Who will be the Patriots’ biggest challenger in the AFC?


Who will be the Patriots’ biggest challenger in the AFC?

Covering the NFL for almost 20 years allows you to make relationships with a bunch of people. So I thought I'd tap into some of those people as we gear up for New England Patriots training camp for a series of pieces about topics we've been kicking around.


The panel consists of one former Pats player still in the game, two scouts of AFC teams, one front-office member in the AFC, and one NFC scout. They all requested anonymity for obvious reasons (as the player said, "hey, I might want to end up back there!") I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I had talking to these guys.

Today's topic: Who will be the Pats’ biggest challenger in the AFC?

Scout 1: Themselves. Honestly. There’s too much there for them not to roll through the AFC with relative ease. I’m not saying they’re going undefeated. Let’s pump the brakes on that one, shall we? But when you start running down the list of AFC teams, there isn’t one that doesn’t have a glaring weakness as we sit here mid-summer. The Steelers? Ben [Roethlisberger] wasn’t sure he wanted to play, their most talented receiver can’t stop smoking weed [Martavis Bryant] and that defense gets carved up by [Tom] Brady repeatedly. The Texans? Do they have a quarterback? That’s kind of a big deal. The Ravens? I think that window closed. The Bengals? Lot of talent, sure. But the coach/QB combo doesn’t exactly make you crap yourself. I like [Trevor] Siemian in Denver but that’s still asking a lot. Oakland may be the one team that appeared poised but that defense wasn’t good a year ago. So chip Khalil Mack all night and watch Brady throw for 400-plus.. I just think if the Pats stay healthy and stay together, they’ll be in Minnesota playing for back-to-back titles.

Scout 2: Pittsburgh’s the one team that can match them point for point, assuming everyone is on the field. But is Ben still vertical in late January? Is Bell burned out (as of this piece, Le’Veon Bell remained a holdout). Antonio Brown is a talent but is a Facebook Live video more important than putting in your work and respecting those you work with, and against? Mike [Tomlin] should have reeled that in a long time ago. Bill would have. Hell, any coach with a clue would have. They’d win in spite of Mike, not because he matches wits with Bill.

Scout 3: Seattle. (I meant AFC) AFC?? Geez . . . I guess Houston, if I have to stay in conference. That is the one organization that seems like it may be on to something. They’ll stand in there and land all kinds of body blows on Brady. That divisional game was the worst one I’ve seen him play since the start of the 2014 season. They can get after him with four people. They have good corners. But you can’t make mistakes. On either side of the ball. Defensively, can [new defensive coordinator Mike] Vrabel make them an even more disciplined bunch? I like Tom Savage. I think he’s smart. I think he’s poised. But the drafting of DeShaun [Watson] means he doesn’t have much time. Watson is poised too. And god knows he’s played in a ton of big games. But New England in January? Do that, and they’ll erect a statue of him in Houston. 

Ex-Patriot/Current NFL player: “It’s us. No doubt in my mind. (Hey, I can’t tell them who you are and where you play, remember?) Fine. But remember I said it. (Note taken!)

Front Office Exec: I think there are a handful of teams capable. January is a long time away. I’d put it like this: a) give me a coaching staff that has experience and can adjust. You have to against that team because they can dial up so many different ways to beat you, b) a quarterback who is accurate and protects that football. You can’t give Brady a short field. And you can’t waste opportunities +50. Mistake free football is critical. c) Brady is almost human if you hit him early and keep that pressure on him. That’s every quarterback in this league, by the way. In conjunction with that, mix and match coverages. You can’t get comfortable in that regard. He and Josh [McDaniels] are too smart, d) confidence. It sounds stupid, but it’s true. Teams I’ve been a part of that have beaten the Pats or the so-called favored team believed. Plain and simple. And one bad play, or two, wouldn’t change that confidence. The urgency, maybe. But never the confidence. 


Zac Robinson the third former Patriots QB to earn NFL coaching job

Zac Robinson the third former Patriots QB to earn NFL coaching job

The Bill Belichick coaching tree is still one of the biggest in pro football. However, another underrated tree is growing in New England, and that stems from the quarterbacks that have backed up Tom Brady.

Brady, long one of the NFL's best, has had plenty of QBs play behind him in his career. Recently, a few of these former depth players have landed notable coaching jobs. Zac Robinson's hiring by the Rams marked the third former Pats QB draft pick that got a significant NFL promotion, as Pro Football Weekly's Eric Edholm points out.

Robinson was a former seventh-round pick by the Patriots in 2010. He didn't end up making the team, but he hung around the NFL as a practice-squad guy on the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, and Cincinnati Bengals for a few seasons.

Kevin O'Connell was a third-round pick by the Patriots in 2008. He spent just a single season on the team and had brief stints with four other NFL teams. O'Connell was promoted by the Washington Redskins and will serve as their offensive coordinator. 

Kliff Kingsbury also spent a single season on the Patriots after being a sixth-round pick in 2003. He has been in coaching since 2008 and recently took over as the Arizona Cardinals' head coach.

It's unlikely all of this is just coincidence. The Patriots may have specifically been targeting  QBs with bright offensive minds and good leadership skills. Or, the teams hiring these former players could have been intrigued by their experience in New England's successful system. Either way, it's interesting to see three former Patriots- and Brady-connected QBs get promoted to significant positions in one offseason.

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Here are all the picks the Patriots have in the 2019 NFL draft

Here are all the picks the Patriots have in the 2019 NFL draft

The 2019 NFL Draft is drawing nearer and nearer. Scheduled to take place from April 25-27 in Nashville, NFL teams are starting to get geared up for draft season. With compensatory picks now distributed, there is more known about which teams are in a position to control the draft. And one of them could be the Patriots.  

The Patriots were awarded four compensatory selections on Friday. These picks were awarded due to the losses of free agents Malcolm Butler (Titans), Nate Solder (Giants), Danny Amendola (Dolphins), and Cameron Fleming (Cowboys) last offseason. It increased their impressive draft haul from eight potential picks to 12 and, even more impressively, they were able to land two third-round picks, giving them six picks in the top 101.

With those picks now in tow, here's a look at the Pats' 2019 full list of choices: 

First round: 32nd overall – original
Second: 56th overall – via Chicago
Second: 64th overall – original
Third: 73rd overall – via Detroit
Third: 97th overall - Solder compensatory
Third: 101st overall - Butler compensatory
Fourth: 134th overall - original
Sixth: 205th overall - Amendola compensatory
Seventh: 239th overall - via Philadelphia
Seventh: 243rd overall - via Cleveland
Seventh: 246th overall - original
Seventh: 252nd overall - Fleming compensatory

The Patriots have a lot of options with these 12 picks, but Phil Perry's latest seven-round mock has the team targeting offense early and often with their selections.

Of course, it is notable that all these picks are highly unlikely to remain with the Patriots. The team did make eight draft-day trades last year, and that's how they acquired some of these extra picks. Bill Belichick will have the power needed to move up and down the board as he pleases, so trades seem bound to happen again this year.

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