Team Capsules: New England Patriots

August 1, 2023

A look at every NFL franchise heading into the 2023 season

© Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a crazy notion: The Patriots might be the worst team in their division. The team that won 17 out of 19 AFC East titles, and finished second in the two years they didn’t hoist a banner, is arguably the cellar dweller this season.

The Bills are a legit Super Bowl contender. The Dolphins will be competitive if they can keep Tua Tagovailoa healthy. And the Jets acquired a guy named Aaron Rodgers, making them one of the most-intriguing teams in the entire NFL heading into the season.

Meanwhile, the Pats are coming off an 8-9 season, having missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. They’re just 25-25 since Tom Brady departed, with one postseason appearance that resulted in an embarrassing 47-17 loss to Buffalo.

It doesn’t look good in New England. The once-proud franchise is at a crossroads.

What to like about the Patriots…

  • Bill Belichick is still the head coach. Despite the mediocre stretch the last three seasons, he’s still 262-108 during his time in New England, an astounding .708 winning percentage over 23 years. He knows how to win. He knows how to get it done with a roster that doesn’t necessarily look great on paper. And he knows that people are starting to question his legacy, which provides a great motivator.
  • They know how to play defense. That’s Belichick’s area of expertise, so it should come as no surprise that New England was really good on that side of the ball a season ago. They finished eighth in the NFL in total defense, while allowing the 11th-fewest points in the league. Matthew Judon leads the way; the linebacker has 28.0 sacks during the last two seasons, with 15.5 coming last season.
  • Typically, the Pats try to get by with a bunch of overachievers at skill positions. They go for coachable and versatile over raw ability. This offseason, however, they added two players that are all of those things. Juju Smith-Schuster had a career-saving season with the Chiefs last year, hauling in 78 passes for 933 yards, and Mike Gesicki long been a productive tight end with the Dolphins, setting career highs of 73 catches and 780 yards in 2021.

What not to like about the Patriots…

  • Their quarterback situation is a mess. After leading New England to the playoffs as a rookie, Mac Jones fell out of favor, with both the coaching staff and the fans in 2022. He threw just 14 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, which is part of the reason he was replaced by Bailey Zappe for a stretch. The rookie wasn’t much better, however, throwing five touchdowns and three interceptions in four games.
  • Given the lack of QB talent, it shouldn’t be a surprise that New England’s offense isn’t very good. They finished 27th in the league a year ago and averaged only 21.4 points per game. Worst of all, they didn’t play complementary football. The Pats strength is their defense, a group that forced 30 turnovers, the second-most in the NFL in 2022. But the offense committed 23 turnovers of their own, something that haunted them in their attempt to win low-scoring games.
  • It feels like it’s over for Belichick. At 71 years old, the coach who outsmarted everyone else in the league for multiple decades just doesn’t seem ahead of the curve anymore. Instead, he’s padding his staff with his relatives. Two of his sons, Steve and Brian, are on the defensive staff, which appears like nepotism run amok. Jerod Mayo has been promoted to co-defensive coordinator to help Steve but would be running the show if he wasn’t competing with someone named Belichick.

Steve Quinne’s Pick: Patriots under 7.5 wins (-145)

If the Patriots were coached by anyone other than Bill Belichick, their over/under would be at least one game lower. Maybe two. That’s how bad they are at quarterback, the most-important position in all of sports. Having Tom Brady around for all those years helped conceal a lack of talent at other spots. Now, the team’s inability to draft and develop playmakers is becoming all too obvious. Unless they can find a way to win a bunch of 20-17 games, it’s going to be touch for the Patriots to reach eight or more wins.