By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
In the days leading up to the start of the NFL season, I made five bold predictions for the Patriots in 2020. It's easy to make claims then let them be lost to history, but for the sake of transparency, let's revisit those predictions and see how I faired.
Now keep in mind, these were bold predictions. The goal wasn't to be reasonable, but come up with something that was more of a reach. There were some misses, but certainly some hits as well.
Cam Newton will catch at least one touchdown pass
It took until there were just 17 minutes left in the season, but this one goes in the 'correct' column. Late in the third quarter of their Week 17 win over the Jets, Cam Newton caught a touchdown pass from Jakobi Meyers on a trick play.
I will admit though, the nature of which he caught the touchdown pass is not what I was expecting. The original thought was Newton would line up as a tight end in either a wildcat formation, or with Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer in the shotgun. Julian Edelman was mentioned as a potential passer, but not Meyers.
There was a 'double down' too, that Newton would go for the cycle (passing touchdown, rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown in the same game). Although that didn't happen, he did become the first Patriots player to record all three of those stats in a single season since 2001, when David Patten did in fact go for the cycle against the Colts.
Kyle Dugger will win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year
This one isn't really going to come close. Dugger never got into the conversation for Rookie of the Year, especially after he missed time early in the season. The Patriots' reluctance to play rookies didn't help either.
However, that's not to say Dugger's first year wasn't encouraging. The 24-year-old showed plenty of promise both as a run stopper and in coverage. I'm not ready to go as far as saying he'll win NFL Defensive Player of the Year next year, but there's plenty to be excited about.
Matthew Slater will play multiple meaningful offensive snaps this year
This prediction was less about Slater, and more in reaction to the Patriots' shocking lack of depth at wide receiver to open the season. Given Julian Edelman's age, N'Keal Harry's injury history, and the fact Jakobi Meyers was hurt for most of camp, it didn't seem like the group would be able to get them through the season. The situation seemed to be setting up for Slater to play an emergency role on offense.
However, the Patriots were saved by the new practice squad rules, and got solid contributions from the likes of Isaiah Zuber and Donte Moncrief. Of course, Meyers ended up being healthy and despite a slow start was a major contributor.
With all that, the team was never forced to call upon Matthew Slater to run routes in 2020. He did officially record a handful of offensive snaps, but those were just end-of-game kneel downs.
Ja'Whaun Bentley will be the only Patriots linebacker to play more than 50-percent of the team's defensive snaps
Looking back on it, I'm not sure this was really that 'bold' of a prediction. The Patriots had barely any linebackers on the roster, and the majority of the ones that were had little-to-no NFL experience.
Still, even Bentley barely broke 50 percent. Six of the Patriots top seven most-used defensive players were defensive backs (John Simon being the other). Bentley saw the eight-most field time on that side of the ball, with a usage rate of exactly 60 percent. The next closest? Anfernee Jennings at 28.85 percent.
Expect a lot to be different at the linebacker position next year. Dont'a Hightower should be back with the team and back in his role as the leader of the defense. Josh Uche and Terez Hall should see increased playing time as well after the way they performed in their first NFL action.
The Patriots will have a better record in the first half of the season than the second half
The Patriots went 3-5 over their first eight games, then finished with a 4-4 stretch. So technically, this is a loss. That being said, the Patriots did have a COVID outbreak early in the year that certainly didn't help them.
Part of the problem with this prediction is the variables weren't weighted correctly. For instance, a lot of it was based of off the idea that Bill Belichick would handle the unprecedented training camp conditions better than any other coach in football. Surely, the Patriots would be the most prepared team in their early slate of games.
Meanwhile, there were two factors that were missed. First, the early portion of the schedule was much tougher than the later. Second - and perhaps more importantly - without any preseason games, Belichick was hesitant to insert new players into the lineup. This was especially true of rookies, who were needed to fill key spots following opt outs and injuries.
How'd the rest of the station do with their bold predictions? Let's take a look...
Michael Felger, Felger & Mazz: Newton gets hurt in the first month and Hoyer/Stidham team up to win the division. Book it.
This almost came true. Almost. Alas, Hoyer couldn't figure out the clock in Kansas City.
Tony Massarotti, Felger and Mazz: Patriots finish 7-9, second in AFC East. If they were in another division - like, a good one - they’d be looking at something worse. But the AFC East is the gift that keeps on giving, even without Tom Brady around to accept the gifts.
Pretty spot on from Mazz right here. The Dolphins mid-season surge is all that kept this from being a perfect prediction.
Jim Murray, Felger & Mazz: My bold prediction for the season is that Trump wins re-election, and because rational thought no longer exists, the players walk out that following Sunday and don’t return thus ending the season on Week 9 and nothing gets completed and the season will be over because everything sucks and we live in hell now.
Luckily, we got a full NFL season.
Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub: While I'd love to be pleasantly surprised by Cam Newton and Co., unless there's a revelation here (the already-injured Damien Harris, N'Keal Harry, Chase Winovich?), this brutal schedule portends an up-and-down campaign at best, and the first sub-.500 season in New England since 2000, at worst.
Sylver nailed this one. Damien Harris proved to be somewhat of a revelation, but injuries limited exactly how much he could contribute.
Adam Jones, The Adam Jones Show: Sony Michel thrives with Cam Newton under center and looks like a first-round pick.
That...that tracks. Hard to say Jones prediction didn't come true, at least when Michel was able to get on the field.
Dan Lifshatz, Over/Under 98.5: My two crazy picks: Cam Newton and Bill Belichick get consideration for MVP and coach of the year. Both may even win.
Dan certainly went for it with this pick. If he'd been right, there would have been a parade.
Marshall Hook, 98.5 The Sports Hub: Cam Newton has a good year and signs a multi-year contract extension to stay in New England.
This was a correct guess...through about three weeks. Remember in late September when everybody was debating whether Cam should get the franchise tag or a three-year deal? What a time.
Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com: Cam Newton scores 35 or more total touchdowns, wins Comeback Player of the Year, and gets consideration for MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].