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An early look at the Saints 2021 opponents: New England Patriots

Have the Patriots found their next Brady? Or will they continue to slide into irrelevance

New England Patriots Vs. New Orleans Saints At Mercedes-Benz Superdome Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The 2020 New England Patriots seemed to offer a preview of what the Saints are going through this season. The first year without their Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady was rocky to say the least, as new QB Cam Newton struggled coming back from injury and the defense was heavily impacted by Covid opt-outs. The Saints likely will not have to worry about the later this season, but the first year since 2005 with uncertainty at QB for New Orleans hopefully will go better than the Patriots season in 2020.

The last meeting

New England Patriots vs New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

2017 Week 2 @ New Orleans, Patriots 36, Saints 20

The last time these two teams met was back in 2017, the year that proved to be the start of the Saints rebound from three straight 7-9 seasons. Tom Brady and Drew Brees threw for a combined 803 yards and 5 touchdowns with no interceptions. The Patriots jumped out to a 20-3 first quarter lead, and unlike the Falcons, didn’t blow it. The Saints were unable to mount any sort of a comeback and fell to 0-2. Luckily for the Saints, they won their next eight games on their way back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

The Saints would go on to lose to the Vikings in the playoffs, but the year sparked a resurgence for the team aided by one of the better draft classes in recent NFL history. The Patriots and their trusty pals the referees would defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship game, only to get waxed in the Super Bowl by a backup QB #MylesJackWasntDown.

How their 2020 season ended

The first year since 1999 without Tom Brady on the roster did not go particularly well for Bill Belichick’s squad. The Pats went 7-9 as Cam Newton struggled to come back from injury and a bout with Covid-19. New England missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and had a losing record for the first time since 2000.

Key Departures

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The biggest loss for the Patriots this offseason was guard Joe Thuney. The All-Pro guard signed with the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason on a 5-year deal. His loss will hurt, and they now must hope that 2020 6th round pick Mike Onwenu will be able to continue his strong play in 2021.

The Pats also lost two familiar faces to retirement after the 2020 season. Patrick Chung and Julian Edelman are both 3-time Super Bowl champions who decided to call it quits 12 years after being drafted together in 2009. Kyle Dugger and Jakobi Meyers will look to replace the production left behind by these two Patriot greats, but their presence in the locker room will be hard to replace.

Also leaving in the offseason were contributors such as Rex Burkhead, Damiere Byrd and Jason McCourty, who all left in free agency.

Free agency additions

Tennessee Titans v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Patriots were unusually active in free agency this offseason, signing 11 players on the first day they were available. Many of these signings were of well known talents as well, players such as Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor, and Hunter Henry should improve what was a lackluster passing offense for whoever is under center in 2021 for the Pats. Smith and Henry were seen as the two best tight ends on the market, and gives the Pats yet another great duo at TE following in the footsteps Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Agholor joins the Patriots after having a career year in Las Vegas in 2020. Agholor struggled with consistency in Philly, but was finally able to put everything together in an 800+ yard 8 TD season last year. The Patriots also signed Kendrick Bourne from San Francisco, yet another WR coming off a season in which he set his career high in yards.

The Patriots also took advantage of free agency to build back their defense. The Pats were arguably the team that was the hardest hit by Covid opt-outs in 2020, as they lost key defenders such as Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung. The highest profile defensive player joining the Patriots would be Matthew Judon, who signed a four-year deal coming over from the Ravens. The two time Pro Bowler has registered 15.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss in the last two seasons. He looks to improve a Patriots pass rush that ranked 27th in the league in sacks last season.

Biggest story for 2021

Patriots Draft Pick Mac Jones Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Patriots will have a good old fashioned quarterback controversy heading into the 2021 preseason. Veteran and former MVP Cam Newton had a tumultuous 2020 on his way to a career worst season. A second year of stability as well as more weapons and more time to recover from injury and Covid may help him get back to form in 2021.

The other QB vying for the starting job in New England will be rookie Mac Jones. Jones was drafted in the first round out of Alabama, and could be the long term answer at quarterback for the Pats. The talent gap between Jones’s offenses at Alabama and the defenses he lined up against was wider than anything he is going to experience in the NFL. Because of this, we really won’t know until a few weeks in whether or not Jones is a legit NFL starting QB, or a game manager who was aided by immense talent in college.

Questions for Week 3

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

Who will be the quarterback on each side?

Both the Saints and Patriots enter 2021 with uncertainty at quarterback, not something these two teams had to worry about much during the past 15 years. The likely matchup would be between old division rivals Cam Newton and Jameis Winston. Based on the way each played in their last season as a starter, the edge seems to be with Winston. Despite throwing 30 interceptions, Winston did also throw for over 5,000 yards and 33 touchdowns in his last season in Tampa. Newton struggled mightily last season, as he threw for a career low in passing yards and touchdowns.

It is also possible that we could see either Mac Jones or Taysom Hill starting at quarterback come Week 3. I would say Jones has better odds to start than Hill, as the rookie could win the QB competition in camp or during the preseason. Hill could be the starter for New Orleans come Week 3, but based on the offseason workouts we have seen from both Winston and Hill, right now I would give a pretty big edge to Jameis in terms of being the starting QB.

Which coach will have more success without their Hall of Fame QB?

Sean Payton and Bill Belichick are arguably two of the best three or four coaches in football right now. Both have had the luxury of being able to coach future Hall of Famers for most, if not all in Payton’s case, of their head coaching career. So how will each of them do now that Tom Brady and Drew Brees have moved on?

The edge in this discussion seems to be with Sean Payton, as he has gone 8-1 without Brees over the last two seasons as opposed to Belichick going 7-9 in the first season of the post-Brady era in New England. However, this is the first time in his head coaching career Sean Payton will not begin the season with Drew Brees as his starting quarterback. So despite strong results without Brees in the past, this is still unfamiliar territory for Payton.

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