For people who don't spend time in and around New England or don't consume this market's sports media (outside of this particular outlet, which is clearly the pinnacle of all reporting and entertainment since the invention of the Gutenberg printing press), it's probably hard for me to explain the level of negativity surrounding this year's Patriots.
I mean, there's always been an element of that. For 20 years of the Tom Brady Era, there'd be a narrative about how they were in decline, they were too old and slow, they lost the one coach or non-Brady player they couldn't afford to lose and now the whole Jenga tower was about to hit the table or whatever. That in addition to the usual claptrap about how they're corrupt and arrogant and wouldn't win if there was any justice left in the world.
But this offseason, it's been at a whole other level. Beyond even anything we saw during the Cam Newton year, when they led the league in Covid opt outs, lost some games with terrible brainsharts in the last minute or so and stumbled to 7-9. This year, it's been as if 2021's 10-7 with a completely revamped roster surrounding a rookie quarterback never happened. The usual doubters and haters have constructed a Dyson Sphere around the Patriots to absorb whatever positivity might be radiating from them and convert it into negative energy.
I've been generally aware of what the national football intelligentsia think of this year's addition. But thanks to a survey of five NFL executives, I get the very real impression that negativity is universal:
Source (paywall) - Votes: 5-6-11-11-13 | Avg: 9.6 | Median: 11
Execs were all over the landscape on the Patriots as well.
"I probably believe in Mac Jones a lot more than most — I am probably too high on them," the voter who ranked the Patriots fifth said. "I basically look at them as a team that could sneak into the playoffs, anywhere from 7-10 wins. People are getting all caught up in the offense looking bad this summer. Bill Belichick is a really good coach. I'm less concerned about that." …
"The O-line is average, but if their running game can get off to a hot start and stay hot, they have a chance," another exec said. "If the running game is lukewarm, there could be issues where you put a lot on the quarterback's plate."
By way of perspective, 11th places New England just behind Miami. And ahead of only Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Jacksonville, New York and Houston.
So that's where we are. That's the situation we find ourselves in. Any optimism you or I might have over Mac Jones having the best rookie season in his quarterback class, the addition of DeVante Parker as their WR1, another year in the system for a host of free agents, especially Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith is misplaced. Even the guy who ranks them in the top third of the conference can't say it without apologizing for his opinion and putting all his hopes on Bill Belichick's magical wizard powers or something. The rest have them somewhere down near the top of the lower third. That territory where we're accustomed to seeing the Dolphins, Raiders and Broncos over the last half decade or so.
Fine. Bring on that sweet, sweet negativity. I'm not going to sit here and lead cheers. I'm not here to talk pep. I will say though that the demise of this franchise has been supposedly upon us for a long, long time now. As far back as the 10 years it went between championships from 2004-14. And as recently as last year, when they made the playoffs against all odds. Betting against the Belichick Dynasty has been a losing proposition for a generation. And saving the receipts of all the people who had them dead and buried has been one of the most gratifying parts of all the winning. (Besides all the winning.) I just want this preserved for history that with a week to go before the 2022 season began, a representative cross-section of NFL executives convinced the Patriots were slightly better than Pittsburgh and Cleveland. And that THIS was the year they finally stopped being the New England Patriots of the 21st century and became an afterthought.
Duly noted. See you very soon on this. Kiss the rings.