We finally made it! After months of will they play, won’t they play, Patriots football is finally here. And even more interesting is the uncertainty that exists for really the first time in almost 20 years. Bill Belichick and company have suffered some key departures, but also still have some great players including reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. Still, the offense still will make people unsure and concern anyone who remembers the struggles of last year. Lots of variables exist on that side of the ball and not a lot of certainties. Nevertheless, this team has one thing others never did: the ability to surprise everyone and play the “they don’t believe in us” card. It seems corny and overplayed, but in that locker room, it is very real.
Now finally, after a long long offseason, here is what to watch for Sunday.
First Down: One reason why Patriots fans should be optimistic about their offense is the return of David Andrews. Andrews has been key for communication and adjustments at the line, is a team captain, and overall really solid player. Andrews’ return should give the Patriots one of the best interior offensive lines in the entire NFL.
Aside from the game though, it is hard not to root for Andrews. He was an undrafted out of Georgia. He is also a little undersized. And he has had to earn every snap he has been on the field for. Last year there was talk he may not be able to play again after being diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs, and this year with the pandemic, some wondered if he would risk playing. But Andrews decided to go for it. He has fought every step of the way for everything he has gotten. He is a great story and a really solid player. His path deserves to have more praise, but I am sure he would settle for a couple extra wins this year.
Second Down: Another year, another matchup with Ryan Fitzpatrick awaits! Wondering why it feels like New England always faces Fitzmagic? Because they kind of do! Fitzpatrick will be playing his 14th game against the Patriots, two more than any other team he’s played against. In those 13 starts, he is 3-10 with 22 interceptions and 21 touchdowns, earning him the gunslinger mentality.
Fitzpatrick is going into his 16th NFL season and has a great weapon in wideout DeVante Parker, who should have a great matchup against Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore will be looking for revenge after Parker torched the Patriots for 137 yards in last year’s regular season finale.
Third Down: Much has been made about what New England lost last year. Yes they did lose some key pieces, but think about how great they are at corner. They currently possess four high-level to elite level starters. Jon Jones is great in the slot, Gilmore was DPOY, Jackson and McCourty are top 10 guys on the outside. The Patriots may have lost some in the front seven, but you can always create pass rush with corners who cover, and with those four the Patriots have it in spades.
Fourth Down: In a year where the roster rules are more flexible than usual, Bill Belichick is once again one step ahead. The Patriots have no kicker on the roster, but have two on the practice squad. Because of that Belichick will likely promote Nick Folk to the active roster for the game Sunday, allowing him flexibility to roster other players in the short-term.
How about another fun fact? Everyone talks about the first year without Brady, but this is the first year Belichick will not go into the year with either Gostkowski or Vinatieri as the starter. People mention Brady as the GOAT, but don’t forget, Belichick has had one of, if not the top kickers in the league every year of his tenure thus far in Foxborough. Nick Folk has a lot to live up to this year.
As an aside look for Jake Bailey to handle kickoffs with Nick Folk’s leg not as strong as Gostkowski.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Dolphins 17
This will be the first time we get to see Cam Newton. Look for him and Josh McDaniels to have some stuff up their sleeve to get the offense moving. Keep an eye on N’Keal Harry and Julian Edelman, who seem to have developed a good relationship with Newton early. Also lone other prediction, look for Devin Asiasi to score a touchdown and have a few big catches with his ability to run over the middle of the field and down the seam.
–David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani