After missing the playoffs for the first time in a dozen seasons last year, the 2021 New England Patriots have their sights set on a return to the postseason. Although legendary head coach Bill Belichick owns six Super Bowl rings in his New England tenure, all of those came with Tom Brady at quarterback. Can Belichick work the same magic without a superstar under center?
Veteran QB Cam Newton started 15 games for the Patriots in 2020, but he threw more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (eight) and lost more games than he won. That opened the door for rookie Mac Jones to grab the job in 2021. The 15th overall pick, last seen leading the University of Alabama to a college football national championship a few months ago, did enough in preseason to earn the QB1 job over Newton, who was released on August 31.
New England upgraded the tight end position this offseason, adding Hunter Henry from the Chargers and Jonnu Smith from Tennessee. The Patriots’ offense should also benefit from the return of Trent Brown up front. Brown, who was acquired in a March trade with Las Vegas, was the starting left tackle on New England’s 2018 championship team.
Defensively, New England allowed 22 points a game in 2020, which (while still good for eighth-best in the league) was a significant drop off from 2019’s league-leading unit that only allowed 14 points per contest.
While the Patriots had a string of 11 straight AFC East crowns snapped with last year’s 7-9 finish, New England’s quest to get back on top in the division begins by facing two consecutive divisional foes. The Pats open the 2021 campaign by hosting Miami on Sunday, September 12 and visit the Jets the next weekend on September 19. Things don’t get any easier after that, with NFC South champion New Orleans coming to Foxborough in Week 3. That leads to the most-anticipated game on the entire NFL schedule: Tom Brady’s return to Gillette Stadium with the defending Super Bowl champ Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs-Patriots game, scheduled for October 3, will be a Sunday Night Football broadcast on NBC.
Other highlights of the 2021 schedule include a date with the Cowboys on October 17, a Thursday night tilt in Atlanta on November 18, and a Monday night trip to face the Buffalo Bills on December 6 – yes, the same Bills that replaced the Patriots atop the AFC East standings a season ago. New England and Buffalo will square off twice in the space of three weeks in December, a span that could have significant postseason implications for both teams.
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