DB’s Weekly Take: The Patriots may actually be likable this year

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New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers makes a catch during an NFL football training camp practice, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, Pool)

Let’s be honest, in their 20 years of dominance, the New England Patriots became the most hated team in professional sports. 

They were so successful that the dynasty partnership of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can actually be broken into two separate but equally dominant sub-dynasties. The fact is, they were too good for most people’s liking, so they became absolutely hated outside of New England. Or should I say, outside of the five real New England states and the part of Connecticut that isn’t an extension of New York. Somebody has to redraw the border or something because I don’t think anybody knows what’s going on in Connecticut when it comes to team affiliations. 

Anyways, the point is a lot of people hate the Patriots, but I have a feeling that is going to change at least a little bit this season. Why is that? Because they’re probably not going to be very good. At least not good enough that you can pencil them in for 11-plus wins, the AFC East title and a first-round bye like you could for the majority of the last two decades. 

Tom Brady is in Tampa Bay, soaking up the Florida sun, which means that for the first time since I’ve been watching football, the Patriots had a real quarterback competition in camp this year. I’m actually upset that this was the year where the preseason had to be canceled, because it would have actually been fun to watch for a change. It would have meant something, because the starting QB spot was up for grabs with three possible contenders. 

As it was, the only action we got to see of the competition between Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer came in videos of training camp on social media and stories by reporters who could be there. I’m sure not many people thought the Patriots signed Cam Newton to be a backup, but it still would have been fun to see the competition unfold in real game situations. 

Here we are, the week before opening kickoff, and we know Cam Newton will be New England’s starting quarterback when they take the field against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. But in reality, that’s all we know.  

We don’t know how Newton will play in a new system coming off a string of injuries that cost him a lot of his success in the last few years. We don’t know how this skeleton crew of a receiver corps will perform. We don’t know how this new-look defense, which lost four of the top six tackling leaders from last season, will hold up. There’s a lot of question marks on this team, and while that may be scary for Patriots fans, it’s a breath of fresh air for the rest of the country. 

I’ve seen record projections ranging anywhere from 6-10 to 11-5 this season for the Patriots, and that’s assuming that the whole season even gets played — a bold take given the pandemic and a league that doesn’t seem to have a plan for it. It’s going to be a weird year for the NFL in general and an even weirder year for those accustomed to seeing the Patriots dominate. 

But that’s why I think the Patriots will be more likeable. The whole makeup of the team has changed. They are actually underdogs this year, not just the fake underdog narrative they stir up in the playoffs. It might actually be exciting if they escape with a big win in a prime-time game against a better opponent. Neutral fans may actually find themselves — GASP — cheering for the Patriots and Cam Newton. Won’t that be a sight to see? 

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