The start of the 2022 NFL is upon us.
As we are roughly one week from kickoff when the defending Super Bowl Champion Rams take on 2-time reigning AFC East Champions Buffalo Bills in opening night of the NFL season. The Patriots will get their campaign started on Sunday, September 11th when they visit the Miami Dolphins.
The Patriots are coming off a 10-7 season with a playoff appearance. The 2021 season did not end well for the Pats as they finished the season 1-4 after they entered their bye week at 9-3 and atop of the AFC. It was then followed by an absolute abysmal performance in the Wild Card game against Buffalo. As a result, it was another quick exit for the Pats who have not won a playoff game since defeating the Rams in Super Bowl LIII to cap off the 2018 season.
This a much different looking Patriots team from a season ago. After last off-season's spending spree, the Patriots did not do much this off-season as it was a typical lackluster off-season with very little move being made and more questionable draft picks. The off-season started by JC Jackson trading his heavy winter coat for year-round warm weather as he signed on with the LA Chargers, who look to battle for a playoff spot in a very talented and suddenly strong AFC West division. The Pats lost a key coaching staff member as Josh McDaniels is finally a head coach again. He agreed to become the Raiders new man, and he got a shiny new toy in Devante Adams through a trade with Green Bay. Running back James White was lost during training camp as the once Super Bowl hero decided to retire from the NFL. So, what did mastermind GM Bill Belichick do? You guessed it! Not a thing.
In typical Belichick fashion, the Pats had needs during the draft. Scoring a younger and faster player for the secondary, more edge rushers and linebackers to name a few things. There was a golden opportunity for Belichick to take a great linebacker or defensive back with the 21st overall pick. Naturally, Belichick traded the pick for a lower first round selection. With still some decent skill position players on the board at 29, everyone figured Belichick would dive headfirst. With the 29th overall pick in the NFL Draft, the New England Patriots selected OL Cole Strange from UT Chattanooga. Just a bit of a background here; UT Chattanooga is a D1 FCS program, once known as DI-AA making it just a bit larger than a DII program but not in the realm of the big southern region schools that are a part of the SEC. Odd move to make considering that Strange would've been there in much later rounds. But again; Belichick likes to take risks on guys; sometimes they work out, but they mostly blow up in his face.
The Patriots are entering the 2022 season with many holes, not only on the field but in the coaching room as well. There is still no set defensive coordinator so it will be yet another season of both Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick calling defensive plays. On the offensive side, you might want to pray. Both Matt Patricia and Joe Judge will call offensive plays; and Belichick will have his prints on the offensive play calling as well. Talk about wanting to scream to the heavens. Joe Judge ruined Daniel Jones in his two years as head man in New York, while Matt Patricia was nowhere close to being successful in Detroit. Patricia didn't even survive two years in Detroit. He got canned during his second season. Now, we are going to have to worry about the state of Mac Jones. Jones had a phenomenal year in his rookie season, as he was not afraid of the big lights. Not to say that Jones didn't have his fair share of rookie mistakes throughout the season, but still put up solid numbers. Jones completed 67.7% of his passes which lead to 22 touchdowns and 13 picks and throwing for 3,801 yards. Jones even earned a Pro Bowl nod. Granted it was because players opted out of the useless game; but still a great accomplishment to cap off his rookie campaign.
Now with McDaniels gone he is down Larry, Curly and Moe; aka Judge, Patricia and Belchick (HC). It will be interesting to see how this season goes for Mac Jones with very limited opportunities to see him in the pre-season, but that was coaching decision. However, all you have to do is look at practice and maybe even his tone in press conferences. Jones already seems flabbergasted by the fact that he is going to be getting play calls from three different coaches who obviously will have different schemes week to week. If you want to think that Jones is being set up to fail, then you might be right. The offense has had trouble trying to find any type of consistency, whether they are practicing against each other or during the joint practices with the Panthers and Raiders. It could spell trouble for Mac Jones and company on the offensive side of things.
Defensively, there are some concerns when it comes to the pass rush and coverage over the middle of the field in terms of the linebacker positions. However, Belichick always finds a way to have the defense ready to go in any situation. More pressure will be put on an aging vet, Devin McCourty, to cover the deep ball which means guys like Jalen Mills, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips will have to step up a little bit more to fill the void that Jackson left. Even though the holes can be concerning, the defense still has guys like Matt Judon, Deatrich Wise; and Lawrence Guy up front and in the pass rush. This may put your mind at ease a little bit that the Pats defense will be okay.
Offensively, you do have a newcomer in Devonte Parker, from a trade with Miami, who will be a key addition in the passing game. Jones has been able to build chemistry with Jakobi Meyers, Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, so the offense should be able to flow. The receivers will have to get separation, which has been a challenge for them this training camp. It's also a year for guys like Jonnu Smith to prove why he was worth the money. Smith had a disappointing 2021 campaign as he got outshined by Henry who quickly became a favorite target of Jones over the middle of the field. Smith can be that redzone threat like Aaron Hernandez was for the Patriots 11 years ago, but Smith needs to find a way to get open. If the Pats skill players can make plays, the offensive should be fine. The running game is strong with Damien Harris as the number 1 back, with Rhamondre Stevenson in the back field and in the passing game. Losing James White was big for this offensive but there is more than enough talent on this team to make up for the loss of his production.
The start of the season is a bit of a rough one for the Pats as three of their first four games are on the road. Week 1 at Miami, Week at 2 Pittsburgh, and Week 4 at Green Bay. The only home game is Week 3 against Baltimore. The Patriots have to play the AFC & NFC North Divisions this season as part of the yearly rotation. The Pats will also play the Cardinals as the 17th game. The Patriots played the Cardinals in 2020 when Arizona came to Gillette, this year the Patriots will go to Arizona. Last year, all AFC teams had the 9th home game, this year the NFC gets the additional regular season home game.
It will be interesting to see how the Patriots do this season; they have to play two extremely tough divisions in the NFL. The Lions are always completive, as are the Bears, despite all their issues. The Vikings are a good football team, and the Packers have won their division three consecutive years along with notching 13 wins in each of Matt LaFleur's three seasons as head coach. The AFC North is no slouch. The Ravens will be much more challenging with Lamar Jackson and half the offense returning to full strength. The Steelers will still have a tough defense to play against and Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season since becoming the head man in 2007. His worst finish is 8-8 and he has done that only three times in his 15 seasons in Pittsburgh. The Bengals, who surprised everyone with a Super Bowl appearance last season will look to duplicate its best season since the 1980's. The Browns will be a tough team to beat as well, or so we think, and New England dodges a bullet as Deshaun Watson will miss the first 11 games of the season due to his suspension for personal conduct violations.
A lot will be said about this Patriots team. All eyes will be on Bill Belichick as he continues to chase down Don Shula for the most wins all time by a head coach. However, Belichick is going to have to orchestrate his best season with a still largely undersized roster. If he has any chance of chasing down Shula, within the next three to four seasons, if he coaches that long, Belichick will have duplicate what he did with the Patriots in 2001. With a young Tom Brady, he crafted an NFL leading defense that began his legacy as the greatest head coach of all time. Belichick will have to prove once more that he is the mastermind, and that he is playing chess while the rest of the league is playing checkers.
Only time will tell.........