The 2021 Patriots season finally is here — can you believe it?
Following an offseason spending spree, an actual preseason and the anointing of a new quarterback, New England is set to take the field at Gillette Stadium on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. Regardless of how things go this season for Bill Belichick’s team, it should be a fascinating campaign to watch unfold.
That’s said, there’s a lot to think about as football returns to Foxboro. We compiled a list of 15 random, leftover thoughts to go over before the Patriots kick off against the Dolphins. Some of them are specific to the Patriots, while some might only be tangentially related.
Here they are, in no particular order:
1. The return of fans is a variable that hasn’t been talked about enough. Or, perhaps it has, and we just haven’t heard the chatter. Either way, people seemingly have forgotten that professional athletes are human beings, rather than robots. Some of these athletes absolutely were impacted by empty stadiums, for better or for worse.
Hardly anyone got booed (Cam Newton). Opposing offenses didn’t have to deal with hostile crowds making communication nearly impossible. Sure, there were pressure-packed moments last season, but things are different when there’s a sellout crowd either against you or behind you.
2. Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal made a compelling case for Bill Belichick getting his proverbial house in order ahead of his eventual departure. Belichick’s exit/retirement does not seem imminent, but there are signs of the future Hall of Famer preparing for the end.
That isn’t necessarily a surprise (Belichick is 69 years old, after all), but it has us monitoring “The Hoodie” and his behavior a bit more closely entering the new season.
3. Patriots fans should be excited about Newton’s exit and Mac Jones’s arrival. Jones showed a ton of promise during training camp and the preseason, and he might have a very bright future in the NFL. But, man, he might be a more boring interview than Tom Brady. If nothing else, Newton brought a level of entertainment to One Patriot Place that will be missed.
Like, how familiar is this?
4. Unless the NFL mandates COVID-19 vaccines (relax, we’re not saying they should or shouldn’t), the pandemic will impact this season in variety of ways. It might not be the bleep-storm it was last year, but player absences absolutely could happen, and there are scenarios in which games could be forfeited.
Hopefully things don’t get too whacky and there’s a (mostly) normal football season.
5. The release date for Seth Wickersham’s book about the Patriots dynasty is a real kick in the you-know-what. The highly respected NFL investigative reporter will drop “It’s Better to Be Feared: The New England Patriots Dynasty and the Pursuit of Greatness” on Oct. 12 — nine days after Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the Patriots.
That book totally has stuff in it that both sides — Brady and Belichick — didn’t want talked about before the Oct. 3 game in New England. Oh well. We’ll dive into it nevertheless.
6. Julian Edelman has a shot at becoming a genuinely compelling NFL analyst. (He just made his “Inside the NFL” debut.)
The corniness will be off the charts, as it always is with Edelman, but it’s easy to envision the former Patriot enjoying a long, successful career as a TV personality.
7. Good on Robert Kraft and the Patriots for dedicating a memorial garden outside of Gillette Stadium to honor those who died in the World Trade Center attacks. The garden was created to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.
Time (partially) heals all wounds, but efforts nevertheless should be made toward ensuring people never forget the lives lost that day.
8. The new “Madden” game stinks. There barely is anything new, and the gameplay/graphics are not impressive, relative to other sports video game franchises. Disappointment.
9. There will be two fantasy-relevant Patriots running backs, we just don’t know who the second is. Damien Harris is an obvious player to target, and could be a fine RB2, if not better.
One of J.J. Taylor, James White and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson also will prove worthy of a roster spot. Stevenson has the most upside, but will the Patriots, who love red-shirting rookie running backs, really give him a consistent role? Will J.J. Taylor get enough play in the passing game to warrant FLEX consideration. Is White washed?
Those questions eventually will be answered. Regardless, the talent in the backfield is too high, and the Patriots offensive line is too good, for there not to be two decent fantasy backs in that group.
10. Belichick and the Patriots deserve all the criticism they get for their drafting during the 2010s. It wasn’t good, and it was a major reason for both the team looking old and slow in Brady’s final year, and Belichick’s unprecedented spending spree during this offseason.
However, the last few drafts have been a huge step in the right direction. Here are some of the players from the last three classes that already have shown significant promise:
— Christian Barmore
— Mac Jones
— Rhamondre Stevenson
— Ronnie Perkins
— Kyle Dugger
— Damien Harris
— Mike Onwenu
— Josh Uche
— Chase Winovich
And those are just a few (jury remains out on N’Keal Harry). Plus, we didn’t even list undrafted players, such as Jakobi Meyers, J.J. Taylor and Gunner Olszewski.
None of this is to say that Belichick has “figured it out” or that New England has a bunch of future Hall of Famers on the roster. It simply is a very positive — and needed — development.
11. It’s had to envision the Patriots actually sticking with rookie kicker Quinn Nordin for the season opener, as has been reported. He showed real promise during training camp and the preseason, but his meltdown against the Philadelphia Eagles was brutal. New England’s margin for error this season is too slim to withstand a kicker shanking multiple extra points per game.
Still, here’s hoping he has a future with the Patriots, as Nordin already is among the best interviews on the team.
12. If you get a chance, check out Citizen Crust in the Patriot Place shopping strip behind the stadium. We’re not going to go full-Yelp on you, but we will say the food is really good, an the menu offers much more than just pizza.
13. Harry needs to contribute immediately upon his return.
The third-year wideout had a bizarre offseason. He requested a trade, starred early in training camp, kind of faded once real practices started and eventually landed on short-term injured reserve with a shoulder issue.
Harry is eligible to return Week 4. He needs to hit the ground running with Jones and form a strong connection, or else he once again will get buried on the depth chart and endure another forgettable season.
Harry has the ability to carve out a consistent role on this team, but the 2019 first-round pick needs to stay on the field and prove it.
14. More fantasy advice: Check out our new fantasy football podcast.
15. Matt Judon might become one of the more popular Patriots players in recent memory.
First of all, his style of play is entertaining. Fans should love his energy and impact on the defense. But Judon also is among the more candid and refreshing interviews on the team.
The former Baltimore Raven already has emerged as leader in the locker room, and apparently feels free to be himself. He and the Patriots seem like a great match.
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