NFL Power Rankings: Patriots in surprising spot in Peter King's latest list

NFL Power Rankings: Patriots in surprising spot in Peter King's latest list

It's difficult, for a lot of reasons, to predict the performance of the New England Patriots in the 2020 NFL season.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every team's offseason, including the 2020 NFL Draft process, offseason workouts and rookie camp, among other things. 

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From a football perspective, the Patriots have endured a ton of roster turnover at key positions this offseason, and no departure was more substantial than starting quarterback Tom Brady taking his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. Brady wasn't the only important Patriots player to leave, however. Key defensive veterans Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton and Duron Harmon all left via free agency or the trade market, creating a situation where several young players will need to step up on defense to fill those gaps.

The Patriots' spot in recent 2020 NFL Power Rankings has been all over the place, which further show how tough it is to get a feel for New England's upcoming campaign.

Can Dolphins really threaten Patriots in AFC East?

NBC Sports' Peter King isn't as high on the Patriots as other experts. He placed them 21st in his new power rankings. Here's part of King's analysis: 

The reviews on the 133rd pick in the 2019 draft, Jarrett Stidham, are good, but the shadow of the 199th pick in 2000 will always be a long one for anyone who plays quarterback in New England. There is no book on Stidham, a tough kid who will not be afraid of the hot seat, but his goal is to keep New England in games and leave the Patriots with a decision to make on a quarterback in the 2021 draft. Whatever happens, America will be watching: Four of their final nine games will be in prime time. I think this season breaks the Patriots’ 11-year stranglehold on the AFC East, but I’m pretty sure everyone in that building wants to rub our faces in such predictions, and that’s a great motivator.

For context, King ranked two of the Patriots' AFC East rivals higher, including the Buffalo Bills (13th) and Miami Dolphins (19th).

Oddsmakers still believe in the Patriots. DraftKings Sportsbook has New England at -177 odds to make the playoffs, in addition to being slightly behind the Bills in the AFC East title odds. The Patriots also have the fourth-best odds (+1200) to win the AFC in 2020.

The transition from Brady to Stidham (or whoever starts at QB in Week 1) will be challenging, no doubt, but the Patriots should still be a playoff contender next season. They have a roster loaded with talented veterans who bring tons of championship experience, as well as the best head coach in league history in Bill Belichick. And, as King alluded to, no team relishes bulletin board material like the Patriots, and they will bring plenty of it into the 2020 season.

Patriots' Gillette Stadium to host 20 percent of fans in best-case scenario

Patriots' Gillette Stadium to host 20 percent of fans in best-case scenario

Cam Newton could make his New England Patriots debut in front of 13,175 fans.

And that's the best-case scenario.

The Patriots announced Tuesday they expect Gillette Stadium to operate at 20 percent capacity for 2020 home games. That's if fans are allowed to attend games at all, which would need approval from state and local governments.

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If fans attend games, they'll be required to wear face coverings "at all times" inside the stadium and stay at least six feet from other parties, per the team.

To aid in physical distancing, the Patriots will distribute tickets in blocks of 10 seats or less and close off the eight rows closest to the field. The team also announced earlier this month that all ticketing will be digital and that parking at the stadium will be free.

Again, this all assumes fans will even be allowed at NFL stadiums -- and that the 2020 season will start on time -- as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the United States.

By announcing an 80 percent reduction in crowd size, though, the Patriots join several teams in at least acknowledging this season will look very different from years past, even under the best-case scenario.

Why Scott Zolak sees Jarrett Stidham, not Cam Newton, as Patriots' starter

Why Scott Zolak sees Jarrett Stidham, not Cam Newton, as Patriots' starter

The New England Patriots are saying all the right things. Stephon Gilmore recently said he's excited for Cam Newton to "compete for a starting job" at quarterback.

But we know this isn't a competition, right? There's no chance second-year QB Jarrett Stidham starts over a three-time Pro Bowler and former NFL MVP, right?

Scott Zolak believes otherwise. In fact, the former Patriots quarterback said Monday on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Zolak & Bertrand" he envisions Stidham, not Newton, as New England's Week 1 starter based on conversations he's had with Patriots players and those close to the team.

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"I believe Stidham will be starting QB from the people I talk to and people that I trust: the players, people tied to the team, team captains," Zolak said, as seen in the video above. "The way they speak of Jarrett Stidham and the work he has put in."

Zolak also related that Stidham has been working out regularly but simply has been less public about it than Newton, who has posted several videos of his workouts to Instagram since joining New England.

"A lot of people thought Stidham was on a two-week vacation on a wedding tour down in Texas," Zolak said. "He did go to a wedding and spent time with family -- and he worked out every day with pro-caliber receivers. That's what I was told."

Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: Did Pats just become Cam Newton's team? | Listen and subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Physical conditioning aside, Zolak believes Newton faces an immense uphill battle in learning the Patriots' offense during an unprecedented offseason in which players and coaches haven't been able to meet in person. In that sense, Zolak thinks Stidham has the upper hand after a year working under head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

"I just don’t know if Cam Newton is gonna do this in 35 days and be ready to go unless it's some completely different offense that's going to run at 40% efficiency," Zolak said.

Of course, the Patriots signed Newton for a reason, and our Tom E. Curran recently reported New England is confident the 31-year-old QB will master the playbook. Curran has also indicated Newton is committed to the Patriots and wouldn't bail on the team if he wasn't named the starter out of the gate.

At the very least, though, it sounds like the starting QB job won't be handed to Newton. He'll have to earn it.