LET’S SALUTE THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
In 2018 and 2019, the New England Patriots players were dominant. Tom Brady steered from the driver’s seat, wide receiver Julian Edelman had sure hands and it was chunky Super Bowl rings for all.
Then Brady got snatched up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led that Florida team to take down the Vince Lombardi trophy on February 7, 2021, and his old squad was left in the dust. It’s been that way for three years.
Will 2023 be the year that the Super Bowl jinx breaks for New England? According to the 888 sports betting, the Pats’ AFC championship odds rest at /1 (it could be worse; the Houston Texans languish at 80/1).
One way for them to have a shot at taking it all the way: amp up the red-zone offense. After crossing opponents’ 20-yard line, last season, the team’s touchdown percentage ranked at a measly 42.2 percent.
It placed them in the NFL cellar where that category is concerned. It was not a good time to be wearing an NFL jersey with the New England colours.
Some weirdly good news: The Pats have nowhere to go but up. While quarterback Mac Jones had an abysmal season last year – not helped by Jones’ injuries – hopes are high for an improved performance in 2023.
Look for him to reel off quick, tightly targeted passes and manage a strong running game this season.
Ezekiel Elliott, a new-comer to the team who is likely to serve as the number-two running back, told Boston.com that the Patriots’ elevated ground game is part of what has made him happy to sign on.
Poised to be called in when short yardage is what New England needs to get, he said, “This is definitely a team that wants to run the ball and wants to be balanced.”
At least that is the plan for offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who is clearly aiming to put together a workable side that scores touchdowns and avoids turnovers.
He specializes in setting up mismatches in terms of pass-receivers vs defenders, and that just might happen this season.
Tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki have the makings to pull it off. Gesicki, formerly with the Miami Dolphins, was the second best at his position for contested catches in 2020 and 2021. If he brings that to the Pats this year, points may pile up.
Nevertheless, the odds of once lauded coach Bill Belichick being named coach of the year are long at 30/1.
One man who may help bolster the defence is new cornerback Christian Gonzalez. Perfectly built for the job at 6’ 2” and 220-pounds, while being extremely athletic, Gonzalez is one to keep your eye on this season.
“I try to fight being comfortable,” he said during an interview on the Pat’s practice field. “I keep trying to get better.” He will need to, in light of the Patriots’ schedule this season. In nine of their 17 games, the team will be taking on outfits that earned playoff spots last year.
They’ll even be going against the two teams that competed in the previous season’s Super Bowl: the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles.
In fact, the season opener, on September 10, will immediately put the Patriots to the test. That is when they square off against the Eagles, who lost the last Super Bowl by just three points.
If you want to take a flyer, though – with the Pats a 9/20 underdog, at the team’s Gillette Stadium – break out your red jersey and strap in for what could be a bumpy ride come game day.
*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to AP Photo*