Bold Predictions for Patriots' 2021 NFL Season

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIAugust 23, 2021

Bold Predictions for Patriots' 2021 NFL Season

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    During the Bill Belichick era, the New England Patriots have been a consistent playoff team that regularly makes Super Bowl appearances and frequently wins championships. It didn't do any of those things during the 2020 season.

    In a year of change—most notably the loss of longtime quarterback Tom Brady—the Patriots went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for only the fourth time since Belichick took over as head coach prior to the 2000 season.

    But New England has put itself in a strong position to have a bounce-back campaign. No team was more active in the early days of free agency, as the Pats landed some of the top players on the market. They brought in fresh talent via the 2021 NFL draft, including their likely quarterback of the future, Mac Jones. And they are getting back some of the players who opted out last season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    It wouldn't be a surprise to see things go better for the Patriots in 2021. With the start of that campaign quickly approaching, here are three bold predictions for New England.

Meyers Will Lead the Team in Receiving Touchdowns

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    Jakobi Meyers has played 29 games for the Patriots over the past two seasons, but he's never scored a touchdown. He's thrown two touchdown passes, but he's never gotten into the end zone, which is one of his primary goals as a wide receiver.

    But the 24-year-old has shown consistent improvement since signing with New England as an undrafted free agent. Meyers even led the team in catches (59) and receiving yards (729) last season. He just couldn't get into the end zone. But part of the reason for that could be that the Pats offense was struggling around him.

    New England's offense is much improved entering 2021, with wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry all signing with the team in free agency. That could open up things for Meyers to have even more success and finally start scoring some touchdowns. He's been faring well in the preseason too, as he had three receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night.

    Tune-up games may not matter, but Meyers still has the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any wide receiver this preseason. Don't be surprised when he starts scoring touchdowns for the Patriots this season and ends up with the most on the team.

Hightower Will Pick Up Where He Left Off in 2019

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    For players who miss an extended period of time, it can take a while to return to form. That isn't likely to be the case for Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who opted out of the 2020 season and is back with the team to lead the defense again in 2021.

    Hightower wasn't injured like most players who miss an entire season, so perhaps he will even be fresher in 2021 than he was in 2019. If that's the case, big things could be on the horizon for the linebacker, who had 71 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 15 games two years ago, which earned him his second career Pro Bowl selection.

    "I enjoyed the year off that I had," Hightower recently said, per's Conor Roche. "The nicks and bangs that you get, I'm not saying I am looking forward to them, but I appreciate them a little bit more."

    The Patriots defense is better when Hightower is on the field serving as a leader. He will put up numbers similar to those he had the last time he played to help New England get back to being a top-tier defense.

Jones Will Lead the Pats into the Playoffs

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    There's a quarterback battle going on in Patriots training camp, with veteran Cam Newton (last year's starter) and Jones competing for the job. Belichick previously indicated that Newton would be the starter, but both signal-callers have been faring well throughout the preseason.

    No matter who begins the year under center, though, Jones is likely to take over at some point. Newton struggled last season and hasn't been able to recapture the form he showed when winning NFL MVP with the Carolina Panthers in 2015. Jones has a ton of potential, and the Patriots have to be excited about what he could bring to the offense.

    That's why Jones will be leading New England by the second half of the regular season. And not only that, but he will take the Pats back to the playoffs by demonstrating the leadership skills he showed during his college days at Alabama.

    So even if the Patriots don't get off to the best of starts in 2021, they will make the postseason. That will only be the start of what should be a strong NFL career for Jones, who is likely to put up big numbers as he develops and gets more comfortable at the professional level.