1. This is going to be a fascinating year when it comes to the Patriots and their fan base. For the first time in nearly 20 years, they in all likelihood will not be among the best teams in the AFC, so how patient will the fans be? If the team is 2-3 (which is possible given its schedule) going into the bye week, will they stay with the team and second-year player Jarrett Stidham, or potentially flip to the Buccaneers and Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, who very well could be 4-1 at that point in the calendar? Almost all teams that have been in a rebuilding or retooling year do not have another team for fans to immediately get behind like is the case with the Buccaneers for Patriots fans. Even if the Patriots start slow, as long as Stidham shows signs of getting better each week, then it’s pretty easy to convince fans to stay committed. The same goes for other second-year players like N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers. If these players are making exciting plays on a weekly basis, even if the team is losing games, fans will likely stick around since progress will be happening. (But, if Brian Hoyer is at quarterback and he’s doing Hoyer things, then fans could turn away because what’s the point in tracking his progress? It’s likely Stidham is the QB, so it is a moot point.) Also, keep in mind the Patriots and Buccaneers do not play at the same time until Week 15. It’s hard to imagine people in New England planning weekends around Buccaneers games and not Patriots games. The likely scenario is the teams will be watched the same, and that is easy to accomplish since the two teams combine to play 10 primetime games over the course of the season. So, while it certainly will be a different year in New England with Brady and Gronkowski in Tampa, the interest will likely still be there.
2. Mentioning Stidham, Harry and Meyers got us thinking that there will be more interest in tracking the progress of second-year players than rookies this coming season. The top selections in the draft — Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene — feel like role players for their first year as they adjust to life in the NFL. Remember, Dugger is coming from D-II and Uche wasn’t even a starter at Michigan. It’s hard to imagine any rookie, besides kicker Justin Rohrwasser, having a major impact in 2020.
3. While it’s dangerous to read into what is put out on a player’s social media account, Harry seems to be putting in serious work this offseason when it comes to improving his game and route running. Count us in the camp that Harry will take a big Year 1 to Year 2 jump and be the contributor the Patriots thought they were getting when they selected him in the first round a year ago.
4. With ESPN’s The Last Dance concluding Sunday night, it’s been hard not to think of Brady with a lot of things associated with Michael Jordan. One of the themes in almost every episode has been Jordan always finding something to motivate him, no matter how small it is. That has always been something Brady has done, including this coming season where it will likely be winning without Bill Belichick. It’s clear both stars’ competitiveness allowed them to be the best in their respective sports.
5. This week, WEEI’s Christian Fauria said Brady is “changing in front of our eyes” when discussing his social media response to Gary Myers’ report that he and Josh McDaniels had a “deteriorating relationship.” While Brady has certainly been more active on social media and with media appearances since leaving New England, he isn’t changing. It is more of just being able to do these things since he’s not on the Patriots anymore. Brady was still active with social media and other ventures with the Patriots (Instagram, Tom vs. Time, etc.), but those weren’t exactly seen positively within the organization so he didn’t do as much of it as he probably would have liked. Brady hasn’t changed, he’s just been able to do more since he’s no longer under Belichick’s watch.
6. With Boston mayor Marty Walsh saying there will be no fans at Fenway Park in August, it’s worth wondering what Gillette Stadium will look like for the first Patriots preseason game, Aug. 13. At this point, it is hard to imagine a sold out stadium, but will there be any fans at all? Given it’s so far away and so much can happen between now and then it’s hard to make any firm declaration, but judging by Walsh’s comments, it’s more likely than not that NFL preseason games do not have fans, or at least capacity is severely cut.
7. While Roger Goodell sent a memo to teams late last week allowing facilities to open if allowed by state and local regulations, don’t expect Gillette Stadium to reopen any time soon given where things stand in Massachusetts. With that being said, teams that can return may not have more than 50 percent of their staff in the building at the same time and head coaches are not permitted. This means no team will really have an advantage when it comes to being ahead of another. Regardless, this certainly is a positive sign for things returning to somewhat normal and progress towards starting the 2020 season on time.