NFL exec 'wouldn't be surprised' if Patriots won AFC East without Tom Brady

NFL exec 'wouldn't be surprised' if Patriots won AFC East without Tom Brady

The New England Patriots have dominated the AFC East for the last 20 years, but will that historic run end in 2020 now that Tom Brady is no longer the team's starting quarterback?

The Patriots won the AFC East title nearly every season of Brady's career in New England. Since 2001, the only seasons in which they failed to claim the division crown were 2002 and 2008 (when Brady suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1). Brady owns an amazing 86-22 regular season record versus AFC East opponents, including a 32-3 mark against the Buffalo Bills.

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Despite losing Brady and other key free agents this offseason, the Patriots should still be among the playoff contenders in the AFC. But will they be good enough to win the division for the 12th consecutive season?

The Athletic's Mike Sando talked to anonymous executives around the league for reaction to all 32 teams' moves in free agency. One exec pointed to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's impressive ability to know when to move on from a player as a reason for why New England might be more competitive in 2020 than people think.

“When they let guys leave, a lot of times those guys don’t do much,” another exec said. “I tend to believe in the coach who won six Super Bowls. The guy is pretty sharp. I just think he’d rather get rid of a player a year early than a year late, rather than lock in for two years. I wouldn’t be surprised if they won the division, even though it looks on paper like they have no chance.”

Oddsmakers actually expect the Patriots to win the AFC East. New England is the betting favorite to take the division with +100 odds on the DraftKings Sportsbook. The Bills are right behind at +160 odds, with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins at +750 and +900, respectively.

The Patriots have the toughest schedule in the league for 2020, based on their opponents' 2019 win percentage. So, winning the division won't be easy for the Patriots, but their toughest competition likely will be the Bills, and they haven't won more than 10 games since 1999. The 1999 season also was the last in which Buffalo finished first in the AFC East.

There's no question the Patriots have lost several key players through free agency and trades over the last few weeks. However, the presence of Belichick as head coach and a roster that features plenty of talent on both sides of the ball should give New England a fighting chance to keep its firm grip on the AFC East for another year.

NFL Rumors: Patriots may ask CB Joejuan Williams to play safety in 2020

NFL Rumors: Patriots may ask CB Joejuan Williams to play safety in 2020

If Joejuan Williams sees significant playing time in 2020, it may not be at his primary position.

The New England Patriots have asked the second-year cornerback to become more versatile on defense this season, posing Williams this challenge, per ESPN's Mike Reiss

"Can you be the jack-of-all-trades in the secondary?"

As Reiss wrote, that could mean Williams staying at cornerback, moving to safety or some combination of both.

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Why move Williams around? The simple reason: New England is stacked at cornerback, with reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore leading a four-man rotation with Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones.

The Patriots also are deep at safety -- Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung are the experienced starters with veteran Adrian Phillips and rookie Kyle Dugger joining as newcomers -- but Williams may be able to carve out a hybrid role as a slot cornerback or roving safety.

New England's second-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt in 2019, the 6-foot-3, 212-pound cornerback could take a cue from McCourty, who spent three NFL seasons as a cornerback before successfully transitioning to safety during the 2012 season.

Williams contributed just one pass defensed in nine games played last season, though, so he if wants to see more action in 2020, he'll need to add more skills to his tool box.

Tom Brady takes shot at Charles Barkley after 'The Match'

Tom Brady takes shot at Charles Barkley after 'The Match'

Tom Brady engaged in plenty of trash-talking with his opponents Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods during "The Match" on Sunday. But they weren't the only ones going back-and-forth with the six-time Super Bowl champion.

NBA legend Charles Barkley was a commentator for the charity golf match and didn't hold back from letting Brady hear all about his lackluster performance through the first few holes. On the seventh hole, however, the ex-New England Patriots quarterback birdied a par-5 with what was unquestionably the best shot of the day to silence Barkley. 

The real mic drop from Brady came after the match, though, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB jabbed Barkley for his inability to win a championship during his NBA career.

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Boom, roasted.

Of course, the trash-talking was all just good fun. And it provided phenomenal entertainment while those involved in "The Match" helped raise more than $20 million to go toward COVID-19 relief efforts.