Impressive stat proves why Patriots are strong bet to win 2020 season opener

Impressive stat proves why Patriots are strong bet to win 2020 season opener

The New England Patriots probably aren't going to be Super Bowl contenders in 2020. If you believe the oddsmakers, they'll struggle to stay above .500.

But if you're counting on them losing their first game of the post-Tom Brady era, we have something to show you.

Unless Brian Hoyer finds the fountain of youth or the Patriots make a splash via free agency or trade, second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham is in line to be the Patriots' starting QB in 2020.

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If Stidham starts in Week 1, he'll be the seventh quarterback to log his first career start with Bill Belichick as his head coach.

Guess how the previous six QBs fared? Boston Sports Info has the details:

Belichick is a perfect 6-0 (4-0 with the Patriots; 2-0 with the Cleveland Browns) in his head coaching career with a QB making his first career start.

That's a remarkable stat, especially since this list isn't loaded with future Hall of Famers. 

Todd Philcox played a total of 15 NFL games but still tossed three touchdown passes in his first start to help the 1992 Cleveland Browns defeat the Oakland Raiders. Eric Zeier? He won just four games as an NFL starter, but one of them was a 29-26 win over the Cincinnati Bengals for Belichick's Browns in 1995.

More recently, Belichick has worked his coaching magic with Belichick replacements Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.

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Cassel won his first start in Week 2 of the 2008 season after Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2, then helped guide New England to an 11-5 record despite not even starting a game in college.

Belichick cycled through two QBs in the first four weeks of the 2016 season with Brady serving his Deflategate suspension, but helped Garoppolo defeat Arizona on the road in Week 1 and set Brissett up to knock off the eventual AFC South champion Houston Texans in Week 3.

If Belichick were so inclined, he may use the above stat as evidence he's more important to New England's success than Brady.

Barroom debates aside, Patriots fans still should feel confident if Stidham is their QB for the season opener given who will be patrolling the sideline.

Patriots' N'Keal Harry must break this bad habit in 2020, trainer says

Patriots' N'Keal Harry must break this bad habit in 2020, trainer says

If you ask Rischad Whitfield, an ankle injury wasn't the only thing that slowed N'Keal Harry down last season.

Whitfield, a personal trainer who brands himself as "The Footwork King," has been working with Harry this offseason to improve the New England Patriots wide receiver's footwork.

Specifically, Whitfield is trying to get Harry to play lighter and faster -- and get the 22-year-old out of improper foot mechanics that have slowed him down.

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"N'Keal told me, he goes, 'All my life, I've been told to stay low, stay low, stay low.' But the lower you get, the heavier you get," Whitfield told NFL Media's Mike Giardi in a recent interview.

"That's a science. Anybody can do a squat right now with no barbell on their back, have a little squat and then jump. The lower they get, the heavier they get. They can't move. I'm breaking him out of that mold."

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Harry used that low, wide base to overpower defensive backs at Arizona State. But Whitfield, who has worked with Odell Beckham Jr., Mecole Hardman and Deebo Samuel among other talented wide receivers, believes that approach won't work against the NFL's bigger, stronger cornerbacks, which is why he's trying to make Harry more nimble.

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"He gets really wide, so I'm keeping him working with his base narrow and a little bit higher, just like a boxer," Whitfield said.

"This is the prime example I give him: You can't box with no footwork. You got to bob and weave and move out of the way. They're nimble. They're light. I got to get him to that, because he'll get wide. He'll stomp. He'll move his feet, but it's so heavy that it's not going anywhere. He's not moving the defensive back vertical."

That's not an encouraging assessment of Harry, the Patriots' first wide receiver taken in the first round since Terry Glenn in 1996. But it may explain why Harry created an average of just 2.2 yards of separation on his routes in 2019, which according to Next Gen Stats was the lowest on the team.

The good news is that Harry has multiple coaches working with him on his footwork -- he's also training with ex-Patriots tight end Dwayne Allen's brother, Justin Allen -- and if that hard work pays off, he could be a prominent weapon for second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham.

Do Patriots have two lockdown cornerbacks? This stat says they do

Do Patriots have two lockdown cornerbacks? This stat says they do

It's not easy to find a team with a better secondary than the New England Patriots.

After all, cornerback Stephon Gilmore is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year award winner.

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The group also consists of other talented veterans, including safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, both of whom have won three Super Bowl titles in New England. Let's not forget veteran cornerback Jason McCourty has been a very good addition to the secondary since his arrival via trade in 2018.

One player who doesn't receive enough credit is J.C. Jackson, who's quickly rising to stardom at the cornerback position. Jackson just completed his second season with the Patriots after joining them as an undrafted free agent in 2018. 

He tallied five interceptions last season, which was tied for the second-most of any defensive player. It wasn't his only impressive stat from 2019, though. Check out the Pro Football Focus tweet below for one area where Jackson actually led the league last year.

Jackson is one of the best values in the league with a 2020 salary cap hit of only $753,334, per Spotrac. His raise could be coming soon, though, as he's able to become a restricted free agent after next season.