Following a season of relatively poor offensive play and a disappointing postseason loss, the annual declarations of the Patriots dynasty dying finally seemed as if they had some truth in them.
Now, after a free agency which saw the losses of not just the greatest quarterback of all time, but also three starting caliber linebackers (Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, and Kyle Van Noy), defensive tackle Danny Shelton, long-time kicker Stephen Gostkowski, and other rotational players, it seems almost a given that the New England Patriots two-decade long reign of terror is finally over.
The roster is undoubtedly going to be the least talented one they have had this millennia. However, these calls of dynasty death may be premature.
First, it is necessary to define what the death of the dynasty would actually look like. In order for the dynasty to truly die, one of two conditions must be met: either the Patriots must miss the playoffs for two consecutive years (a feat that has not occurred since 2000) or they must clearly cede control of the division to a different team.
Each of these scenarios would cause expectations of the team going from making the Super Bowl to either making the playoffs or winning the division, which would demonstrate that the Patriots are truly no longer a powerhouse and are rather a team like any other.
It is undeniable that this year will be full of new challenges for the Patriots; the offense is currently weaker than it has been since the pre-Bledsoe era and the defense saw many pieces leave in free agency. But there are still pieces there, and of course, there is the greatest head coach of all time.
The Patriots will roll into the 2020 season with three very strong positions groups: defensive backs, running backs, and the offensive line. The Patriots surprised many by placing the franchise tag on All-Pro guard Joe Thuney this offseason.
His return along with the (supposed) return of center David Andrews, who missed the entire 2019 season with blood clots in his lungs, and the additional above-average linemen Isaiah Wynn, Marcus Cannon, and Shaq Mason gives the Patriots a rather formidable unit. The running backs are also a strength on this team, with Sony Michel, James White, and Damien Harris forming a potent trio with additional rotational pieces Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden giving the unit a lot of depth.
The strength of the offensive line and the running backs means that the gameplan will be relatively straightforward next season: run, run, and run some more. The Patriots have been steadily moving towards a run-first offense as Brady has aged, and now with inexperienced sophomore Jarrett Stidham at the helm, it is almost surely going to be a season full of handoffs for New England.
This strategy of running the ball down their opponents throats will pair well with a secondary that is maintaining its strength from last year. Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jason McCourty easily make up the top trio of cornerbacks in the league. This means the Patriots will aim to force their opponents to rely on short passes and the run to succeed, as the deep ball will be effectively eliminated.
If the Patriots can successfully turn games into old school ground-and-pound showdowns, they are positioned to win quite a few of their matchups this year. Combine their strength in the run game with the ability of Belichick to succeed in situational football, and the Patriots should be able to eek out wins against talented opponents.
This all being the case, it seems unlikely that the first way for the dynasty to die will come to fruition. Especially with the addition of a third wild card team in future seasons, it seems unlikely that the Patriots wouldn’t be able to make the playoffs in one of the next two seasons. This leaves the second path, which would be clearly ceding control of the division. With the weaknesses of the Dolphins and Jets, this would almost surely come at the hands of the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills defense has proven itself to be one of the elite groups in the league, and the offense should be much improved with the addition of Stefon Diggs and an increased role for uber-talented running back Devin Singletary. There is no question that the Bills will be a force to be reckoned with, and at this point, they are the favorites to win the division.
But in order to end the Patriots dynasty, they have to maintain control of the division for long enough to clearly be the new team-to-beat in the AFC East. Is this possible? Sure. But let’s not forget the painful history of the Buffalo Bills. Playoff appearances have come once in a blue moon in the post-Kelly era and the team has undoubtedly underperformed with talent over that time period.
Before the Patriots dynasty can be declared dead, the Bills need to prove they can win consistently. Until that time, the presence of Bill Belichick and his ability to utilize position groups with talent to carry the team keep the Patriots dynasty on life support.