Success for the Patriots is not measured by wins.
Or division titles. Or conference championships.
Every season, it’s Super Bowl or bust.
Bill Belichick set the bar for his team and the rest of the league by winning six Super Bowl titles over the last two decades, during which time he established the greatest dynasty in NFL history. Armed with a reloaded roster and new face of the franchise, he’s giving another run at that bar.
At a minimum, the Patriots should be in the playoff hunt in 2021 and beyond. Their offense has been rejuvenated by the league’s best tight end duo, a powerful run game and a promising first-round rookie quarterback. The return of several veterans has given the Pats another shot at a top-10 defense. And Mac Jones can wait until he’s ready to start, backed by the NFL’s best coach and a winning environment.
But is all that enough for the Patriots to not only reach their Super standard again, but hang on? Are they positioned to write a third chapter of their dynasty?
The Herald’s Patriots beat writers debate.
Callahan: Dynasties are fragile. It took a Malcolm Butler goal-line interception, the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, the greatest defensive performance in Super Bowl history and the greatest quarterback of all time to stretch out a second leg of the Pats’ dynasty. The road is harder now. More teams make the playoffs. Only the top seed in each conference gets a bye. And would you describe the current Patriots’ roster as top-10 in terms of talent? Even top-12? No. And if Jones is anything less than a top-5 quarterback, forget about it. One Super Bowl win would mark success for this group, just like it should and would for any other franchise. The dynasty book is closed.
Guregian: Most of what you described above is true. But this is a theoretical discussion. And theoretically, the Patriots are positioned to roll out another mini-dynasty. They have the quarterback in place, having used a first-round pick on Mac Jones. And while it’s hard to predict how far his talent will take the Patriots, statistically, the best and most successful quarterbacks are first-round picks. So in theory, they have the most important position covered. They also have a lot of their top players on offense and defense under contract for multiple years, namely tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, offensive linemen David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, and Shaq Mason, pass-rusher Matt Judon, as well as up-and-coming defensive stars Josh Uche and Kyle Dugger. So there’s a pretty good nucleus in place.
Callahan: It’s a solid, unspectacular nucleus. And the big question mark is Jones, who even at his career peak isn’t likely to stack up with Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen or maybe even one-time MVP Lamar Jackson. And that’s the competition the Patriots are facing — in the AFC alone! Not to mention, most of those contracts have the Pats’ books tied up fairly tight in 2022, which could make adding more talent difficult next year. The Patriots need everything to go right this season to simply contend, let alone for years to come.
Guregian: Most teams need everything to go right. That’s not just a Patriots issue. It’s across the board in the NFL. The Chiefs’ offensive line deserted Patrick Mahomes at the worst possible time last season. He was running for his life in the Super Bowl. So that didn’t go right. Luck plays a part with everyone, not just the Patriots. And trying to stack Jones up with Mahomes, Allen or whoever isn’t totally the point. If you look at the roster, Bill Belichick hasn’t set it up for the quarterback to be the show, but more a game manager and complementary part. He’s built this group around having an elite defense, and devastating run game. It’s built to beat teams in the trenches on both sides of the ball, much like their first three championship teams, before Tom Brady earned GOAT status. With Belichick, it’s a proven formula.
Callahan: You know who else has that formula? Baltimore. And what have the Ravens won, even with an MVP at quarterback? Nothing. It takes more in the modern NFL, a pass-happy and friendly league compared to 2001. You need to pass like Mahomes or Tom Brady, not coincidentally the quarterbacks of the last three Super Bowl winners. No team has been better positioned for a dynastic run than Kansas City, and we’ve seen the last three years they’ve won just one Super Bowl, a game they trailed by 10 entering the fourth quarter. It’s too hard now, unless you have the greatest quarterback of all time. Not a rookie who looked up to him as a kid.
Guregian: Except, you don’t know what that rookie is going to be. He’s a first-round talent, who won a national championship with Alabama. And, unlike Lamar Jackson, he’s not a running quarterback. He’s a pocket passer, who has the same skill set as Brady. Again, theoretically, he has the chops to be able to lead a team to at least one championship, and maybe more. There are no guarantees for any team. But with a franchise quarterback in tow, Bill Belichick on the sidelines, and a good supporting cast surrounding Jones, how do you bet against the Patriots? Answer: you don’t. Because potentially, with that lineup, they pieces are in place for another run of rings. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but the possibility is certainly there given what Belichick started to assemble.
Callahan: Declaring Jones a legitimate franchise quarterback after one preseason is beyond premature. Fellow first-round talents Blake Bortles and Mitchell Trubisky lit it up in their preseason debuts. We don’t know anything substantial yet about him at the NFL level yet except 14 teams passed on him at the top of the draft, including four who took other quarterbacks. If you won’t bet against the Patriots the next few years, the rest of the football world wild. The Pats own the 14th-best Super Bowl odds this year in Vegas, right in line with teams like the Dolphins and Colts. This is the tier they belong in until they prove otherwise with this roster. They should be playoff-bound, but expecting a title this season or especially three in the next five is crazy.
Guregian: Saying the pieces are in place, saying there’s potential for a run, isn’t crazy. Don’t twist the words, or the point. Again, this is theoretical. It isn’t about “proving” it on the field. It’s about the potential for the parts Bill Belichick has assembled in 2021 to extend the dynasty. I don’t have a crystal ball. I just know in theory, a first-round quarterback, one taken in the top 15, is a franchise quarterback before playing a game. At this point, no one knows how Jones is going to turn out. No kidding. But having a quarterback that was taken in the first round, along with a stacked offensive line that should be stacked for years, a great running game that should also maintain that level with the backs in-house, and a defense that Belichick pretty much hand-picked through the draft and free agency, I’d say that qualifies as being “positioned” to write a third chapter of their dynasty.