I expect the New England Patriots to win Super Bowl LIV. There, I said it. Don’t point your fingers at me next February when Tom Brady is hoisting his seventh Lombardi Trophy and talking about how everyone counted them out.
If the last 20 years has taught us anything, it’s to never believe Brady is cooked and the Patriots dynasty is over. Yet somehow, we continue to hear Patriots players and coaches win championships and talk about how the doubters fueled them.
Let’s examine my preseason superlatives for the reigning World Champions.
Comeback Kid: OT Isaiah Wynn
Tearing his Achilles in Week Two of the preseason, Wynn’s rookie season was over before it started. With Trent Brown departed via free agency, Wynn is expected to take over as Tom Brady’s blindside protector and I expect him to thrive.
My No. 11 overall prospect in last year’s class, Wynn is a polished player that is ready to start. Here’s my summary on Wynn from the scouting report on wrote:
A blend of refined technique, power and mobility, Wynn is a scheme-transcendent player with the skill set needed to win in both zone and man blocking run schemes. In year one, Wynn has the upside to start right away given his production in the SEC and polished technique. By year three, Wynn has the skill set to be considered a building block of his offense and anchor of the offensive line.
Rising Star: RB Sony Michel
A first-round pick in 2018, Michel missed three games as a rookie but was still ranked in the top-10 of the entire NFL in rushing yards per game despite it being his first taste of NFL action and working to get healthy throughout the offseason.
The lead back of a deep and complementary stable of running backs, Michel is a highly nuanced runner with terrific vision, contact balance, burst and power that make him a dynamic weapon. Get used to his name being among the league leaders in rushing.
Don’t Forget About: DL Michael Bennett
Eager to dump salary, the Eagles traded Bennett to New England for a
ham sandwich 2020 fifth-round draft selection. A Pro Bowler in three of the last four seasons, Bennett is the latest example of Bill Belichick trade robbery, netting one of the most disruptive and versatile defensive linemen in the league for essentially nothing.
Bennett is primed to boost a New England pass rush that only compiled 30 sacks in 2018.
Needs to Rebound: CB Duke Dawson
A second-round pick in 2018, Dawson didn’t make any contributions to the Patriots as a rookie. He was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury and was activated in mid-November but did not appear in any games.
Entering Year Two of his career, the opportunity for Dawson to emerge as a slot option for the Patriots’ defense in right in front of him. While Belichick loves to play the matchups with his defensive personnel, Dawson is a versatile corner that is physical, thrives in press coverage and excels defending the run. There’s a reason New England drafted him No. 56 overall and he needs to prove the Patriots right starting in 2019.
Dark Horse MVP: CB Stephon Gilmore
Gilmore is a top-5 cornerback in the NFL and he should have been the Super Bowl MVP against the Rams. Belichick often resists committing major money to free agent pickups but Gilmore broke that trend and he’s proven to be worth every penny of that 5-year, $65 million deal.
Gilmore’s presence and skill set in the lineup enables Belichick to fully unleash his creative defensive schemes because of his reliability in man coverage.
Under the Radar: This Offensive Line
Dante Scarnecchia is a masterful offensive line coach and he gets the most out of his unit every season. While 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn is expected to step in as the starting left tackle, the other four high quality starters on the unit weren’t quite as highly sought after prospects.
Left guard Joe Thuney was a third-round pick in 2016 and is the first player in NFL history to start in a Super Bowl in each of his first three seasons. Center David Andrews was undrafted and has been the man snapping the ball to Brady in each of the last four seasons. Right guard Shaq Mason is one of the best of the league after being a fourth-round pick in 2015. And finally, Marcus Cannon anchors the right tackle position and is one of the most underrated blockers in the league. He was a fifth-round pick.
The sum of these parts equals a consistently reliable unit under the direction of an elite coach that blocks for the greatest quarterback the NFL has ever seen.