Rookies have been drafted. Free agents signed their contracts. Rosters have been set. Football is BACK!
The New England Patriots open their season facing off against divisional rival, the Miami Dolphins. The Pats defeated the Phins in Week 1 last season at Foxboro; hopefully, the Dolphins experience some deja vu.
Both teams added new faces to their rosters, including some big names. While the Dolphins drafted Jaylan Waddle, the Patriots drafted his college QB a few picks later. It is shaping up to be an exciting first game. Here are a few of the players to watch.
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Along with Mac Jones, Rhamondre Stevenson burst onto the scene this preseason. He proved that he could handle an RB1 workload based on his performance throughout the preseason. He rushed for 216 yards on 30 attempts and found the end zone five times.
Stevenson will likely play second fiddle to Damian Harris, forming a smash-mouth, two-headed monster in the backfield. Belichick never shows his cards, but I have the feeling fans will see Stevenson a lot in Week 1.
The Patriots’ offense ranked at the bottom of the league in 2020, while their defense remained inside the top ten, finishing eight. However, the ranking did not stop Belichick from improving it, as he signed edge rusher Matt Judon in March.
Judon immediately improved a Patriots pass rush that ranked 27th in total sacks in 2020 and pressured the QB on only 24% of their plays. While not awful numbers, they show the team needed improvement. In addition, Judon brings an intensity to their line that the team has not seen in a few seasons.
Jackson grabbed the NFL’s attention a season ago when he led the league in interceptions (9) and recovered three fumbles. He made a giant step towards being part of the league’s elite… unless it was a fluke.
Jackson played well during training camp and will have to continue his dominance with Stephon Gilmore being out for at least the first six weeks. Jackson will most likely line up against the Dolphins lead receiver, Devante Parker, but may also have to deal with Waddle and Gesicki.
J.C. Jackson definitely earned a CB1 job in 2020. Even when Gilmore comes back, he’ll need to keep playing at that level.
Hunter Henry/Jonnu Smith
I could not just pick one, because I cannot wait to watch both take the field in Week 1.
The Patriots signed Jonnu Smith on the first day of free agency and grabbed Henry the following day. Unfortunately, Belichick seems to revert to some old tricks.
Henry dealt with an injury throughout camp but still played well enough to be named a starter in Week 1, alongside Smith. Both players will have specific roles in the offense, similar to the last time Belichick had two elite tight ends in his offense.
These two guys will be instrumental in the success of Mac Jones, especially in the red zone. Both players acted as their team’s number one target inside the red zone. Henry finished with more yards than Smith in 2020, while Smith scored twice as often as Henry. In addition, the two provide Jones with a huge safety blanket in the young offense.
I know I mentioned him above, but I cannot contain my excitement. Mac Jones walked into Foxboro at mini-camp with high expectations. On September 1st, the Patriots announced Mac Jones would be the Week 1 starter. It was well deserved.
Jones went above and beyond throughout the preseason. He immersed himself in both playbooks. If receivers made a mistake, Jones let them know it. He even ran laps with the linemen after a fight broke out, despite not being involved in the altercation. But there was one day that may have been the icing on the cake to Jones winning the job.
In a joint practice with the Giants, Jones played with the first team due to Newton being on the COVID list. He completed 16 consecutive passes, including a lob pass down the sidelines to James White. Rookies rarely make that big throw.
It is hard to root against Jones, especially when he receives a standing ovation his first time stepping on the field. Yet, he won the hearts of New England this summer. Belichick believes in Jones, and so should the fans.
Week 1 is only a few days away, and it feels like Christmas in September. Hopefully, the Patriots do not ruin fans’ spirits.