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NFL power rankings countdown to training camp: New England Patriots, No. 21

The 2021 NFL training camp is just around the corner. We break down the top 32 teams. Today, we look at the New England Patriots who rank No. 21 in our preseason power rankings.

Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on during the first half of a game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on January 3, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

The New England Patriots opened the post-Tom Brady era with a 7-9 season, the worst record for head coach Bill Belichick since his first season with the team in 2000. Quarterback Cam Newton returns after a subpar 2020 season looking to show he’s still got what it takes to be a starter in the NFL. First-round pick Mac Jones will provide competition for Newton at the position.

2020 record

7-9, 3rd in AFC East

2020 defense

Points: 22.1 points per game, rank 8th
Yards: 5.8 yards per play, rank 22nd
Football Outsiders Ranking: 26th

2020 offense

Points: 20.4 points per game, rank 27th
Yards: 5.3 yards per play, rank 21st (tied with 2 teams)
Football Outsiders Ranking: 23rd

2021 DraftKings Sportsbook odds

Super Bowl: +3300
AFC/NFC Champion: +1600
DIVISION: +350
Win Total: 9 (Over -134, Under +124)

Offseason moves

Belichick went on a spending spree in the offseason with the clear goal of giving whoever ended up being the team’s starting quarterback enough weapons. The Patriots added Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne on offense. They also made a trade for tackle Trent Brown, giving up a fifth-round pick.

New England made some big moves defensively as well, signing LBs Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy along with DB Jalen Mills. The team was a strong scoring unit, but gave up the seventh-most rushing yards per game. Judon and Van Noy should help immediately there.

Biggest question entering training camp

Who will be the team’s starting QB? Newton has the edge right now, but Jones is presumably the better passer. Belichick might not want to throw him into the fire right away but Jones’ success at Alabama should ease any concerns. Given the vertical nature of New England’s top weapons, Jones has a good chance to win this job if Newton continues to be inconsistent throwing the ball downfield.

What needs to happen for the Patriots to win the Super Bowl?

New England added a ton of weapons, but will they translate to a better offense? The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins are clearly superior on paper, so the Patriots would basically need either Newton to rediscover his MVP form or Jones to become Tom Brady 2.0 to take the team to the Super Bowl. The defense should be decent, but the offense is the big question mark.

2021 Outlook

The Patriots are likely going to get inconsistent play at the quarterback position all season regardless of who starts. Newton had wild swings in performance last season and Jones will have his rookie moments if he gets game action. New England’s plan is to lay the groundwork for the following couple seasons when Jones is still on his rookie deal and has these weapons available.

The wide receiver group still needs N’Keal Harry to take a step forward. Agholor and Bourne are not bad receivers, but they aren’t studs by any means. The tight end pairing should be good with Henry and Smith, but New England still needs a boundary threat.

The Patriots have a rough first four and final four games in the schedule but they get a great stretch from Weeks 5 through 9 with the Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers and Carolina Panthers. If New England can go 5-0 or 4-1 in this part of the schedule, they won’t have to do as much work elsewhere to be in contention for a playoff spot. Expect the Patriots to be a challenger for a wild-card berth, but inconsistent QB play may have them on the outside looking in by the end of the season.