NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (12-5)
New Faces: QB Cam Newton, K Justin Rohrwasser, S Kyle Dugger, LB John Uche, LB Anfernee Jennings, LB Cassh Maluia.
Key losses: QB Tom Brady, LB Kyle Van Noy, LB Jamie Collins, LB Elandon Roberts, S Duron Harmon, DT Danny Shelton, K Stephen Gostkowski, FB James Develin, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
Strengths: Brady is gone, but New England still has NFL's most successful coach in Bill Belichick. He's made career of finding talent in unlikely places and getting best out of those players. Despite taking free agency hit on defense, cornerback and reigning Defensive Player of Year Stephon Gilmore anchors strong secondary that also returns starting S Devin McCourty and CB Jason McCourty. Offensive line is also mostly intact. Center David Andrews is back after spending 2019 on injured reserve. He is joined by fellow multiyear starters LG Joe Thuney and RG Shaq Mason. If LT Isaiah Wynn stays healthy following two injury-plagued seasons, unit could be among best in AFC.
Weaknesses: Race to be Brady's successor was Newton's job to lose since he arrived in July. He won it in training camp, but he hasn't had long to digest playbook. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels promises some new wrinkles with Newton at helm. Belichick's also open to playing multiple QBs this season. Yet even with confidence coaching staff has in second-year Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer, not having definitive leader of offense for much of training camp could affect chemistry early on. Defense will also be down three of its top five tacklers from last season.
Pandemic Developments: Patriots had league-high eight players opt out because of COVID-19 concerns. Defensive side of ball was affected most with starting LB Dont’a Hightower and S Patrick Chung both choosing to sit out. They were joined by starting right tackle Marcus Cannon, RB Brandon Bolden, TE Matt LaCosse, WR Marqise Lee, FB Danny Vitale and OL Najee Toran.
Fantasy Player to Watch: RB James White. He was ultimate safety valve for Brady and racked up big numbers as both receiving and rushing option. Over past two seasons he accounted for 2,084 all-purpose yards and 18 TDs.
Vegas Says: Win Super Bowl: 18-1. Over/under wins: 9 1-2.
Expectations: Losses aside, Patriots should be OK on defense, but their hopes on offense hinge on health of Newton coming off foot injury that limited 2015 MVP to two games in 2019. New England will also need to see improvement out of young group of receivers. Julian Edelman did admirable job giving Brady dependable target last season, but at age 34 he'll need some help carrying load. Still, it's hard seeing Belichick-coached team not being threat to at least be in hunt for 12th straight AFC East title.
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