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2020 NFL team previews: It may be time to bet against the New England Patriots

A world where the Patriots are not one the league’s best teams feels impossible, but a lot of the other stuff that has happened in 2020 felt impossible as well.

New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

I don’t need to tell you how good the New England Patriots are. 17 playoff appearances in 19 years. Eight straight conference championship appearances before 2019. Appeared in four of the last six Super Bowls. Younger NFL fans like myself literally cannot remember a world where the Patriots were entering the NFL season not predicted to compete for a Super Bowl.

2020 has been a weird year, though, so it would only feel fitting that this also becomes the year where the longtime title contenders finally take a step back. The cracks were already showing last year, and now with longtime quarterback Tom Brady out the door, the entire team may experience a large fall from grace.

But they also still have Bill Belichick, the mastermind behind the winning operation, and their new quarterback has some MVP pedigree of his own. Can New England keep up their winning ways?

The NFL season is almost upon us! Over the next few weeks I will be previewing each of the 32 NFL teams, and ranking them 1-32 as to how likely I believe they are to win Super Bowl LV. This week we continue the list with teams on the fringe of the playoff conversation.

23. Miami Dolphins
22. Atlanta Falcons
21. Indianapolis Colts
20. Los Angeles Rams
19. Los Angeles Chargers

18. New England Patriots

New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by Steven Senne-Pool/Getty Images

New England made one of the more exciting moves this offseason when they signed former Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Newton was released by the Panthers this offseason after injuries hampered the last few years of his career, but he was a monster before the injuries struck. Newton was the 2015 NFL MVP and led the team to a 15-1 record and eventual Super Bowl appearance.

Newton was officially named the starter on Thursday, meaning the team belongs to him going forward. Just like in Carolina, though, the team around him is not particularly great.

Julian Edelman is still the best receiver on the roster, but age is starting to become a concern for the teams longtime star. Other than Edelman, the only other NFL caliber receiver is N’Keal Harry, the 2019 first-round pick who looks nowhere near worthy of that draft slot. Mohamed Sanu, who disappointed after arriving in a trade mid-way through last year, was recently released.

Outside of receiver, the Patriots have duo of rookie tight ends in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. At running back, Sony Michel, who clearly took a step back in his second NFL season last year. The skill position talent just is not there for Newton.

New England has not really had a wealth of skill position talent in recent years, though, and have won anyways. Obviously having an all-time great tight end like Rob Gronkowski helped out, but both Belichick and Newton have managed to individually put together great offenses despite limited skill position talent.

The Patriots defense lost a few pieces this offseason (many to the Detroit Lions), but still have the makings of an elite group. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore returns to headline a defense that should once again be among the top in the league. They may not be as dominant as last year—which may, honestly, be impossible—but even if they are significantly worse than last season they still will be a great team.

All of this makes the Patriots one of the harder teams to rank this season. The greatest NFL coach of all time now has arguably the most purely talented quarterback he has ever gotten to work with. That has to be exciting. How can you not think this team takes off in 2020?

On the other hand, Newton may be nowhere near the player he once was. He may not be able to make the incredible plays he once could after how many injuries he has suffered. While he may have made things happen with less-than-stellar weapons in the past, a lot has changed between now and the last time we saw Newton at full health.

Betting against New England feels like a fool's errand. They are the Patriots, they have to be good. This may be the first year in a long time that picking them to win the division may not be the sure lock that it feels—even in a relatively weak AFC East.