The 2021 Football Outsiders almanac was released this past week and the thorough and well-respected preview magazine likes the 2021 Patriots chances for a bounce back season, largely powered by a resurgent defense that has re-loaded.
The preview points out that the Patriots entered 2020 with the biggest net Approximate Value over replacement lost on defense they had ever recorded, and that was compounded by a league-high 69.0 adjusted games lost due solely to the pandemic.
Now, the defense has added more net Approximate Value than any other team in recent history and the bump should translate to more on-field success. But just how positioned will the Patriots be for long-term success? It depends heavily on how their recent draft classes pan out, especially this year's first-round pick, Mac Jones.
"The quarterback is the most important position in the game," Football Outsiders Editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz told Patriots.com. "So, getting the Mac Jones pick right is the most important thing for the Patriots' future. These last couple of drafts have to hit a lot better than the drafts before them."
The almanac projects the Patriots to a mean of 9.8 wins, with their post season odds coming in at 62.4 percent, a number aided by a manageable schedule to go with the influx of new talent.
"I think the one thing that is backed up by statistics is the idea that adding a lot of talent improves your offense," continued Schatz. "Like their offensive projection is higher than it would be otherwise because they added a lot of talent in the off season. We can argue about whether they overpaid that talent, but that talent is apt."
One thing that the statistics aren't quite sure on is whether or not things will click for Cam Newton in his second season with the Patriots.
"I feel like all of the expectation for Newton to bounce back is based on subjective factors that statistics can't measure, the biggest of which is how much did COVID affect him?" said Schatz. "There's no doubt that he played better in the first three games before he had COVID than he did after that.
"The other question is, was it difficult for him to pick up the offense into this off season? And again, that's a sort of a subjective belief that there's not a lot to really go on as far as statistics there. So, I think that there's a storyline where Newton really rebounds, but it's not, it's not backed up by stats."
The 2021 Pats are trending positively in the eyes of the advanced stats as the addition and return of many established veterans should help on both sides of the ball, but the progress of the younger players remains the biggest unknown and potentially most influencing factor on the team's ceiling.
Pick up a copy of the Football Outsiders 2021 Almanac here!