Since about 2013, your options when considering who the most valuable offensive player for the Patriots was restricted to three choices: Tom Brady. Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman.
By both necessity and design, that’s not been the case through the first nine games of the 2018 season.
The Patriots are 7-2 and heading to Tennessee for a game they should win against the Titans. They’ve scored 35.5 points per game since their 1-2 start (21 points have come on returns so the offense doesn’t get credit, but still . . . ). The key offensive player?
It hasn’t been Gronk, who was blanketed for the first four games of the season and has been laboring physically for most of the year. It hasn’t been Edelman, who’s been terrific since returning from suspension but has played in just five games. And it hasn’t been Brady who -- though routinely brilliant and productive -- has been a tick below his 2014-17 performance standards.
The key, the glue, the rubber cement to this offense has been running back James White.
White is tied for fourth in receptions (61), the most by any running back. He’s caught 75.3 of the passes sent his way, is averaging 8.7 yards per catch and 7.74 of those yards come after the reception. He’a also carried 60 times for 235 and -- most importantly -- he’s getting in the end zone with six receiving touchdowns and four more on the ground.
There are other players around the offense who’ve been pleasant surprises: Josh Gordon, Trent Brown, Cordarelle Patterson, La’Adrian Waddle, even. But the headlining role has been White.
Do you agree? We threw up a poll on Twitter. Weigh in and we’ll go over the results on tonight’s Quick Slants at 8 p.m.
The New England Patriots will be the defending Super Bowl champions entering the 2019 NFL season, and the strength (or lack thereof) of their schedule should be among the reasons for optimism surrounding the team's chances of successfully defending its title.
The Patriots are tied with four other teams for the second-easiest 2019 schedule, based on opponents' combined win percentage from the 2018 campaign. New England's 2019 opponents had a 2018 win percentage of just .473, according to John Breech of CBS Sports. Only the Washington Redskins have an easier 2019 schedule.
Here's a look at New England's 2019 schedule. Keep in mind dates and times for all games have not yet been finalized.
New York Jets
New York Giants
Kansas City Chiefs
New York Jets
The Patriots, as winners of the AFC East, will again play a first-place schedule. However, they also will play the AFC North and the NFC East. The NFC East is a competitive division but it's not home to any juggernauts. Same for the AFC North, which could have four solid teams in 2019 thanks to the Cleveland Browns' resurgence, but there's no elite team that will scare the rest of the conference.
And, of course, the Patriots will play six games against the lackluster AFC East. New England went 5-1 against its division rivals last season, and that only loss was the disaster against the Dolphins in Miami.
The Patriots went 11-5 in the 2018 regular season before a dominant playoff run that ended with a Super Bowl LIII victory over the Los Angeles Rams. It was the Pats' worst regular-season record since 2009. The odds of the Patriots failing to win 12-plus games next season should be pretty low, especially when you factor in their easy schedule and the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs matchup will again be at Gillette Stadium.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.