Chargers Preview: Getting To Know The New England Patriots
The Los Angeles Chargers are fresh off their bye and have a crucial AFC matchup with a familiar foe in the New England Patriots. Although they are not the same old Patriots team, this will be a very tough challenge for Brandon Staley’s young team. The AFC is a beautiful jumbled mess right now and the Patriots would very much be in the mix of things if they are able to beat the Chargers this weekend. The Chargers could vault up the leaderboard as well if they are able to bounce back from their blowout loss against the Ravens. This feels like a put-up or shut-up game for both sides.
Let’s dive into the New England Patriots.
2020 Season In Review
What do the years 2020, 2008, and 2000 all have in common for the Patriots? Those are the only years in Bill Belichick’s tenure that they have not made the playoffs. They’re also the only three years in which Tom Brady wasn’t his starting quarterback.
Brady of course moved down to Tampa Bay after a 20-year reign of terror where the Patriots won six Super Bowls and established two separate dynasties. Without Brady, the Patriots experienced a transition season. They were short on cash and short on talent. Last year’s roster was unequivocally Belichick’s least talented Patriots roster of his tenure. Some of that was because of injuries and Covid opt-outs but some of that was due to his own failures of building up the roster to previous seasons’ standards. That’s a big reason why Brady left, and it’s a big reason why he’s been so successful down with the Buccaneers.
That being said, the Patriots were still very competitive. 12 of their 16 games were one-score games, despite getting next to nothing from Cam Newton and the passing game. The rushing attack and the defense were mostly able to keep them afloat, but in the end, they lost three of their last four games and were essentially eliminated from the playoffs after getting blown out by Staley’s Rams on Thursday Night Football.
Key Additions And Departures
After suffering through a season in which they were cap strung, the Patriots headed into the 2021 offseason with a clear plan flushed with cash, and boy did they spend big. Part of that plan included signing former Charger Hunter Henry to a three-year, $37.5 million deal. At the time, that contract tied him at third for the highest-paid tight end in the league in terms of the yearly average. His new teammate Jonnu Smith matched that yearly salary after also signing with the Patriots on a four-year, $50 million deal. After picking up the two best tight ends on the market they went out and signed Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne to big deals to shore up the wide receiver room. Clearly, they wanted to upgrade the talent level at the skill positions and while they likely overpaid, they accomplished that mission.
On defense, their big free-agent acquisition was Matt Judon, who they signed from the Baltimore Ravens to add some much-needed juice to their pass rush. The Patriots have invested a good amount of draft capital in that position but Judon gives them a legitimate number one option and should make life easier on their younger pass rushers. Defensive back Jalen Mills, defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, offensive lineman Ted Karras and facilitated returns for linebacker Kyle Van Noy, and offensive tackle Trent Brown (currently on injured reserve) rounded out their spending spree.
The most important move of the offseason, of course, was the decision to draft Mac Jones in the first round of April’s draft. They reportedly had several chances to trade up for their quarterback of choice, but ultimately decided to stick and pick at #15 and ultimately selected Jones to be the pseudo heir apparent to Brady.
After Jones, the Patriots selected defensive tackle Christian Barmore, edge rusher Ronnie Perkins, running back Rhamondre Stevenson, linebacker Cameron McGrone, safety Joshua Bledsoe, offensive lineman William Sherman, and wide receiver Tre Nixon.
Many expected Newton to lead the group of players after the Patriots’ unprecedented free agency period. After all, Belichick has proven time and time again to choose the veteran player over the youth movement. Media members viewed this to be the right decision, given the spending spree, and even floated the term “contender” around the team.
Instead, the Patriots decided to cut Newton in training camp and handed the reins over to Jones. He earned that right to be sure, but Newton also made it easier on him by breaching the league’s Covid protocols which forced him to miss a week of joint practices against the Giants. Jones took over the first-team reps and never looked back.
The ceiling of this football team was always going to be determined by how good, or bad, the quarterback position was. With Newton, you knew that they would be competitive again because he gave them such a big edge in the run game and would protect the football. Add in the better supporting cast, and one could rationalize rolling with Newton again in 2021.
On the other hand, Jones offers a significantly higher ceiling as a passer than Newton does at that stage in his career. As a result, the passing offense has been much improved from last season. Jones has been exactly what everyone expected: efficient and in control. The team currently ranks 17th in passing DVOA, per Football Outsiders. This is a large improvement from last season when they ranked a full ten spots lower. Their offense still has its limitations, namely the lack of a true number one receiver, but the unit overall ranks 14th in weighted DVOA, which is a strong improvement from last season.
The Patriots’ defense is solid, and will always present a strong challenge. However, they strangely trade Stephon Gilmore for next to nothing and recently lost their starting nickel corner in Jonathan Jones, so the secondary has kind of struggled more than we are used to seeing. J.C. Jackson is really their only top-tier player now. Thankfully for them, the front seven has been really good and the additions of Judon and Barmore, in particular, are paying off.
They are right in the thick of things in the AFC, and a win against the Chargers would do wonders for their playoff hopes. If they ended up earning one of the wild card spots, I would not be surprised at all.
History Against The Chargers
Every Chargers fan knows the recent history against the Patriots is not pretty. Every single time that I think the Bolts will finally make it happen, they don’t. The last time the Chargers beat the Patriots Philip Rivers passed for over 300 yards and three touchdowns: one each to Malcolm Floyd, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates. The Chargers’ defense sacked Matt Cassell four times, and Quentin Jammer picked him off once en route to a 30-10 victory. That was in October 2008. I was a freshman in high school at that time. The evil empire leads the all-time series 26-15-2 and has won 10 of the 13 games since 2001.
Despite the complete domination over the last twenty years, I still think the Chargers should win this game. They have the better quarterback, the better offensive weapons, the better pass rush, the better secondary, and are playing home. Still, the Patriots come to town with a highly efficient rushing attack and the best coach in football history. This is going to be a slugfest, but I will be picking the Chargers to win 24-20.