It wasn’t wholly unexpected, but even so, fans of the New England Patriots will be somewhat disappointed by their regression so far in 2022.
At the time of writing, Bill Belichick’s side has an outside chance of sneaking a wild card and booking their place in the postseason shake-up, but they will need to up their game and hope others fall by the wayside.
Least in the East
The Pats were in a similar boat last year in AFC East, but in 2022 it’s the improvement of the Miami Dolphins – and the inertia of New England – that have combined to put the 2018 Super Bowl winners’ postseason place in peril.
With games to be won still, it might be a tad early for the post-mortem to begin. And it would be easy to forget that the sportsbooks offering Super Bowl odds made the Patriots no better than a +4000 chance to improve considerably on last season’s showing. Even had MA sports betting been legal at the start of the season, few would have had a wager on their local heroes. Bettors in Massachusetts will be allowed to legally bet on the 2023 NFL season, it’s thought, with Governor Charlie Baker signing off on the necessary legislation. With many of the top sportsbooks heading to MA for the launch this year, Pats fans will be able to back their team next term.
However, many improvements will be required to generate much in the way of wagering interest, with Belichick and the recruitment team likely to focus much of their attention on their faltering offensive line.
Points Make Prizes
There are 16 franchises in the AFC Conference, and nine of them have scored more points than the Patriots (as of December 14).
There’s no harm in that if you are keeping things tight defensively, which the Patriots are thanks to the smart coaching of DeMarcus Covington & Co, but you still need to have the offensive talent that can go and win tight games with a moment of brilliance, rather than simply hoping your defense holds out.
The failure of quarterback Mac Jones to really advance in his sophomore year has been something of an obstacle, and some fanciful media reporters are claiming that Tom Brady is even being targeted for a spectacular return to New England.
Mac Jones throws the ball away and then quickly throws up his arms at the sideline in frustration.
Seems to be mounting animosity between him and the coaching staff tonight. pic.twitter.com/bUnDZ7TYzS— Henry McKenna (@McKennAnalysis) December 13, 2022
Jones shouldn’t shoulder all of the negativity, of course, and besides which it could be very difficult for the Pats to find a suitable quarterback replacement in the 2023 Draft. Maybe there’s an argument to suggest the 24-year-old is not being protected enough. At the time of writing, Jones had been taken down by 33 sacks – not a league high, but regular enough to prevent a QB from feeling truly confident in their work.
Isaiah Wynn has been a bust as an offensive tackle, Trent Brown’s status as Jones’ protector has also been hampered by injuries, illness, and inconsistency, while rookie Cole Strange has found his introduction to the NFL pretty challenging.
So offensive tackle is certainly one position that the Pats will be keen to bolster in the off-season, and of the highly touted young guns heading for the 2023 Draft, it’s perhaps Broderick Jones – whose doing excellent things with the Georgia Bulldogs – who will be brought in to add greater protection to his namesake.
Georgia has talent, size, speed…sure. But the effort has to be appreciated. Broderick Jones 59 spinning a DB on the numbers, watch 10 Kearis Jackson at the top of the screen 30 yards downfield & 73 Xavier Truss trying to clean up the pile.— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) December 5, 2022
There is no substitute for it. pic.twitter.com/DT5yCLQOMp
Crossing the Line
There’s the old theory that the receiving corps is only as good as their quarterback, while a quarterback is only good as his squadron of blockers and tacklers.
So if the latter is failing for the Patriots, good luck to their receivers and running backs in giving their offensive output the uplift it so desperately needs.
Scroll through the stats for reception yards this season and you’ll find Jakobi Meyers in position 46 with 593. To find the next Pats player, you’ll need to train your scrolling finger down to 67 (DeVante Parker), and then it’s down to 80 (Hunter Henry).
In short, the Patriots’ reception team simply hasn’t gained enough yards to simultaneously take some of the pressure away from Jones.
It’s unexpected, given that Matt Patricia is on playbook duty, and with options like not renewing Nelson Agholor’s contract on the table, there’s a chance that the Pats will go down the trade route to finally end their search for a game-changing WR.
If they don’t, there will be plenty of Draft diamonds to call upon – Washington State’s Robert Ferrel could be one of the picks of the 2023 Draft, but there’s no guarantee he will still be available when New England comes to make their first selection.
In the weeks ahead, the Patriots may confound expectations and make the playoffs, before embarking on the unlikeliest of deep runs into the business end of the season.
But, in all reality, they will sign off in a low-key fashion, and begin plotting with renewed vigor for 2023.