Indeed, Belichick and the Patriots “have a long way to go” — the team produced just seven wins last season and missed the postseason for the first time since 2008. But many believe this year’s squad, specifically the defense, should be much better, thanks to some key offseason acquisitions that should help the Patriots contend for the top spot in the AFC East with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins.
But as Belichick explained — and yes, it has been reported over the past few days (and weeks) — some members of the Patriots won’t be on the field tomorrow when camp begins at 9:45 a.m. And one of those players is cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was nowhere to be found during the team’s mandatory minicamp.
New England will compete three times next month, including once at home when they open their preseason slate against the Washington FootballTeam on Thursday, August 12 with kickoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Like many, I am excited to see how some of the team’s offseason signings mesh with members of last year’s squad, including quarterback Cam Newton, who will enter the team’s 2021 training camp on Wednesday, July 28 as the favorite to be spotted under center in week one against the Miami Dolphins.
Newton did not have a great 2020 season — I think many know that or are aware of how he performed last fall. But coach Bill Belichick has acquired some solid pieces for the offense over the past few months, including tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Both players should certainly help Newton, as well as the offense, perform even better than they did last season — New England won just seven games in 2020 but had a chance to squeak out a few more victories had things gone their way down the stretch, especially against the Buffalo Bills in New York.
Like Newton, Jones competed in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) — Jones played at Alabama while Newton competed at Auburn — and should be ready to take the reigns from the league’s most valuable player in 2015.
Jones led the Crimson Tide to a national championship in January — Alabama rolled past Ohio State, 52-24, in the College Football Playoff National Championship contest, which was held in Miami Gardens, Florida — and recorded career-highs in completions (311), passing yards (4,500), and touchdowns (41). And despite seeing limited action in 2018 and 2019, Jones should be able to translate his junior season’s success to the NFL this summer and fall.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Stidham has competed in eight games since becoming a member of the Patriots organization, including five contests last season. The former Auburn signal-caller completed 22 of 44 passes for a career and season-high 250 yards and two touchdowns. He did, however, throw three interceptions compared to one in 2019.
Numerous talking heads, along with various analysts believe Mac Jones could be the starter in the opening week, but it will all depend on how he handles himself during in-game situations. As Patriots.com’s Mike Dussault explains, “Every throw of 11-on-11 work will be dissected ad nauseam, but the bottom line is whether or not Jones or Stidham do enough to dethrone Newton, and can Newton hold them off by taking significant strides in his second year in the offense.”
For now, my bet is Cam Newton will be the starter in the opening week, but I do think Patriots fans will see Mac Jones under center at some point this fall — maybe against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week four? I am not sure if week four is when Jones will be thrusted into the lineup, but we’ll certainly learn more about his readiness when the Patriots scrimmage the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles later this summer. Those inter-squad practices will help us identify which quarterback(s) is ready to lead the hometown team to hopefully a postseason appearance next January.
Another week of the National Football League (NFL) is set to kickoff this evening – are you ready for some football?
Whether you’re eager to watch tonight’s contest between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans or Sunday’s bounce back win for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it is time to dish out our second-straight ‘What If‘ NFL Playoff Predictions for the tenth week of the 2020 season.
Like last week, I will list the current postseason teams in order for both conference, as well as highlight the best opening round matchup (in my opinion!), along with who will win their respective conference crown and yes, the Super Bowl!
Let me know what you think – send me a tweet to @NoontimeSports or an email to MattNoonan@noontimesports.com.
Who’s in the AFC Playoffs?
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0)
Kansas City Chiefs (8-1)
Buffalo Bills (7-2)
Tennessee Titans (6-2)
Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
Las Vegas Raiders (5-3)
Miami Dolphins (5-3)
Who’s in the NFC Playoffs?
New Orleans Saints (6-2)
Seattle Seahawks (6-2)
Green Bay Packers (6-2)
Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3)
Arizona Cardinals (5-3)
Los Angeles Rams (5-3)
Most intriguing first-round matchup:
Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs: The Dolphins are trending in the right direction while it appears as if the Chiefs are sleepwalking their way to victory. Sure, this match-up may not occur once the postseason begins, but I would love to see this Dolphins defense against Patrick Mahomes. Most likely, the Chiefs would prevail, but no one should count out these Dolphins, which have scored some impressive wins over the past few weeks.
Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals: These two teams have met previously in the postseason, but who wouldn’t want to watch Kyler Murray face-off with Aaron Rodgers? Pending how the rest of the season goes, this matchup could occur, but again, who knows? Both Murray and Rodgers have been players to watch this season, so you know it would be a game every football fan would want to watch next January.
AFC Championship Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Like last week, this is my AFC Championship prediction, but maybe the Baltimore Ravens, Las Vegas Raiders or Miami Dolphins replace one of these two teams listed above? I could also see the Tennessee Titans in the championship game for the second-straight season, but in the end, the Chiefs are the defending champions and will beat the Steelers by a field goal, not a touchdown. PREDICTION: Kansas City over Pittsburgh
NFC Championship Prediction: Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints: The New Orleans Saints are the best team in the NFC – sorry, Seattle Seahawks fans, but your defense needs to improve its defense immediately. Additionally, I don’t think Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will go on a deep postseason run – maybe they lose in the opening round to the Philadelphia Eagles in the opening round? – but this matchup would feature two of the best quarterbacks in the game. And in the end, the Saints offense will make a few more plays to beat the Packers and celebrate a conference championship on their home field. PREDICTION: New Orleans over Green Bay
Super Bowl Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs vs. New Orleans Saints: This has the potential for an offensive showcase, but which defense will not break? My answer: the Saints! PREDICTION: New Orleans over Kansas City
As many New England football fans know, Bill Belichick has a soft spot for certain positions and players, both past and present, including opposing members of teams his New England Patriots meet on a weekly basis.
When asked about a certain member of the San Francisco 49ers, who will be competing against the Patriots this weekend, Belichick responded with some positive and kind words about their fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, who played locally at Harvard University before being selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of the 2013 National Football League (NFL) Draft.
Since becoming a professional football player, the former Crimson has recorded 186 catches for 1,722 yards and eight touchdowns while rushing for 111 yards on 28 carries and two scores in 112 contests. His best season as a pro occurred in 2015 when he hauled in a career-best 41 receptions for 321 yards and four touchdowns. He also moved the sticks 17 times.
While Juszczyk may not receive the same attention or recognition as his other teammates do like quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo or tight end George Kittle, he is certainly someone to watch every week, according to Belichick, who considers him a “versatile player,” but also one of the best fullbacks in the league.
“When he was with the Ravens, they used him in a lot of different ways and then San Francisco signed him to a big contract for a fullback,” Belichick said when addressing the media via Zoom this morning. “(He) certainly is the highest paid player at his position by quite a bit if I remember correctly, and he continues be used in a variety of ways.”
Belichick would continue by highlighting the various personnel the 49ers use when he is in the game, including 11, 12 and 21 personnel, before adding that the 49ers “use the fullback more than any other team in the league.”
“He’s been very productive for them,” said Belichick.
Through six games this season, Juszczyk has caught six of ten targets for 75 yards while rushing for 18 yards on three carries and one score. He is averaging close to two targets per game and one catch per contest while averaging 12.0 yards per reception.
Juszczyk will be the third Harvard alum Belichick and the Patriots will face this season – New England defeated Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Miami Dolphins in the opening week by a score of 21-11 before falling to Tyler Ott and the Seattle Seahawks in week two.
Noontime’s Week Six Power Rankings (Oct. 14, 2020)
1. Seattle Seahawks (5-0, LW: No. 2): Somehow, the Seahawks pulled out a win on Sunday evening against the Minnesota Vikings.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (4-1, LW: No. 1): The Chiefs suffered their first setback since last November, which seems or sounds crazy, right? Maybe the loss was exactly what coach Andy Reid and his team needed.
3. Green Bay Packers (4-0, LW: No. 3): The Packers were idle this past weekend, but they have looked pretty good through four weeks. This week, Green Bay will visit Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in what should be a decent matchup.
4. Baltimore Ravens (4-1, LW: No. 4): Baltimore’s defense shined against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, but the offense seems to be inconsistent.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-0, LW: No. 6): The Steelers are really good at drafting receivers.
6. Tennessee Titans (4-0, LW: No. 7): The Titans returned to the gridiron last night for the first time in a few weeks and looked really good. And we mean, really good!
7. Buffalo Bills (4-1, LW: No. 5): Did the Bills come down to earth last night or are they still pretty good?
8. Cleveland Browns (4-1, LW: No. 14): Something is different about this Browns team than previous years. Maybe this is finally the year the Browns officially turn the corner and establish a winning culture?
9. New England Patriots (2-2, LW: No. 8): It’s been a chaotic past few days for the Patriots, but let’s hope things start going in the right direction, especially with today’s news about Cam Newton returning to the practice field tomorrow.
10. Los Angeles Rams (4-1, LW: No. 11): The Rams returned to their original form from earlier this season with a runaway win over the Washington Football Team this past weekend. Their early season success should continue against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night.
11. New Orleans Saints (3-2, LW: No. 10): The Los Angeles Chargers did not make things easy for Drew Brees and the Saints on Monday in Louisiana.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2, LW: No. 9): Can someone please tell Tom Brady that there are four downs in football, not five!
13. Carolina Panthers (3-2, LW: No. 16): After starting the season with back-to-back losses, the Panthers have bounced back with three-straight wins. Is it time to consider them a contender for the NFC South?
14. Las Vegas Raiders (3-2, LW: No. 19): Whatever the Raiders did this past weekend against the Chiefs, they must do going forward.
15. Chicago Bears (4-1, LW: No. 15): Did you know the Bears have won four of five contests this season? Are they flying under the radar with Nick Foles?
16. San Francisco 49ers (2-3, LW: No. 13): Injuries are piling up and the 49ers are looking like a one-hit-wonder (in our minds!).
17. Dallas Cowboys (2-3, LW: No. 17): The Cowboys secured the top spot in the NFC East last week with a much-needed divisional win over the New York Giants, but did lose Dak Prescott to a season-ending injury. Ouch!
18. Indianapolis Colts (3-2, LW: No. 12): Maybe the three-game winning streak from the earlier this season was a fluke?
19. Arizona Cardinals (3-2, LW: No. 18): The Cardinals have beaten the following teams: San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets, and the Washington Football Team. And they have suffered setbacks to these teams: Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers. So, how good is this team?
20. Miami Dolphins (2-3, LW: NR): The Dolphins came close to beating the Seahawks two weeks ago, but did score a much-needed win over the 49ers on Sunday. Is something cooking in South Beach that we don’t know about?
On the Rise: Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles