The consensus expectation for the Patriots in 2022 is quite clear: mediocrity.
New England might be in the midst of a dreaded bridge year, and a lack of top-end talent paired with coaching question marks has those within the sport questioning whether head coach Bill Belichick’s team will reclaim its standing among the NFL’s best.
The Athletic on Thursday released a ranking of AFC teams based on feedback from five “NFL front-office veterans.” The execs were asked to rank each team in the AFC from No. 1 to No. 16.
The Patriots earned a consensus rank of 11th in the AFC, just behind the Miami Dolphins and just ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two execs were quite high on New England (ranking fifth and sixth). The other three had the Patriots no higher than 11th.
One exec, who revealed he was a Mac Jones believer admitted “I am probably too high on them” after ranking them fifth in the AFC.
“I basically look at them as a team that could sneak into the playoffs, anywhere from 7-10 wins. People are getting all caught up in the offense looking bad this summer. Bill Belichick is a really good coach. I’m less concerned about that.”
These rankings do seem to mirror the betting odds entering the 2022 season. The Patriots’ 22-1 odds at DraftKings Sportsbook to win the AFC aren’t wildly long, but there are nine teams in a loaded conference with a shorter number. The Patriots, Raiders and Browns are all tied at 22-1, which also feels about right as those three teams all should live in the same neighborhood — pretty well removed from the major contenders like Buffalo or Kansas City but also a step above the bottom-feeders starting with a team like Pittsburgh at 50-1.
The fact that there still are seemingly smart football people who can’t help but put the Patriots in the playoff field, though, does speak to the uncertainty of the situation entering the season. The talent just doesn’t look like it’s there, even if you’re a major Jones believer. The Belichick bulls, though, will point to the legendary head coach’s prowess and success from years past, though a lot of that success came with Tom Brady under center, talent on both sides of the ball and coaching staffs filled with elite coordinators.
Without those, it all falls on Belichick and Jones in 2022. Whether that’s enough is one of the NFL’s more fascinating storylines entering the season.