The New England Patriots experienced something last year that most other franchises have suffered through more recently: a disappointing and empty season in which clear solutions were hard to come by and the uncertainty of an unclear future. Cam Newton piloted the team to a 7-9 record while trying to replace the irreplaceable Tom Brady. It was clear that he was never really healthy and an inordinate amount of opt-outs left Bill Belichick with a task even he was unable to complete with excellence.
The franchise intends to run it back with Newton in the quarterback room, though it remains to be seen if that's as a stop-gap mentor or the skipper of the ship. Considering the weirdness of last season and the unpredictability of Newton's health to this point, it's not an easy thing to do to forecast what's going to happen in 2021.
But I tend to agree with Shannon Sharpe, who made the case for New England as a playoff team on this morning's Undisputed.
Newton will be in a much better spot with a preseason and more removed from both surgery and his COVID battle. Belichick would not bring him back as some sort of sentimentality play. The Patriots are committed to being a run-first, defensive team. There is some money available to improve the supporting offensive weaponry.
The Jets are still the Jets. Miami hasn't solved its quarterbacking puzzle. Buffalo, the reigning champ in the division, will be the favorite again but is not unbeatable. Expanded playoffs mean 9-7 is probably enough to get the job done.
It's hard to imagine Belichick reigning over two straight empty years. This team may be a million miles away from a Super Bowl, but the postseason is very much in grasp, even if that's never the ultimate goal in New England.