Iron Bowl QB debuts?
Neither Bill Belichick nor his former defensive coordinator-turned-Miami head coach Brian Flores can know for sure who’ll be starting at quarterback when the Dolphins travel to Gillette Stadium to take on the Patriots on opening day for 2020. Depending on your perspective, both teams has plenty of questions and plenty of hope at the position.
It’s a rematch of last year’s regular season finale for the teams, as you may still recall despite trying to forget that Miami’s upset in Foxborough cost the Patriots a playoff bye and was the first step in an uncharacteristically long offseason – both literally and figuratively.
When the teams return to the Gillette Stadium turf it’s possible the game will be a battle of SEC powerhouse quarterbacks making their first NFL starts. Auburn alum Jarrett Stidham could very well kick off his second season stepping into the massive shoes Tom Brady left in Foxborough. And Dolphins first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa is recovering so well from his season-ending hip injury at Alabama that he might just be ready for opening day.
This time around both would face massive expectations for massively different reasons. Stidham would be expected to pick up where Brady left off – well not the pick-6 that was Brady’s last throw at Gillette Stadium in the loss to the Titans on Wild Card Weekend, necessarily – and show out of the gates that he’s worthy of being the heir to the air game in New England. Tua – yup, going with the first name – is the No. 5 overall pick expected to be the No. 1-wearing, left-handed future for the Dolphins, a team that hasn’t had a franchise quarterback since Dan Marino retired.
For the record, Tua beat “Stid” when they faced off in SEC action in in 2018.
Now, there is also a chance that both coaches will protect their young passers. That could lead to a dismal opening day matchup of journeyman backups in New England’s Brian Hoyer and Miami’s Harvard-educated Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Stid vs. Tua, really interesting. Hoyer vs. Fitzpatrick, really not.
For now, though, let’s hope we see the future of the teams, the future of AFC East-title-chasing in Stidham and Tua on opening day.
Hell, with what’s going on in the world these days, let’s just hope we see football and the September 13 opener at all!
Plenty of Tom for both?
You can take Tom Brady away from Patriots fans, but you may not be able to take Patriots fans away from Tom Brady.
Or something like that.
Since Brady announced that he was leaving the Patriots and subsequently signed with the Buccaneers, an almost endless stream of fans on Twitter, WEEI’s airwaves and across Patriot Nation have declared that they would be cheering on the G.O.A.T.’s work in his new home. Some even went so far as to say that if the ultimate sports bar hypothetical came to fruition and the Patriots played the Bucs at Tampa Bay’s own Raymond James Stadium in Super Bowl LV this February they would actually root for TB12 not their supposedly “favorite” team.
Dynastic divorces are difficult. Who gets the fans?
Anyway, now that the NFL schedule is out it appears it’s going to be quite easy for media, fans and maybe even one hoodie-wearing former Brady boss to follow the quarterback’s every move in, Tompa Bay this season.
Wanna root against him? That’ll be easy too!
By that time the courses for both teams will be charted. Contenders? Pretenders? Also-rans?
If the Bucs have the better record – as many, including Las Vegas seem to expect – it’s not crazy to think more people in New England will be worried about Brady and Tampa Bay than they will be focused on the way their own team’s season is playing out.
These could be strange times indeed.
On the defensive early
A year ago the Boogeymen defense in New England feasted early in the season on young, inexperienced and journeyman quarterbacks. Things won’t be quite as easy for the new-look unit this fall with two of the first four games on the schedule against perineal MVP candidates in Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.
After facing Ben Roethlisberger in last year’s season opener, Stephon Gilmore and company didn’t meet up with another veteran, proven passer until November. So it’s no surprise that no opposing quarterback had a passer rating against New England above 79.5 in first eight weeks.
This time around the Patriots defense will deal with Wilson in Week 2, Mahomes in Week 4 and former Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 7.
If Bill Belichick’s defense – with key guys like Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins having moved on in free agency – can put up numbers early in 2020 anything like it did last fall, it will be a massive accomplishment. It’s also pretty damn unlikely. More likely is that that unit will take its lumps at times in the first month, which some in New England have referred to as “an extension of the preseason.”
Wonder if that theory holds true in the post-Brady world?
Feast for the East
The NFL has back loaded schedules with division games for years now, but things are even more extreme in 2020. After the opener against Miami, New England doesn’t play another AFC East game until traveling to Buffalo on Nov. 1.
With the division in question more than it’s been in two decades – did we mention Tom Brady is no longer rolling out of bed and winning the East for the Patriots? – New England will play five division games in the final 10 weeks of the season, including three straight to close out the year.
If Belichick’s troops remain at least competitive in the first year AB – After Brady, not Antonio Brown – they should be in the hunt for those AFC East battles to be competitive come late December. At least that’s how the league and TV networks see it with the Week 16 games against Buffalo on Monday Night Football.
Whether Stidham opens the season or not, by time the bulk of the AFC East games roll around he should be under center each week and have some playing experience under his belt. And those battles would match him up against other young, unproven, questionable quarterbacks not guys like Wilson or Mahomes.
In a glass-half-full view, Stidham and the Patriots should have a chance to prove themselves against beatable competition down the stretch, if it’s not already too late.
Yup, we’re gonna do it. Prediction time!
It’s something we all do when the schedule comes out. Don’t deny it.
In April or May. Before teams have had a single practice. Before a single sure-to-come injury has occurred. Before rosters are even close to being set. Before starting jobs – including at quarterback – are even won or lost.
But we all do it.
We run through the 16-game schedule and assign theoretical wins or losses to each contest.
It’s stupid. But damn it, that won’t stop us from doing it.
And don’t worry, Bill, we make these predictions one game at a time.
So, here goes…
Vs. Dolphins – W
At Seahawks – L
Vs. Raiders – W
At Chiefs – L
Vs. Broncos – W
Vs. 49ers – L
At Bills – L
At Jets – W
Vs. Ravens – L
At Texans – L
Vs. Cardinals – W
At Chargers – W
At Rams – L
At Dolphins – L
Bills – L
Jets – W
Whelp, there you have it. The Patriots are going 7-9 in 2020. Says so right here. On May 8. With the team having not held even a single meeting in person, stuck living in a Zoom, WebEx, FaceTime world thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
It is what it is.