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State of the 2023 New England Patriots: Can Bill Belichick and Co. get back on postseason track?

Where does your squad stand in 2023? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Members of the Patriots organization, Patriots fans around the world and those who think the red Patriots throwbacks are some of the sickest throwbacks going ...

Where do the New England Patriots go from here? Tom Brady won a Super Bowl in Tampa immediately after leaving in 2020, while the Patriots have finished outside of first place in the AFC East -- a division they ruled for years -- in each of the past three seasons. New England brought back a familiar face (no, not that one) to help get things on track again. Can the Pats make it happen? Good question. But before we look forward, we need to take a look back.

2022 rewind

One high from last season: Climbing to 7-6 in Week 14. After losing two in a row, the Pats outlasted the Cardinals on Monday Night Football, preserving their place in the AFC playoff picture. They were riding relatively high into a Week 15 showdown with the Raiders and former New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Yeah, I think we all remember what happened next.

One low from last season: Whatever you call the events of the video embedded below. The Patriots had a shot to pull one out in overtime in Vegas -- until Jakobi Meyers made a play I still can't quite comprehend:

2023 VIPs

Quarterback: Mac Jones. New England fans were feeling themselves back when it looked like the Patriots might have snagged the best quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft. Jones (taken 15th overall) led all rookies in the 2021 season with 10 quarterback wins (a totally real and useful stat), completion percentage (67.6), passing yards (3,801), passing touchdowns (22) and passer rating (92.5). And then came last season, when Jones failed to crack the 3,000-yard mark while putting up a TD-to-INT ratio of 14:11 in 14 games.

So his 2022 wasn't all that great. But I think that might have been partly because of the, um, unorthodox situation at offensive coordinator, with defensive assistants Joe Judge and Matt Patricia splitting McDaniels' old job before Patricia took on the role of play-caller, a setup that eventually led to Jones venting some frustration in a very public manner. Jones was also hampered by a high ankle sprain early in the season that cost him some time; it's worth noting he got better down the stretch, logging 11 touchdown passes against just four picks in his final nine games.

The offensive coordinator position has been addressed, as we will discuss further in a moment. Setting aside the question of when -- if ever -- Jones might approach the upper echelon of quarterbacks that his predecessor in New England ruled for so long, there is a real chance for him to still be a good NFL QB.

Projected 2023 MVP: Jones. If the Patriots are to win more games in 2023, they'll likely want to improve on last season's pedestrian point differential (17). One way for Jones to help do that is by boosting New England's performance inside the opponent's 20-yard line. The Patriots had the NFL's worst red-zone offense (42.2 TD percentage) in 2022 after ranking 11th in that category (61.9%) in 2021.

New face to know: Christian Gonzalez, cornerback. Leave it to the Patriots to nab one of the steals in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Daniel Jeremiah ranked Gonzalez as the 10th-best player available, and several mock drafts had Gonzalez going off the board early in Round 1. So of course New England was able to grab him after trading down to the 17th overall slot. The addition of Gonzalez will be even more important depending on what happens with cornerback Jack Jones; the second-year pro was arrested in June when, according to police, two firearms were found in his carry-on luggage at Logan International Airport (Jones later pleaded not guilty).

2023 breakout star: Ja'Whaun Bentley, linebacker. I might be playing a bit fast and loose with this category by calling Bentley a potential breakout player. The 2018 fifth-round pick became a regular starter in 2020, when he was first named a team captain. He received that honor again last season, when he logged a team-high 122 tackles, along with three sacks, a pick and a fumble recovery, then was handed a two-year, $18.75 million extension. He's as solid as they come. So let's say I'm focusing on the star portion of this prediction. I feel like Bentley has been underappreciated by the general football-viewing public. He kind of reminds me of how comedian Bill Burr flew under the radar for years. Now Burr is finally starting to receive the accolades he deserves (seriously, he was the bomb in The Mandalorian). It's time for Bentley to get the same kind of treatment.

2023 braintrust

Table inside Article
Head coach/GM Bill Belichick
Offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien
Special teams coordinator Cameron Achord
  • I'm still down with calling Belichick the greatest coach in NFL history. Sure, he was better with Tom Brady. But you don't think negatively about Paul McCartney because some would say his best years came when he was with the Beatles. That said, it's time to resume the tradition of winning in New England again. Since Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots have never missed the playoffs in back to back seasons. And in the seasons following each of their previous four playoff-less campaigns, they've posted 10 wins or more, winning the Super Bowl twice. Bouncing back from 2022 will be a significant test for Belichick.
  • We already talked about Matt Patricia and Joe Judge. And while the team should be fine continuing to not name a defensive coordinator, it's time to have a real offensive coordinator calling the plays on that side of the ball. O'Brien is a damn good one. He was on staff in New England from 2007 to 2011, serving as the offensive play-caller for the final three seasons of that stint, a span in which the Patriots ranked second in yards and first in points scored. And O'Brien's subsequent solo stuff wasn't as bad as people might want to make you believe. After leaving New England, he had some solid offensive years with Penn State, the Houston Texans and Alabama. O'Brien going back to the Pats is kind of like when Slash returned to Guns N' Roses. It's home.

Roster reshuffling

Below is a rundown of the Patriots' most notable roster developments for the 2023 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.

Table inside Article
Draft class (round-pick) Key additions Key departures
Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon (1-17) Trace McSorley, QB Brian Hoyer, QB
Keion White, Edge, Georgia Tech (2-46) James Robinson, RB Damien Harris, RB
Marte Mapu, LB, Sacramento State (3-76) JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR Jakobi Meyers, WR
Jake Andrews, C, Troy (4-107 Mike Gesicki, TE Nelson Agholor, WR
Chad Ryland, K, Maryland (4-112) Calvin Anderson, OT Jonnu Smith, TE
Sidy Sow, OG, Eastern Michigan (4-117) Riley Reiff, OT Marcus Cannon, OT
Atonio Mafi, OG, UCLA (5-144) Chris Board, LB Isaiah Wynn, OT
Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU (6-187) Devin McCourty, S
Bryce Baringer, P, Michigan State (6-192) Jake Bailey, P
Demario Douglas, WR, Liberty (6-210) Michael Palardy, P

2023 roadmap

Six key dates:

  • Weeks 7, 17 against Buffalo Bills; Weeks 2, 8 against Dolphins. I'm squeezing in three more matchups than I'd usually talk about here because Belichick has gone 1-5 against the Bills and 2-4 against the Dolphins since Brady left. For years, games against Buffalo and Miami could be considered automatic victories for the Patriots (although maybe not games at Miami). Belichick has got to start putting together some wins against the Bills and Dolphins again.

Will the Patriots be able to ...

... field a defense dominant enough to carry the offense if needed? I'm not saying this is definitely going to be needed. I love the hiring of O'Brien and I still like Jones (although, as you should know by now, as a Bears fan, I'm a Justin Fields guy if we're picking QBs from Jones' draft class). But the Patriots' defense can play some ball. New England has allowed 19.1 points per game since 2021 -- third in the league, behind the Bills and 49ers. The Patriots have allowed 10 or fewer points in nine games since 2021 -- tied for the most such games in the NFL. They also have 10 defensive touchdowns since 2021, which is the most in the league during that time. In fact, the Patriots have had a top-10 scoring defense in 18 of Belichick's 23 seasons as Patriots head coach. The leader of the unit, of course, is Matthew Judon, who had 15.5 sacks and 28 quarterback hits in 2022. His 28 sacks since 2021 are tied for third in the league, behind Nick Bosa and Myles Garrett.

... establish a No. 1 pass-catcher for Mac Jones? This offseason, the Patriots lost four offensive skill players who made at least seven starts in 2022: receivers Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor, running back Damien Harris and tight end Jonnu Smith. Meyers led New England in receiving yards in each of his last three seasons. (Don't worry; I'm not showing that video again.) But DeVante Parker, who finished second in receiving yards last season, remains, having recently signed an extension. Tight end Hunter Henry, who finished third in receiving yards, is still around, as well. JuJu Smith-Schuster was brought in on a three-year deal, coming off a 2022 campaign in which he led all Chiefs receivers in catches (78) and receiving yards (933). New tight end Mike Gesicki seemed to slide down in the pecking order in Miami last season following the Dolphins' acquisition of Tyreek Hill; Gesicki logged just 32 catches on 52 targets, the lowest since his rookie season in 2018. But he did have five touchdowns and should see more targets with Jones and the Patriots. The Patriots have also hosted free agent DeAndre Hopkins for a visit. I don't know if Hopkins' relationship with O'Brien, who traded him away from Houston in 2020, helps or hurts. I'm serious. I don't know.

One storyline ...

... people shouldn't overlook: The Patriots' rushing attack isn't some unsolvable riddle. The idea that it is is mostly the gripe of fantasy dorks. Still, I'm a huge Rhamondre Stevenson guy. He led the Patriots in rushing yards (1,040), rushing touchdowns (five) -- and receptions (69, a career high). With Stevenson mixed in with all of those players I mentioned earlier, the Patriots could be all right on offense this year. If the line holds up. Which, based on a less-than-glowing report from The Athletic's Chad Graff, is something to track. But I'm not worried about Stevenson.

For 2023 to be a success, the Patriots MUST:

  • Make the playoffs. This makes my heart hurt, because for years, anything less than winning a Super Bowl was seen as a massive failure in New England. But at some point, you need to realize those days have gone. In the three seasons since Tom Brady left, the Patriots have missed the playoffs twice -- the same number of times they missed the playoffs in the 19 seasons Brady started for them (including the 2008 season, when Brady played only one game). I know that this isn't a James Bond movie, where you can just change out the actor playing Bond and keep things rolling along, but having a presence in the postseason should still be the expectation for the Patriots.

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