By LORENZO RECUPERO
The NFL officially released the schedule for the New England Patriots 2020 season and it isn’t a particularly easy one.
The 16 opponents on the schedule have a combined .530 winning percentage from a season ago.
Because of this (and you know, losing arguably the best quarterback in NFL history), the sports media is abuzz with predictions the Patriots and Coach Belichick will lay down and tank (purposely lose games to secure a higher draft pick) in order to get a chance at the multi-talented, extremely coveted Clemson quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, in next year’s draft.
Amongst the pundits, the Pats’ season slate was labeled a ‘perfect tanking for Trevor schedule’.
After losing out in the bring-Tom-Brady-back sweepstakes, such a schedule and a chance at Trevor is a huge break for the rebuilding Pats and ol’ faithful schemer Belichick, right?
And here’s why.
First, if we are to dispel the theory of the Pats tanking, we have to look closely at all angles and at the biggest development this off-season: quarterback Tom Brady has left the building.
This is a multifaceted loss, which we will get into more next, but in plain sight it means we lose Brady-type production at the most valuable position in football.
Yes, Brady’s typical highlight reel output was waning last season and too many dead ducks found their way off his hand, but he was still a vastly productive QB while in New England overall (no one I know can argue that).
The man currently owns 50+ (yep, that many) NFL records including, but not limited to, the most postseason touchdown passes all-time (73), Super Bowl appearances (nine) and victories (six). We can go on, but it would take a while.
All that said, Belichick and owner Robert Kraft were still content with letting him go.
That can only mean one thing: no one player is bigger than the program.
Secondly, New England has built itself up to nothing less than dominant over the last 20 seasons with Brady under center, winning their division 16 of the last 17 years.
The continued streak of success has done more than help win championships.
After each successful season, the foundation for the following year was set, teams feared playing the Patriots even more.
Coaches, players, trainers, entire organizations had to alter how they were going to prepare and play Belichick and the Pats because they were equipped with the ultimate winner in Brady and they were damn good and feared because of it.
These type of practice and in-game alterations meant playing the Patriots made other teams uncomfortable. The discomfort forced onto other teams could’ve only helped pave the way to such prolonged success. Brady and Belichick played with the psyche of teams, because facing them meant going up against football titans and almost surely a loss.
And that means just one thing: Belichick must continue to win to remain intimidating.
Is second-year QB Jared Stidham the guy to keep the fear meter in opponents heightened? That’s anyones guess outside of the Patriots’ organization. On paper, he’s only thrown four professional passes (2-4, 14 yards, 1 interception, 1 sack).
But even with the unknown of Stidham, if the Patriots submit to a culture of losing to try and secure an unproven prospect, they lose their winning culture.
Brady (or Gronk) or not, Beichick doesn’t seem like the type to stick around for anything but winning.
So, don’t expect the Patriots to try and do the opposite next season.