilique Calhoun will be filling in for Hightower, Van Noy and Roberts. Expect Uche, Bentley, Calhoun and John Simon to start at linebacker.
Rookie Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Terrence Brooks and Joejuan Bentley battled in camp to fill Chung and Harmon’s spots. Slot cornerback Jonathan Jones also could fill some of the roles that Chung and Harmon manned.
Jermaine Eluemunor will replace Cannon at right tackle.
Ryan Izzo and rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene will likely share tight end reps. Expect Asiasi to emerge by the end of the season.
Jakob Johnson will be the Patriots’ fullback this season.
Nick Folk is back to replace Gostkowski.
Cody Davis is the new special teams safety with Ebner gone.
Anyone else we should know about?
Deatrich Wise got a little bigger over the offseason. The Patriots will likely rotate Adam Butler, Byron Cowart, Lawrence Guy and Xavier Williams, a newcomer, on the defensive line since top free-agent addition Beau Allen is on injured reserve for at least the first three weeks of the season.
Wide receiver Damiere Byrd should be the Patriots’ No. 3 receiver behind Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry. Jakobi Meyers will also get opportunities.
Who’s returning punts and kicks these days?
Unsure. Wide receiver Gunner Olszewski was the top option, but he was placed on injured reserve Saturday after aggravating a foot injury. He can come back in three weeks.
Dugger, Byrd, running backs Rex Burkhead and rookie J.J. Taylor are in the mix.
I feel like I heard something about Damien Harris this summer. Did he replace Sony Michel at running back?
It looked like the 2019 third-round pick was going to be the starter until Michel returned off of the physically unable to perform list and then Harris was placed on injured reserve with a hand injury.
So, expect Michel to be back as the Patriots’ early-down back for at least the first three weeks of the season. Burkhead and running back James White will rotate with Michel. Taylor could get some looks, as well.
Will there be fans in the stands?
In some NFL stadiums, yes, but not in Gillette Stadium through September. If fans are allowed this season, Gillette Stadium will be at about 20 percent capacity.
Are the Patriots going to be … good?
Probably. Bill Belichick is still the head coach and Josh McDaniels is still the offensive coordinator. The Patriots’ secondary should be elite, and their offensive line is still top notch.
No one knows, though. And that’s what makes this season so fun.
Aren’t you forgetting something?
Oh, duh. The Patriots have new uniforms … kind of.
The Patriots will wear slightly tweaked versions of their color rush jerseys as their primary home uniforms. The Patriots also unveiled new road jerseys that basically are white versions of their navy blue color rush uniforms. The Patriots will wear blue pants all season. Their helmet didn’t change. And they didn’t return to the Pat Patriot design.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images