The 2023 season isn’t looking the way ardent fans of the team are hoping for for the New England Patriots.
While fans have gotten used to seeing their team playing without Tom Brady – 2019 was his last season in New England – the Patriots have gone three seasons without a GOAT, with at least no good hope of making the playoffs.
They’ve only done so in one of those seasons, and they lost the wild card game when they got there after the 2021 season.
As they prepare for the 2023 season, there is a very good chance that the Patriots could struggle to stay out of the AFC East cellar. They clearly don’t have the same talent as the Buffalo Bills, and it appears they have been overtaken by the Miami Dolphins. The Jets were a much better team last year and have added future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
However, Bill Belichick and his coaching staff are not going to concede anything to their division rivals and simply accept the fact that they will be joining the 1999 Patriots as cellar dwellers.
It appears that the Patriots have a solid defense, but there are several questions about the attack. One of those questions is on the quarterback position.
There should be a battle for the starting quarterback position between the outgoing Mack Jones and backup Bailey Jappe. There will also be a special teams battle between rookie Chad Ryland and veteran Nick Folk at the PK position.
Mack Jones vs Bailey Zappe
Jones certainly has an edge going into training camp for a number of reasons, as he has been the team’s starting quarterback since their 2021 debut season.
He was New England’s first round draft pick out of Alabama that year, and he came away with the starting job that season.
Jones demonstrated great athletic ability and excellent preparation for the position, and this endeared him to Belichick. He had a very promising rookie season, completing 352 of 521 passes for 3,801 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He rushed 44 times for 129 yards and showed he was capable of handling pressure.
Throughout the season, it appeared that Jones had an excellent understanding of his role in the New England attack, and also gained a greater knowledge of what opposing defenses wanted to do against him. He didn’t look overwhelmed playing against high-level NFL safeties.
However, what they didn’t have was a corps of top-level receivers. The feeling was that if the Patriots could upgrade their group of wide receivers, Jones would have a chance to become a better quarterback.
There was not much progress in Year 2 when Jones completed 288 of 442 passes for 2,997 yards with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 14 games.
While Jones struggled with injury in 2022, Zappe had a chance to play and showcase his skills. He has an excellent arm, and he received a lot of support from Patriots fans.
This is no surprise, as a backup quarterback is almost always a popular performer for a team that is struggling to keep up.
Jappe, a 2022 fourth-round draft pick, had an impressive performance last year. He completed 65 of 92 passes for 781 yards with 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Zappe appeared to throw a very impressive deep ball, another attribute that endeared him to Patriots supporters.
Jones has a strong chance to retain the starting job if Zappé is a more dominant passer in training camp than he can make a strong case for himself.
There is a feeling among fans that Jones is quite limited, and this could play against him in the minds of the fans.
However, if there’s one coach in the NFL who can defy the will of the public, it’s Belichick. He would only make the change if he believed Zappé would lead the Patriots to more wins than Jones.
Chad Ryland vs Nick Folk
This is going to be tough for the experienced guys. Ryland was drafted in the fourth round by the Patriots, and when a team uses a pick that high on a kicker, it almost certainly means he’s going to win the job.
Folk has done a solid job for the Patriots over the last 4 years, but he is on a downward spiral. The 38-year-old’s FG percentage dropped to 86.5 per cent last year after exceeding 90 per cent last year. The Pats were in the running for a playoff spot last year, and that’s when Folk missed a lot of his kicks.
Look for Ryland to find a job unless he feels the pressure and fails over the summer.