Early Storylines for Every 2022 Patriots Game

New England and Buffalo get the Thursday night double dip as Buffalo will be coming off a Thanksgiving showdown against Detroit. These teams matched up three times last year with the fierce Buffalo wind proved to be the Patriots’ most valuable defender in those games.

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) points out trouble during a game between the New England Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars on January 2, 2022, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Photo Credit: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The new season schedule is finally here! The Patriots were allotted the maximum number of primetime games before flex scheduling, as Mac Jones and company remain in the national eye after a strong rookie year. Everyone is ready to see record predictions and game-by-game expectations. But being this far out, let’s just look at early storylines for every 2022 Patriots game and notable trends in the schedule itself.

Week 1 @ Miami

The Patriots avoid a late-season Miami trip this year. Miami has been a house of horrors for New England; they are just 2-7 in their last nine visits. An early trip to Miami means dealing with the late summer heat or possible sloppy hurricane season weather. The Pats will get immediately tested by Tyreek Hill and the new-look Miami offense. Perhaps the Pats catch a break with some early season desynchrony from the Tua-led passing game.

Week 2 @ Pittsburgh

The Patriots get back-to-back road games to open the season. Pittsburgh will still feature a tough defense coupled with a ground-and-pound approach. The Steelers will most likely be starting Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. Trubisky has faced New England once in his career, losing with the Bears 38-31 on October 21, 2018. Trubisky was 26/50 for 333 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions in that game. He also added 81 yards on six carries and a touchdown. The Pats will look to further limit his production this time around.

Week 3 vs. Baltimore

The Patriots make their home debut against a talented Baltimore squad led by fourth-year quarterback Lamar Jackson in Week 3. The Pats emphasized adding speed on defense this off-season, and Jackson will present an early litmus test. The Ravens don’t have a receiver with more than two years of NFL experience on the roster. This fast, but physical opponent will test the Pats’ defense. This game will also mark Matthew Judon’s first time playing against his former employer.

Week 4 @ Green Bay

The Patriots return to the road in Week 4 to play the Packers. The Pats avoid late-season nasty Green Bay weather with the timing of this road trip. When these two teams last met, James White ran for a pair of touchdowns, Cordarrelle Patterson added another on the ground, and Josh Gordon took a Tom Brady pass 55 yards for a 31-17 Patriots victory. Now, the Mac Jones-led offense will need to keep pace with Aaron Rodgers, even if he is without top receiver Davante Adams now.

Week 5 vs. Detroit

The Patriots get just their second home game in Week 5, as they face off against the Lions. This game could be a lot closer than many people are expecting. The Lions are building a solid culture under second-year coach Dan Campbell and will compete until the final whistle. Purely speculative, but this could end up being a Trey Flowers revenge game.

Week 6 @ Cleveland

The Deshaun Watson situation looms large for this portion of the schedule. The expectation is a suspension of some sort will be handed down before the season starts. Six games seems to be the rumored minimum. However, the league put Cleveland in primetime twice this year, with the second being Week 8. With how conservatively the NFL tries to avoid storylines such as Watson’s, it may be prudent to assume the Watson suspension lasts until at least Week 8. IF that’s the case, the Patriots dodge a massive bullet and will face old Wolfpack member Jacoby Brissett.

Week 7 vs. Chicago (Monday Night Football)

The Patriots get their first primetime game of the season with a Monday Night showdown against the Bears. This game will feature second-year quarterbacks Mac Jones and Justin Fields. The early storyline for both has been the improved supporting cast and incredible system that Mac walked into, while Chicago has done very little to support Fields. After a difficult opening stretch, the Pats could enter this game on a small win streak. A win in primetime might get the team feeling right early in the season.

Week 8 @ NYJ

The Patriots turn around on a short week to play the rival New York Jets. It’ll be a repeat storyline as the week before, as dueling second-year quarterbacks will take center stage. The Jets have been lauded as having had an incredible off-season thus far. They made it a point to surround Zach Wilson with a solid supporting cast and get difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball. As this rivalry gets fresh blood on both sides, this game will give us a glimpse of what to expect for years to come.

Week 9 vs. Indianapolis

Last year the Colts were the beginning of the end for the Patriots’ season. The Saturday night matchup previewed the slow starts and undisciplined brand of football the Patriots were going to play down the final stretch. This year the Patriots catch them just before their bye week. The Colts acquired Matt Ryan from the Falcons this season. They added to an already vaunted defense with pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore. This matchup will be an excellent barometer for Mac Jones’ development, as this group should be a premier defense in the league.

Week 10 BYE

The Pats get a bye week almost precisely halfway through the season. It will be ideally timed, as the team prepares for the grueling second-half push for playoffs. The bye also may be a realistic expectation for a James White return.

Week 11 vs. NYJ

The Pats will face the Jets for the second time in four weeks after their bye. Last year, the team was consistently flat and undisciplined after their bye week. The team can make a statement by coming out with a purpose and playing inspired ball against the Jets.

Week 12 @ Minnesota (Thursday Night Football)

This game marks the first of four consecutive primetime affairs for the Patriots. It also marks the Patriots’ return to Thanksgiving football for the first time since the “Butt Fumble.”

The Patriots have played five times on Thanksgiving in franchise history, sporting a 3-2 record. However, the Pats have won three in a row on Turkey day and will look to extend the streak to four. The Vikings are coached by Kevin O’Connell, a former third pick of the Pats. This could be a very entertaining holiday nightcap. Also, highlight this one as the potential return of the “Pat Patriot” jerseys.

Week 13 vs. Buffalo (Thursday Night Football)

New England and Buffalo get the Thursday night double-dip, as Buffalo will be coming off a Thanksgiving showdown against Detroit. These teams matched up three times last year, with the fierce Buffalo wind proving to be the Patriots’ most valuable defender in those games. Josh Allen and the Buffalo offense didn’t punt in the final two matchups between these teams.

The Pats’ defense will be a known commodity by this point in the season, even if most of the changes this offseason were done with this matchup in mind. Keeping this one competitive against the presumed AFC favorites will be a good indicator of where the Patriots’ rebuild stands.

Week 14 @ Arizona (Monday Night Football)

The Patriots start a west coast trip with a Monday Night showdown against the Cardinals. The Pats will be coming off a mini-bye here, as they go from a Thursday night showdown to a Monday night game. These teams last met in 2020, with the Patriots defense stifling Kyler Murray and the Cardinals offense in a 20-17 Patriots victory.

While the Pats may benefit from some suspension luck when they play Cleveland earlier in the season, they get no luck here, as DeAndre Hopkins will have served his six-game ban for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Arizona has faded down the stretch under Kliff Kingsbury and will be looking to reverse that trend this season. Arizona may feature even more team speed than Buffalo, with burner Marquise Brown joining DeAndre Hopkins and Kyler Murray.

Week 15 @ Las Vegas (Sunday Night Football)

The second leg of the West Coast tour means a date with Josh McDaniels in Vegas. Belichick against his disciples is always exciting theater. Both teams figure to be making a postseason push. The Raiders will host the Patriots for joint practices before their preseason tilt, so this game will feature some very familiar opponents. Don’t be surprised if this is a high-drama affair, coming down to the last minute.

Week 16 vs. Cincinnati

The Patriots continue a brutal stretch of schedule by hosting the defending AFC Champs on Christmas Eve. The Pats will be hoping Mac has made a Joe Burrow-esque second-year leap of his own, while trying to contain an explosive Cincinnati offense. This game should also feature playoff implications. The Patriots in years past have pointed to a West Coast staycation as a bonding experience for the team, and the Bengals will provide the first test to that idea.

Week 17 vs. Miami

The Patriots’ final regular-season home game feature a familiar spoiler. Last year, the Dolphins swept the Patriots on the back of costly Patriots turnovers. The Tua experiment will be over by this game, one way or the other. He will either have justified his role as the franchise QB, or the Pats will be facing Teddy Bridgewater. The Dolphins have ruined the last few Patriots seasons, so getting a statement win here may help them lose the monkey on their back.

Week 18 @ Buffalo

Like all Week 18 games, this one is yet to have an assigned time slot. Patriots fans should be hoping for a Sunday Night matchup with division title implications. But, this game could feature a host of Buffalo backups as they look to rest up for playoffs and the Patriots try to jockey for one of the Wild Card spots.

Patriots Roster Reset

It would be a surprise if the Pats didn’t add a receiver early in the draft this year. They are likely to add in one form or the other before training camp. This group is surprisingly crowded but without a clear-cut top-tier option.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After being exposed by the Bills on wildcard weekend, the Patriots entered the off-season with a laundry list of needs. Unfortunately, they were snug to the cap already, having just under $10 million to spend at the onset of free agency. The Pats were in a challenging position, having multiple internal free agents and a litany of glaring needs.

Free agency is winding down, and the team is in full NFL draft prep mode. The Pats may be waiting for after the draft to add free agents, as those additions would not forfeit any compensatory picks next year. With an eye on the draft, let’s take a closer look at the Patriots roster as it stands today.

Quarterback

Rostered: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham

Retained: Brian Hoyer

Top Free Agents Available: Cam Newton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen, Jake Fromm, Blake Bortles

The Patriots took their quarterback of the future last May in the NFL Draft with Mac Jones. Jones was solid in his rookie campaign. The team is internally optimistic he will be the franchise QB for years to come.

Hoyer had a brief foray into free agency before re-signing with the team. Hoyer will provide leadership as Mac navigates an off-season where the young signal-caller lost offensive coordinator/QB coach Josh McDaniels.

Stidham is a camp arm and may stick around on the practice squad. I wouldn’t expect the Patriots to add anyone prominent to this group.

Running Back

Rostered: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, J.J. Taylor, James White, Devine Ozigbo, Dalton Keene

Out: Brandon Bolden (Raiders), Jakob Johnson (Raiders)

Retained: James White

Top Free Agents Available: Sony Michel, Darrel Williams, Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, Jalen Richard

This group is one of the more talented collection of players on the Patriots roster. Damien Harris should return as the 1A option. Rhamondre Stevenson is looking to continue his ascent into the top tier of NFL running backs in year two.

The Pats were able to get James White back with minimal guarantees as he recovers from a season-ending hip injury. White was off to a scorching start with Jones before the injury in week 3. If he can return to form, he will be in for a big year. White returning to form will offset the loss of Bolden. This off-season may provide Taylor with his best opportunity to unseat White as the passing back. Devine Ozigbo offers a camp body and practice-squad player.

Although officially listed as a tight end, Dalton Keene looks to benefit from Jakob Johnson’s departure. The Pats traded up in the 2020 NFL Draft to grab the H-back out of Virginia Tech. Now, Keene is finally healthy heading into the offseason. Look for him to get every opportunity to lock down the TE3/FB hybrid spot this training camp.

The Pats may add a free agent here (old friend Sony Michel), but are more likely to add a rookie as Harris enters the final year of his rookie deal.

Wide Receiver

Rostered: Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Ty Montgomery, Tre Nixon, DeVante Parker, Malcolm Perry, Kristian Wilkerson

In: Devante Parker (Dolphins), Ty Montgomery (Saints)

Out: Gunner Olszewski (Steelers)

Retained: Jakobi Meyers

Top Free Agents Available: Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Will Fuller, Julio Jones, Emmanuel Sanders, Keelan Cole, Cole Beasley, T.Y. Hilton, Allen Hurns, Albert Wilson, Adam Humphries, Isaiah Ford

Agholor, Bourne, and Meyers return as the top options for Mac Jones. The Pats added a bigger target in DeVante Parker, who will provide the young gun with a sure-handed receiver in contested catch situations — if he can remain healthy. Parker should be everything the Pats hope Harry would be. Montgomery was added to take snaps at running back, receiver, and all over special teams.

Malcolm Perry offers a fun, gadget-type player who may find himself in a camp battle with Montgomery for a single roster spot. Wilkerson offered a peek into his potential last year late in the season and will try to carry that momentum into a roster spot this year. Tre Nixon hopes to stay healthy and flash his big-play potential from college. Harry is a long-shot to be on this roster on kickoff weekend

The Pats were rumored to be in on several free-agent receivers this off-season They continue to be linked to Odell Beckham Jr. Isaiah Ford also has time in the New England offense and may make sense on a cheap deal. The Patriots are also looking at many rookie wide outs in the draft. It would be a surprise if the Pats didn’t add a receiver early in the draft this year.

The Patriots roster is likely to gain another receiver before training camp. This group is surprisingly crowded, but without a clear-cut top-tier option.

Tight End

Rostered: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi

Out: Troy Fumagalli (FA)

Top Free Agents Available: Rob Gronkowski, Jared Cook, Blake Jarwin, Kyle Rudolph, Jesse James

The Pats spent here last year and spent big. Henry provided even more than the team could have hoped for in year one. Jonnu, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Smith has been present for off-season programs thus far, a difference from last year, as the team and player look to accomplish in year two of the mega-contract.

Asiasi has not lived up to his billing coming out of college and is entering make-or-break territory in year three. Throughout camp, Keene should push for the third spot in a battle with Asiasi. There’s not a lot available in the way of free agents, but the Pats will likely add a body here in rounds 5-7.

Offensive Line

Rostered: David Andrews (C), Yasir Durant (G), Arlington Hambright (G), Trent Brown (T), Yodny Cajuste (T), Drew Desjarlais (T), James Ferentz (G), Justin Herron (T), Mike Onwenu (G), Isaiah Wynn (T), Will Sherman (T)

Out: Shaq Mason (Buccaneers), Ted Karras (Bengals)

Retained: Trent Brown, James Ferentz

Top Free Agents Available: J.C. Tretter (C), Eric Fisher (T), Duane Brown (T), Daryl Williams (G/T), Riley Reiff (T), Trai Turner (G), Ereck Flowers (G), Brandon Shell (T), Ryan Bates (G), Nate Solder (T), Bryan Bulaga (T), Matt Paradis (C), Marcus Cannon (T)

This is perhaps the shakiest group of players on the Patriots roster. They return three out of five starters after losing Ted Karras to the Bengals in free agency and trading Shaq Mason to the Buccaneers. The Pats tried to retain Karras, but were unwilling to go as high in the bidding as the Bengals.

The Mason trade was a bit of a head-scratcher as a young, premier talent at this position, on an affordable contract, was only able to gain the team a fifth-round pick. The move was made to clear some cap space for the team, but the return seems hardly worth it. Onwenu should slide in at either guard spot, leaving the Pats a man short in their starting five.

Furthermore, tackles Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn are not known for their ability to stay healthy. Will Sherman, Yodny Cajuste, and Justin Herron project to battle it out for the top swing tackle spot, while James Ferentz currently projects as the top backup on the interior.

The Pats will look to add here both in free agency and the draft. The Pats could call old friends Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon to gain veteran depth at the tackle spots, while someone like Trai Turner or Ereck Flowers may make sense as depth on the interior. The Patriots may look to address these spots early in the draft, so don’t be surprised if they use their first selection on a player up front.

Defensive Line

Rostered: Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Byron Cowart, Bill Murray, Deatrich Wise, Daniel Ekuale

Out: Carl Davis (FA)

Top Free Agents Available: Trey Flowers, Jadeveon Clowney, Akiem Hicks, Larry Ogunjobi, Ndamukong Suh, Justin Houston, Jerry Hughes, Jason Pierre-Paul, Eddie Goldman, Sheldon Richardson, Carl Nassib, Linval Joseph

Barmore was an absolute steal in the second round of the draft last May. He looks to continue to build on his impressive rookie season and offers stability in the interior of the defense for years to come. Lawrence Guy was his steady self, while Davon Godchaux showed flashes of why the Pats shelled out to get him.

Anderson agreed to a restructured deal to stick around after getting injured last year. Deatrich Wise restructured his contract to give the Pats some more space and continues to offer pass-rush ability and strong leadership in the locker room.

Cowart, Murray, and Eukale would preferably be practice squad/depth pieces but currently project to get considerable playing time if no additions are made. Carl Davis remains a free agent. It makes sense for both sides to continue their relationship. Trey Flowers and Akiem Hicks would be substantial additions to this group, and both are familiar with New England.

The Pats should add competition here in the form of free agents and rookies before training camp. The Pats may go to this group early in the draft, if the right players slide into striking range.  

Linebacker

Rostered: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall, Anfernee Jennings, Matt Judon, Harvey Langi, Cameron McGrone, Raekwon McMillan, Ronnie Perkins, Josh Uche, Jahlani Tavai, Mack Wilson

In: Mack Wilson (Browns)

Out: Kyle Van Noy (FA), Chase Winovich (Browns), Dont’a Hightower (FA), Jamie Collins (FA)

Retained: Ja’Whaun Bentley

Top Free Agents Available: Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, Joe Schobert, Melvin Ingram, Anthony Barr, Landon Collins, Anthony Hitchens, Nick Kwiatkoski, A.J. Klein, Takkarist McKinley

Bentley returned to the team after leading them in tackles in 2021. Bentley is a more traditional linebacker who doesn’t fill a three-down role, but provides a big body against power-rushing teams such as the Colts and Titans.

This off-season, a common goal for the team has been the infusion of speed at every position group. None needed it more than this one in 2021. Hightower remains a free agent as a big lumbering type is slowly being phased out of the current rendition of the game.

The Pats swapped Winovich for Mack Wilson in a change of scenery trade that may benefit both players. Wilson offers a more undersized body linebacker than Belichick has liked in the past, but offers more speed. Judon was an absolute force before falling off after week 13 when he got COVID. He will force himself into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation if he can continue his pace for an entire season.

Josh Uche was a problem his rookie year, as many around the league identified him as a potential star in year two. The leap never happened, as he was injured early in the year and struggled to earn playing time later. Anfernee Jennings enters year three, losing his first two to poor injury luck. He might be in line to replace Hightower as a large, on-the-line body type. Perkins was a third-round pick last year and spent his rookie season as a redshirt. Perkins offers pass rush specialty with an upside to become an every-down player after a dominant college career at Oklahoma.

Raekwon McMillan was putting together a solid camp last fall, with multiple internal evaluators very high on him, before tearing his ACL and missing the season. If he can return to form, this group may be much better than expected. This group will also blend with safeties Jabrill Peppers, Kyle Dugger, and Adrian Phillips, as the Pats look to add speed to the interior of their defense.

Kyle Van Noy and Hightower seem likely to return on lighter deals as part-time players. Nakobe Dean of Georgia and Devin Lloyd of Utah are premier rookie talents to watch for in the draft.  

Cornerback

Rostered: Jalen Mills, Malcolm Butler, Terrance Mitchell, Shaun Wade, Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, Jonathan Jones

In: Malcolm Butler (Cardinals)

Out: J.C. Jackson (Chargers)

Top Free Agents Available: Jackrabbit Jenkins, Joe Haden, Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Kevin King, Trae Waynes, Fabian Moreau, Xavier Rhodes, Vernon Hargreaves

This is another part of the Patriots roster that has had much made about it this off-season, but is perhaps in better shape than many expect. Losing J.C. Jackson makes this a less talented group, no doubt about it, but his loss may be overstated. While he was a talented ballhawk, there is quite a drop-off between him and the top tier of NFL cornerbacks.

The Pats brought back Malcolm Butler and added Terrance Mitchell. Butler played at a very high level in 2020 before retiring in the 2021 preseason and not playing last year. How he plays in his return will largely determine how this group performs. Mitchell offers a competent NFL journeyman type who fits better in zone defenses. Last year, the Pats transitioned to more zone-based coverages and should continue that trend without a premier lock-down at the cornerback spot.

Shaun Wade has an outside chance of developing into the team’s next top corner, but hedging the farm on it would not be wise. Joejuan Williams is running out of time to prove he deserves a spot, as he joins N’Keal Harry as part of the failed 2019 draft class. Myles Bryant and Jonathan Jones provide the Patriots with two top-tier slot options. Jalen Mills played primarily on the outside last year after being signed as a jack-of-all-trades in the Patriots’ 2021 free agent spending spree. Due to the lack of depth, he may be forced again to play primarily outside in 2022.

The draft is extremely top-heavy at corner, with a severe drop-off after the top three of Cincinnati’s Sauce Gardner, LSU’s Derek Stingley, and Washington’s Trent McDuffie. Belichick has had immense success in developing late picks or undrafted rookies and may go that route again if one of the top three doesn’t fall into their laps at 21.

Safety

Rostered: Kyle Dugger, Devin McCourty, Jabrill Peppers, Adrian Phillips, Cody Davis, Joshuah Bledsoe

In: Jabrill Peppers (Giants)

Retained: Devin McCourty

Top Free Agents Available: Tyrann Mathieu, Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee, Jaquiski Tartt,

The Pats kept their 2021 group together while adding Jabrill Peppers. They immediately are one of the stronger groups on the Patriots roster. McCourty returns after a solid season despite a slow start. He is starting to slow a touch, but continues to be a step ahead due to his understanding of Belichick’s system.

McCourty is the quarterback of the defense. Retaining him was an extremely understated development this off-season. Dugger began to flash his playmaking ability. If he continues to grow, the Pats will have their safety duo of the future after locking up Adrian Phillips last year.

Peppers offers a hybrid player who can play in the box, line up deep, play the slot, and match up on premier tight ends. He also may find himself as the top punt returner. Joshuah Bledsoe arrived as a rookie to much fanfare last year, but missed the season due to a college wrist injury. He will have every opportunity to make a run at a roster spot.

Edmunds and Mathieu remain big names on the free agency market, but the addition of either remains a long-shot to this roster. The Patriots could add here in the middle rounds of the draft.

Specialists

Rostered: Nick Folk (K), Quinn Nordin (K), Joe Cardona (LS), Jake Bailey (P), Matthew Slater (ST), Justin Bethel (ST)

Out: Brandon King (Colts)

Retained: Nick Folk, Matthew Slater

Despite strong individual performances from this group in 2021, the Patriots’ special teams were largely a disappointment throughout the year. Folk has made 55 straight field goals under 50 yards, as he has been one of the most consistent kickers in the NFL since joining the Patriots in 2020. Jake Bailey is a season removed from an All-Pro season. Joe Cardona not only shares a birthday with Bill Belichick, but also shares Navy ties. He’s not going anywhere.

Matthew Slater returned for his age 37 season, as the longtime captain agreed to a one-year deal. Slater (15) trails only Tom Brady (20) and Steve Grogan (16) for the number of seasons played for the team. Quinn Nordin has a booming leg, but needs to become more accurate. He should stick around as the heir apparent to Folk. The Pats may take a late-round flier on a specialist, but otherwise, this part of the Patriots roster is set.

The Patriots Defense Has a Josh Allen Problem

The Patriots defense has a big problem on their hands. How will they work on fixing this problem before it’s too late

Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Pats Can’t Stop Allen

The Patriots defense has a big problem on their hands: Josh Allen, the 6’5”, 237 lbs, has a cannon for a right arm, and wears number 17 for the Buffalo Bills.

With 13:48 remaining in the third quarter of week 14, the Patriots would see Bills punter Matt Haack for the last time. In the next 20 Bills’ possessions against the Patriots, Haack would be missing-in-action as they went without a punt against a division rival.

When the Patriots left Orchard Park that Monday night in December, they were in first place in the AFC East and controlled their destiny for the top seed in the playoffs. They would return to lose four of their next five games, including two complete dominations at the hands of the rival Buffalo Bills.

In the Bills’ next 20 possessions following that final Haack punt, they would score 11 touchdowns. Of the other nine possessions, they attempted three field goals and turned the ball over on downs twice –once at the New England 14-yard line to end the Monday Night showdown, and the other at the New England 1-yard line in the Week 16 rematch. The remaining four possessions were kneel downs at the end of a half or the end of the game.

Not good.

The Bills’ absolute bludgeoning of the Pats in the final 9 7/8 quarters against them was largely due to Allen. He was supernova hot after that final Haack punt. After Haack punted on the Bills first possession of the week 14 matchup, Allen would go 59 of 89 for 710 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions, while adding 162 yards on 21 carries in the next 129:15 of game time against the Pats. The Bills would outscore the Patriots during that same stretch 83-41.

Not good.

Allen Offers Massive Roadblock for Pats

How far the Patriots go from here is largely dependent on how they can handle their Josh Allen problem. The defense requires a compete reboot to give the Patriots a legitimate chance at reclaiming the throne atop the AFC East, let alone advancing in the playoffs. The AFC is flush with talented young quarterbacks, but getting over the hump against Allen should be the Patriots’ top priority as he remains within their division. Start there before focusing on the conference.

The Patriots defense faded down the stretch, putting up clunker after clunker after the bye week. For a stretch in the middle of the season, the defense played lights out. They dominated opponents. They racked up sacks and piled up the takeaways.

After the bye, it all stopped.

Perhaps not coincidentally, this sag in performance coincided with Matt Judon also largely disappearing. Before contracting COVID-19 during the bye week, Judon had 12.5 sacks and was constantly disruptive. After the bye, he failed to record a single sack.

Recent Drafts to Blame?

The Patriots have also gotten next to no production from recent day two draft picks. Chase Winovich was taken 77th overall in 2019. The high energy pass rusher had six total tackles this year and no sacks.

The Patriots traded up to draft Josh Uche 60th overall in 2020, and he produced only 10 tackles and 3.0 sacks this year; all three sacks came in the first two weeks of the season.

Anfernee Jennings was taken 87 overall in 2020. He has 10 career tackles, all from his rookie campaign. Finally, there’s Ronnie Perkins, taken as a pass rush specialist this past draft at 96th overall. He was a healthy scratch for 13 games before being placed on IR.

16 tackles and three sacks for the 2020 season from four top 100 prospects over the past three years. For a defense that was completely outmatched against the Bills, this area would be a good place to start.

All four of these players are known to be fast-twitch pass rushers with high motors. While they may not be three-down players, they should be offering more value than they have. For comparison, Logan Wilson of the Cincinnati Bengals had nine tackles (three for a loss), and one pass defensed in the Super Bowl. Wilson was taken five picks after Uche in the 2020 NFL draft.

Belichick is known for shapeshifting his defensive game plan to match his opponents’ strengths on a week-to-week basis. Perhaps the complex roles and differing approaches is leaving young players lost and confused. Belichick’s best defenses have often been veteran-laden units.

However, Belichick always seems to be able to unlock players’ potential by maximizing their talents within his defensive scheme. The examples are endless. Aqib Talib. Kyle Van Noy. Akiem Hicks. Part two of Patrick Chung. The disconnect here is more than scheme fit or ability, and that is worrisome.

Offseason Plans

This offseason becomes even more important if an in-house fix isn’t available. Making the front seven a more explosive and faster unit should be priority number one. Ja’Whaun Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins are set to be free agents, and all are solid in their own respect.

Losing a leader like Hightower would shake the locker room and lead to a decrease in the on-field product. Collins should stick around on the cheap as a solid role player. Meanwhile, Bentley had a down 2020 before looking much better surrounded by increased talent in 2021, and might be tough to keep.

The Patriots should look to add in free agency and the draft to inject talent into the front seven. Moreover, free agency is littered with intriguing names. The draft is relatively deep in the first along the defensive line, but top linebackers may be in short supply. Regardless, the Patriots need to address their Josh Allen problem or there will be more disappointed offseasons in the future.

Where do the Patriots fit in a crowded AFC?

While the Patriots may have the future figured out on offense, they aren’t going anywhere until they figure out the Josh Allen problem.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – NOVEMBER 03: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts against the Baltimore Ravens during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on November 3, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

At first glance, discussing the New England Patriots and their offseason plans aren’t relevant at this point. The Bengals and Chiefs will face off this Sunday in the AFC Championship Game. Before that, the Chiefs and Bills treated us to an all-time shoot out in the divisional round. All three teams feature prolific young passers and a group of stud pass catchers. Only the Bills featured a defense ranked in the top 5 by Pro Football Reference. The days of defenses winning championships may well be over.

So where do the Patriots fit into this future of the conference?

They too feature a young passer, albeit not in the same echelon of Burrow, Mahomes, Herbert, and Allen. Lamar Jackson had a down year but still would be a tier above Mac in a quarterback rankings.

The Patriots got solid quarterback play from their rookie but Mac faded down the stretch, stringing together subpar performances as the Patriots championship aspiration dwindled.

Watching the Chiefs and Bills go back and forth Sunday Night it was obvious that the AFC has transformed into an arms race, where the most potent offenses will succeed.

Belichick has only a few times loaded up on the offensive side of the ball during his tenure in New England. And even in those years he coupled splashy offseason moves on the offensive side with an already stout, veteran-laden defense.

2021 Patriots were good, just not good enough

The 2021 Patriots featured the splashy offseason additions on the offensive side of the ball and a veteran-laden defense, albeit with a couple newcomers on that side too. Despite the poor taste left from the dismantling at the hands of the Bills, the Patriots defense was one of the best in the league in 2021. But therein lies the problem. What does the second ranked defense get the team if it can’t stop a runny nose when it plays the Buffalo Bills?

Belichick has specific physical profiles for every position in defense, whether it be from physical measurables or agility drill times; his defensive players fit a mold.

The linebackers are big bodied thumpers. The defensive line is often stout forward players who are difficult to push backwards. The defensive backs often have top three cone drill times while his boundary guys are preferred to big taller press corners. Only at the safety position has Belichick led the transition to the hybrid types.

Patrick Chung was the first linebacker-safety hybrid but even he failed spectacularly in his first stint with the Patriots.

Against the Bills, the defense looked slow. Forget old. Even the young guys couldn’t keep up with the Allen led attack. The Pats were gashed routinely by the speed and short area quickness of the Bills skill guys.

That doesn’t include the absolute clinic put on by Josh Allen. Allen looked like the older brother who finally relented and let the younger brother and his friends play. Then the older brother showed no mercy for a physically inferior opponent.

Allen was on a different physical level and against the Patriots defense, having been unstoppable for nine straight quarters. While the Patriots may have the future figured out on offense, they aren’t going anywhere until they figure out the Josh Allen problem.

Offseason Plans

That problem will be addressed this offseason. With their current salary cap situation, they will have to choose between adding further to the offense or completely retooling the defense.

The Chiefs just beat the Bills by outscoring them. There was no stopping either offense. The only hope was to have more points than the opposition at the final whistle. That is not typically how the Patriots build their teams. They want an edge in all three phases.

The Pats could add a Davante Adams. A Chris Godwin. They could trade for Calvin Ridley. See if Michael Thomas can be had for relatively cheap. They can add to the offense, one that already features an impressive running game, and try to outscore the upper tier of AFC teams next year.

Or they can retool the defense. Focusing on smaller, faster athletic types to keep pace with the “small ball” trend in the NFL.

The Dont’a Hightower’s of the NFL world may be a dying breed. A dinosaur in a modern game. Sideline to sideline backers is the future of the game. The Deion Jones’. The Darius Leonard’s. Problem is these types of guys don’t grow on trees. The only slightly comparable veteran available in free agency may be Leighton Vander Esch. He of the full-length novel injury history. Nakobe Dean is an uber talented speedster coming out of Georgia, but any draft pick comes as a gamble in and of itself.

What does the crystal ball say?

It is increasingly unlikely the Pats pursue the number one receiver route. They are married to their free agent crop from a year ago. Agholor has a $15 million cap hit in 2022. Bourne still has two years left on his deal and is extremely affordable ($5 million per year).

The Patriots also spent at tight end. Hunter Henry has a cap hit of $6.88 million in 2022. Jonnu Smith has a $13.75 million cap hit in 2022. Smith is signed for three more years, Henry for two. The Pats aren’t moving on from either.

Smith had a disappointing year in his first in New England. Going forward, I’d expect the Patriots to try to incorporate Smith into their attack much more heavily next year before adding more to this offensive cast. They gave him all that money for a reason and hopefully that reason becomes apparent next season.

That leads to the Patriots upgrading the defense. The crop of free agent defenders features many aging veteran pass rushers and a handful of quality safeties. The Pats don’t NEED a safety as Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips are under team control for the foreseeable future. If McCourty hangs it up, the team could kick some tires but it won’t be a splash move.

Upgrading the front seven will be the priority. Matt Judon started on a tear but completely fell off after the bye week. Barmore appears to be the future in the interior of the defensive line. The Pats are in a mess of their own creation. Promising young players such as Josh Uche, Joejuan Williams, and Chase Winovich both hardly saw the field this season. Third round rookie Ronnie Perkins was never active on game day. Maybe they all blossom into full time impact players going forward, but there’s probably a reason they haven’t seen the field much.

The Pats are in a hole of their own creation by missing on a number of their early draft picks in recent years. Now they are faced with a near impossible task of upgrading several positions with limited cap space. Teams have been able to take advantage of rookie QB’s contract situations. The Patriots will need to get creative to do so.

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Patriots Dolphins Preview: 5 Areas to Watch

A win is still important for the Patriots as they have an outside chance of not only winning the division, but climbing all the way to the number one seed in the AFC. All of those dreams start with a win in Miami.

FOXBOROUGH, MA – SEPTEMBER 12: Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Adam Butler (70) catches New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) during a game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins on September 12, 2021, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Fast Start/Play from Ahead

The Patriots are getting ready for their first-ever week 18 game against the Miami Dolphins. Against the Jaguars last week, it was the first time since their bye week that they quickly gained the advantage and held it throughout the game. The buildup of the team makes it important they get a lead; they’re built to run the ball offensively and rush the passer defensively.

It’s no secret opponents want to put the game in Mac Jones’ hands. Before playing the Jaguars, Mac had thrown four interceptions in the two games prior. While he did enough to put the team in striking range in both games, he was also part of the reason the Pats were in holes to begin with.

Compare that with the effort he put together against Jacksonville and he begins to appear as a snowball passer. When things are rolling in his favor, he plays confidently and more aggressively, often leading to better final stat lines and overall team outcomes for the Patriots.

Against the Dolphins, the Patriots must do to Tua what previous opponents have done to Mac. Both teams are built similarly and Miami would love to play with a lead and their impressive secondary. However, when the pressure is on Tua he has wilted of late. If the Pats can jump out to a quick lead and force Tua to beat them, the game shifts in their favor.

Health

The Patriots already ruled out starters Kyle Dugger and Dont’a Hightower, while Damien Harris is still nursing a hamstring injury. A win is still important for the Patriots as they have an outside chance of winning the division, but that starts with a win in Miami.

Despite the desire to win, the Patriots also must keep an eye on the future as they will potentially be suiting up again in the Wildcard round next week. This shouldn’t be a game where the starters are pulled unless the outcome is virtually guaranteed, meaning the Patriots must come out of it without any additional injuries to monitor going forward.

Nelson Agholor will be making his return from concussion protocol against Miami. His departure from the Colts demonstrated how severely limited the passing game is for New England. While Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers are competent receivers, they struggle to separate against man coverage. Agholor adds a speed element that opposing defenses must respect. Any injury to a starter for the Pats may provide fatal for their hopes in the playoffs.

Miami Weirdness

You probably don’t need a reminder that Miami is a house of horrors for the Patriots. Outside of Michael Floyd destroying a guy and a Wes Welker full field touchdown, there haven’t been many highlights for New England in South Florida.

This will be Mac Jones’ first trip to Miami. His teammates are sure to have made him aware of the multiple disasters that have happened here if he was oblivious. If this game is close late, the Patriots need to refrain from putting any tight ends on defense and do whatever is needed to secure the win.

N’Keal Harry

The Patriots elevated Kristian Wilkerson ahead of last week’s game and he responded with his first two career touchdowns. As mentioned in that game summary, N’Keal Harry’s career high is two touchdown receptions in a SEASON. Despite this, the Patriots did not elevate Wilkerson ahead of the deadline for Sunday’s game.

The return of Agholor may mean the value of Harry’s blocking is more important to the Patriots offensive gameplan than adding a very real fourth receiving threat.

Or perhaps the coaching staff is giving one final gasp at keeping his roster spot. While his physical style and ability as a blocker are impressive, defenses will start matching up with him as a second or third tight end, negating any possible advantage the Pats once had with him on the field. One thing that should be able to put to rest is Harry will not be returning punts against Miami.

The Scoreboard

Not their own, necessarily. But the Patriots and their fans should be watching the outcomes for other games as well. As of this writing, the Chiefs managed to escape a very game Broncos squad, erasing any chance the Patriots had to get the number one seed. However, they can still win the division.

While the Patriots are playing, the results of Tennessee/Houston and Cincinnati/Cleveland will have been decided in the earlier time slot. With those in hand, the Patriots will know if they are playing for a very real possibility of the number two seed.

Regardless of that scenario, the Jets will be taking on the Bills while the Patriots take on the Dolphins. If the Bills win, they win the division. If the Jets somehow beat the Bills, a Patriots victory gives them the AFC East title. Depending on the outcomes of the game today and on Sunday, the Patriots are in play for anything from the number 2 to number 6 seeds in the AFC.

Prediction

In the first match up, I predicted a close game that the Patriots snuck out in the end. A similar outcome is the most likely in the rematch. The Dolphins did not look good last week against the Titans. The Patriots defense, despite their injuries, will have a chance to again stifle the Miami attack. The Patriots offense will have its hands full with the Miami defense. A couple takeaways may blow this one open in favor of the Patriots. That probably doesn’t happen in Miami as the Pats sweat one out 20-17.