Even in the most normal of conditions, this time of year is the Death Valley of the football calendar. A low-lying, arid, barren landscape where next to nothing goes on. When even the tumbleweed of some Cam Newton speculation rolling through or the sun-bleached bones of some player's positive test from the NFL's Pee Patrol is worth celebrating, just to break the monotony. But it's also a dangerous time, because writers get tempted to care away the buzzards of boredom circling over head by shooting ridiculous hot takez at them.
Which brings me to this NFL.com piece. It's a regular feature at this time of year: The Bold Predictions column, the Try Hard Football Writer's friend. And since there's no wagering on them and therefore no jeopardy for being wrong, the bolder and more clickubatory the prediction, the better. This one comes right out of the gate with the first of what I assume will be a steady stream of this particular take that should be common all summer.
1) Patriots will collapse to a top-five pick in the 2021 NFL Draft
By Labor Day, I might even push this to top three. Or on the clock.
Tom Brady is in Tampa. Jarrett Stidham is Jarrett Stidham. Yes, Bill Belichick is the greatest coach in the history of sports, but the roster just isn't that good. The problems that ultimately led to New England's undoing down the stretch last season still exist -- in fact, they're probably even more problematic. And the Patriots no longer have the G.O.A.T. to serve as the ultimate deodorant for what stinks. The receiving corps remains underwhelming. I like the long-term upside of the two tight ends New England drafted in the third round -- Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene -- but the roster lacks a proven NFL commodity at the position. The offensive line is average at best. Same with the backfield. Defensively, the Pats went from historic during the team's 8-0 start last season to leaky in the second half of the year. And the unit lost a number of key players, including Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.
I haven't even mentioned the schedule, which is brutal. Check it out. New England will be the inferior team in almost every single game it plays. Road division games in Miami and New York are hardly givens. The Bills will maul the Patriots.
This season in Foxborough has 5-11 written all over it. If everything breaks right. I think the Jaguars, Patriots and Giants are the three worst teams in the NFL right now.
There's a lot to unpack here, but my involuntary, reflex arc from my neural pathways reacting to this stimulus isn't anger. It's gratitude. Sincerely, thanks to the NFL's state-run media for predicting a disaster. It's been almost 20 years since anybody believed the Pats truly blow and it's going to be exciting to take a magic carpet ride through this whole new world.
So where to begin? Let's have fun jumping around and taking things in random order. For starters, how about "the roster just isn't that good"? This was a team that went 12-4 last year. When did we just decide that rosters filled with slapdicks can just roll out of bed and win 12 games like it's not a thing. Let me remind everyone that Kansas City had the same record. And this franchise went the first 43 years of their existence without ever winning 12 games.Also, they had the No. 1 scoring defense in football. Yes, Kyle Van Noy is a loss. I won't try to put a shine on that sneaker. But Jamie Collins vanished over the second half of the year. They're returning virtually all their other starters save for Danny Shelton, who was a rotational DT. And they've invested heavily on the defensive side of the ball at the front end of the last two drafts and there's every reason to think they'll reap the rewards of that. Suggesting that they turned into the Bengals overnight is laughable.
Next, this idea that their offensive line is "average at best" is ridiculous. They're returning all five of their starters, including David Andrews, who missed all of last year, and Joe Thuney, who was such a hot commodity they had to Franchise him in order to keep him. After missing the early part of what amounted to his redshirt freshman season, Isaiah Wynn demonstrated why they used the 23rd pick in 2018 to get him. At worst, even with the injuries last year, they graded out at the 10th best pass blocking unit and the 12 best run blocking unit according to Pro Football Focus. And while it's not the most popular opinion, there are some who think they're among the best O-lines in the league:
"Same with the backfield"? Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Brandon Bolden for depth and Damien Harris entering his own redshirt freshman year after being selected out of Alabama with the 87th overall pick last year sounds like a deep, versatile group who'll be operating behind Danny Vitale, who is at the very least a professional fullback, instead of behind Elandon Roberts like last year. And again, some people like this unit even more than I do. A LOT more:
Now factor in that the writer concedes Bill Belichick is the best coach that's ever coached, in any sport. In the single most coach-reliant sport there is. And he's returning both of his coordinators. Meaning you could give these guys a roster that "isn't that good" and they're not going 5-11 with them, even if he was trying to lose. Belchick would've done better than 5-11 with the Lions and Browns 0-16 rosters.
I suppose what I like best is that this whole thing boils down to one take: Tom Brady is gone. They can't win jack squat without him. That would be the same Tom Brady we were told was Thelma & Louiseing off a cliff for the past 10 years or so. The guy they made a huge mistake choosing over Jimmy Garoppolo that they would live to regret. If they were lucky. Look, I take a back seat to no man when it comes to appreciating Brady and the two Super Bowls he led them to after the Jimmy G deal. But the same football media that spent years telling us he declining or who could never be as good as Aaron Rodgers or whatever, are now going to tell us he's the only thing that stood between winning the AFC East and it being 1992 around here again. Of fighting the Giants and Jaguars for that hacker tournament Horse's Ass Trophy that is the No. 1 overall pick.
Lewd. Lascivious. Salacious. Outrageous. And deeply appreciated. Hopefully 2020 will stop kicking us in the nads long enough to actually enjoy life by the time real football begins. Because if it does, watching this unfold will be the most fascinating thing since the last time the Pats replaced their franchise QB.