It’s a running joke in NFL circles that every franchise other than the Patriots is playing for second place. No matter how many obstacles seem to pop up for Bill Belichick and company, they always manage to make deep playoff runs. That actually makes projecting New England’s win total in 2019 a bit more difficult.
Belichick and his coaching staff understand that the regular season is only a staging ground for the playoffs. They want to do just enough to earn a good seed, but they’re not going to go all out in the regular season in hopes of earning home field advantage. That philosophy works particularly well when your offense is built around a 42-year-old quarterback.
Speaking of Tom Brady, he isn’t showing any signs of suffering from age related regression. He still threw for 4,355 yards and 29 touchdowns last season. There’s nothing to suggest that his performance will dip significantly in 2019.
That does not mean the Patriots don’t have any meaningful offensive concerns. Rob Gronkowski’s decision to retire leaves a lot of targets for other New England pass catchers to pick up. The organization spent a first round pick on N’Keal Harry, but he’s not going to duplicate what Gronk gave this team in recent years. Julian Edelman and company can do a decent job of forging a quality receiver group, but Josh Gordon is the one guy who can take the group from good to great.
Gordon recently was reinstated by the NFL and figures to be ready to go for New England week Week 1 arrives. It’s hard to overstate just how important that is for Brady and this offense. Gordon gives the group a big play target who can really stretch the field. He’s not a great route runner, but his elite speed can take the top off opposing defenses. That crucial is key for the offense’s ability to stay on schedule.
The battle at running back in Foxborough also deserves our attention. Sony Michel is the incumbent, but he’s been really injury prone during his short career. That’s opened the door for rookie Damien Harris to make his claim on the starting position in the preseason. The most likely outcome here is a significant work share in the backfield, but it will be interesting to see who gets the carries week to week.
Ultimately, the Patriots offense is going to function at a high level. It would be a major surprise if they finish out of the top-10 when NFL rankings are tabulated. The variation about this team’s 2019 win total is going to come on the other side of the ball.
Credit the Patriots for doing a really nice job of replacing high-end defensive talent on the fly. When Trey Flowers left in free agency it looked like New England would really struggle to rush the passer. Then they made the clever trade to bring Michael Bennett in to fill Flowers’ shoes. Predictably, he’s a significantly cheaper option. Bennett won’t make the front seven one of the most feared groups in the NFL, but it does prevent it from becoming a massive weakness for Belichick.
The real defensive talent for the Pats lies in their secondary. Stephon Gilmore is one of the game’s best shut down corners. Jason and Devin McCourty also possess the ability to be above average starters. Even Patrick Chung makes enough plays to give opposing quarterbacks lots of problems.
Looking at the whole roster makes it obvious that New England has the talent to win another Super Bowl. That isn’t the most important aspect to consider when projecting their regular season win total though. Instead, the right thing to examine is just how motivated Belichick will be to push his team to reach its potential in the regular season. Projecting them to win 11.5 or more wins is a bridge too far. There’s too large a chance that the Patriots will cruise towards an easy playoff berth and stop trying late in the season. 10 wins feels like the right total for Belichick and company. 11 wouldn’t be a major shock, but it’s hard to see this veteran group pushing for 12. Take the under at 11.5 and sweat out New England’s hot start.