Patriots' Keys to Success in 2021 NFL Season
Many wondered how the New England Patriots would fare in 2020, their first season of the post-Tom Brady era. The answer? Not too great considering they went 7-9, their first year with a losing record since 2000.
However, there's the potential for things to go much better in 2021. The Pats have had an eventful offseason, greatly improving their roster from last season. Plus, they are getting back players who opted out of the 2020 campaign because of the coronavirus pandemic.
It's possible that New England will immediately get back to the playoffs this year. But if that's going to happen, there are going to have to be several things that go right for the Patriots during the regular season.
Here are three keys to success for the Pats entering the 2021 season.
The Starting QB Needs to Provide Consistent Play
New England has yet to announce its starting quarterback for 2021. It will be either Cam Newton, who struggled in his first season with the Patriots, or rookie Mac Jones, whom the team selected with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
It's clear that Jones will eventually take over the job. But he could be on the bench this season in favor of Newton, a former NFL MVP who has played at a much higher level in the past than he did in 2020. And Newton has fared well during training camp and the preseason, so it's possible that last year's disappointing showing stemmed from a lack of talent around him and a lack of familiarity with a new system.
Regardless of whether Newton or Jones is under center, the Patriots need their starting quarterback to provide consistent play. They are unlikely to reach the level that Brady did throughout his two-decade stint with the team, but it can be better than Newton's uninspiring stats of 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions from last season.
If Newton wins the job and plays like that again, New England could be quick to hand over the reins to Jones. Whatever it takes, the Pats need an offensive leader who can consistently get the team into the end zone.
The Patriots' biggest key to success is their quarterback play. Without that, it could be another tough year.
Offensive Weapons Have to Make Things Easier for the QB
Newton or Jones can't have success if they don't have weapons around them who are capable of stepping up to make plays. The Patriots receiving corps underperformed in 2020, which led to them addressing that part of their roster during the offseason.
Among New England's free-agent acquisitions were wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. They should all help the offense put up bigger numbers and be more efficient at moving the ball down the field.
Jakobi Meyers also has the potential for a breakout year. He led the Pats with 729 receiving yards last season, but he has yet to score a touchdown through his first 29 career games. Eventually, the 24-year-old is going to get into the end zone, and that will take his game to another level.
It's going to be much more difficult for New England's quarterback to perform if the team's playmakers don't play up to their potential. As long as that all happens, then the Patriots should be in a position to greatly improve from 2020.
The Defense Has to Get Back Closer to Its 2019 Form
In 2019, the Patriots allowed only 275.9 total yards per game, which ranked first in the NFL. Last season, that number inflated to 353.8, which put them 15th in the league.
Although New England's defense wasn't bad in 2020, it wasn't at the elite level that it was the year before. And considering the team's subpar offense, the defense's average performance wasn't enough to make up for it.
But the Pats have also improved defensively over the offseason. They signed linebackers Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy, and they are getting back middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who opted out in 2020. With these upgrades, former New England safety Rodney Harrison is expecting big things from the team's defense this upcoming season.
"I just think the defense, with the linebacking crew, the changes he made at the defensive line, and the experience they have with guys like Hightower and Van Noy returning, is going to rise up," Harrison said, per Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. "I think it's going to be a top-five defense in the NFL. I really do."
The Patriots defense doesn't need to be the best in the NFL, but it needs to be better. And as long as that happens, the team could be poised for positive results in 2021.