After Thursday’s official launch of the 2020 NFL schedule many folks including me, have picked through the week’s opponents to see where the wins and losses will come from. Unlike any other year since the new millennium, however, it’s completely unpredictable. Many will try, but you can’t even get by week one without asking questions, like who will quarterback the Patriots and Dolphins to start the season? Will the hopeful main event of Jarrett Stidham vs. Tua Tagovailoa be featured? That’s certainly the most intriguing option. Or will we see the undercard of Hoyer vs. Fitzpatrick or some lowly modified version pitting any combination of the four against each other?
Let’s hope not.
Point is, in just Week 1, there are four different potential quarterback matchups that could easily happen, each handicapped evenly at this point. That doesn’t even factor in the idea of a newly acquired QB coming in prior to the start of the season, which is certainly still within the range of outcomes. 106 players will suit up on gameday in week one. So many questions and yet each of the questions referenced so far, center solely around one position, quarterback. So how can you really make an educated prediction as to who will win and how many?
You can’t. You can certainly make a best guess in terms of wins and losses but not much more than that.
Questions, questions and more questions. Which leads me to the real question; wins and losses aside, what will truly define success for the New England Patriots in 2020?
The answer is: Answers.
Whether the 2020 Patriots end up 5-11, closer to .500 or slightly over, the ‘what’ this season is far less important to me than the ‘how’ and the ‘who.’
If the 2020 season ends and we’re still unsure of the Patriots quarterback situation then the season will be a failure. The 2020 NFL season needs to answer the main question surrounding young Stidham, which simply is; is he or isn’t he the quarterback of the future? Regardless of the answer, the Patriots will be better off just by knowing.
Right now, we’re waiting and as Tom Petty once crooned, “The waiting is the hardest part.”
During the Drew Bledsoe era, the Patriots ended both the 1993 and 2000 seasons with an identical record of 5-11. Between those seasons there were three coaching regimes, four playoff appearances, one Super Bowl appearance, lots of excitement, hope, drama, disappointment and lots of change. Though the records were exactly the same, there was a major difference between the feelings surrounding those two losing 5-11 teams. Again, not the ‘what’ but the ‘how.’
The 1993 campaign was filled with agony, until the last four games of the season. It was the first season of both Bill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe and there were many bumps and bruises along the way. Even though Parcells’ Patriots had to suffer through losing streaks of both four and yes, seven games, many of those were heartbreak losses. Those who paid close attention knew, this team just needed to mature and learn how to close (and kick). They eventually did. The result ended with a four-game winning streak and a feeling of hope for the future. The ‘how’ of that 1993, 5-11 team, inspired hope.
The 2000 campaign, which was Bill Belichick’s first season was filled pretty much only with agony and very little hope. The ‘how’ of that 2000, 5-11 team, was uninspiring.
Two 5-11 teams, identical only in record, evoked very different feelings.
Win or lose this season, the feeling I’m looking for to measure success is the feeling of conviction. Conviction either in the form that I felt in 1993 after watching Bledsoe that the future looked brighter; or conviction that we’ve seen enough to know that the quarterback of the future, will actually be coming in the future.
I’m rooting for Stidham to be the answer, but if he isn’t, I don’t fear having a poor outcome in 2020. If Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is the result of one down season, then I can deal with it.
The Patriots roster overall looks pretty deep and solid in enough spots to build from. Most of the positions that needed attention like linebacker, safety, tight end and offensive line were attended to in the draft and the salary cap flexibility upcoming in 2021 is tantalizing. I trust the coach and his overall ability to build a winning and sustainable team and culture like none other.
So as I wrote above, the ‘what’ in terms of the record in 2020 is of little importance to me. I’m well prepared to be underwhelmed this season, provided I get what this team so desperately needs come January 2021.