Welcome to the 2020 installment of the “How Your Favorite Team Won The Super Bowl” Series.
In this adventure, we’ll take a good, hard look at select NFL teams, show you their Super Bowl odds heading into the season, give you a little overview on what they’ve got to work with and what might be going on in their facility, then proclaim three key factors that must go in their favor in order for them to be crowned atop football’s Aggro Crag when all the confetti has settled.
For some, the list of variables that need to go right might not only be plausible, but expected. For others, their three factors might require a bit more creativity.
Today we look at the New England Patriots.
State of the Franchise
For years—and when I say “years,” I mean two decades—the AFC ran through Foxborough. Since the 2001 season, the Pats only lost their division title twice, and the last time was in 2008, which, by the way, was a year in which they still won 11 games. Since the turn of the century, quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick solidified themselves as the greatest player-coach duo of dominance in sports history, capturing six Super Bowls in the process.
But today, things look very different. Brady is no longer in Boston, and former MVP Cam Newton now arrives from Carolina to take his place. The passing weapons are developmental, at best, the offensive line will be without long-time genius Dante Scarnecchia, and for as good as the defense was in 2019, there’s no guarantee it will continue at that level as it featured the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore.
In layman’s terms: this ain’t your dad’s Patriots. Though the Pats’ success isn’t as guaranteed as we’re used to, that doesn’t mean they’ll be pushovers, either. History has taught us that any Belichick-coached team will have a chance at the postseason, and when you get there anything can happen.
Preseason Super Bowl Odds
17/1 (T-6th best)
WHAT MUST HAPPEN FOR PATRIOTS TO WIN THE SUPER BOWL
1. The Iron Patriot: Cam Newton
Remember when Bill Belichick fooled local and national media members into watching and researching Jarrett Stidham film as if they really thought he’d be their starting quarterback in Week 1?
Yeah, that was a good one.
No. ! in your programs and No. 1 in things that must go right for the Patriots to be anywhere near competitive is quarterback Cam Newton. The Pats recently signed Newton to a very team-friendly one-year contract, and according to reports, no other team actually offered Newton a deal. But that doesn’t make him any less important for New England’s immediate success.
The Pats roster isn’t great. The fact of the matter is the combination of Belichick and Brady made up for a lot of deficiencies. The defense, where it has some holes, too, is experienced and can be good enough to be competitive against most teams. But if you think Stidham was about to step in for Brady and put this team in a position to win enough games to get into the playoffs, I have some pristine oceanfront property in Kansas that you just have to see.
I believe that Newton, however, still has plenty left in the tank to be a starter in this league to the caliber of being a potential playoff quarterback. I recently wrote about how I believe Newton’s arm is still good enough to make defenses play their best each week, and getting that arm and whatever is still left with his rushing ability with a guy like Belichick is going to be fun.
If the Pats are going to not only be a playoff team but once again compete for a Super Bowl (the Belichick standard), it all starts with Newton.
2. At Least 15 Sacks From Four Young Pats
The Pats secondary is basically the same from last season, which is a good thing. But when it comes to their front, they’ll be without Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Danny Shelton. As for who remains, it’s a slew of young guns in Chase Winovich, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Josh Uche, and Anfernee Jennings.
This is where I would say the Patriots should go out and sign someone to rush the passer, such as Jadeveon Clowney or a cheaper option like Markus Golden. But the problem with that is that, as it stands right now, the Patriots have the lowest amount of functional cap space in the NFL at $2.4 million.
New England allowed the fewest amount of yards per game in 2019 with 275.9. A reason for that was them giving up the second-fewest passing yards at 2,896, and them finishing tied for seventh in the league with 47 sacks. Their top two sack players were Van Noy and Collins with 7 and 6.5. The young guys will have to make up for that loss. Winovich had 5.5 sacks last season, and for the amount he played, that is a good start to his career. But, if you ask me, it will take at least 15 sacks combined from those four young players for the front seven to complement the secondary enough to make a run.
3. Running the Ball? In 2020?
Running the ball is a hot-button topic these days. If you enter internet chat rooms you’ll see people asking questions like: When does running the ball become a depreciating choice? Should you pay running backs? Why hasn’t Goodell made the running back position illegal?
Last season, the Pats ranked 18th in the NFL in rushing at 106.4 yards per game. Sony Michel was the leading rusher with 912; Rex Burkhead was second with 302. But the real RB2 on the team was James White, who rushed for 263 rushing yards with 645 receiving yards.
With Brady on the squad, deficiencies in the run game could be masked with efficiency in the passing game (and great special teams play). This year, they likely won’t be afforded that same luxury. In order to help Newton open up the passing game, the Patriots’ backfield will have to step their game up a notch. I’m not talking about emphasizing running the ball more, I’m talking about better averages across the board, especially from Michel.
Michel’s 3.7 yards-per-carry average in 2019 was much worse than his 4.5 yards-per-carry number from his rookie season. White also took a step back in his yards per reception, dropping below 5.0 yards per catch. It has to be better from those two.
If the Patriots want to make another run at this thing, Newton is going to need all the help he can get. The correct way to give him that isn’t to take the ball out his hands more, but rather, when they do, get more out of it.