This is a situation where they’re going to be tested right out of the gates against arguably the best team in the NFL. The Eagles are a juggernaut on the rise after using the offseason to stockpile even more weapons on both sides of the ball.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have made considerable improvements to try to keep pace in a rapidly improving AFC East division. There are no throwaway games on the Patriots’ schedule if they have any hopes of sneaking into the playoffs.
They’re going to need their best players at their disposal to even post a threat against Philly. Here’s a projected depth chart for the Patriots heading into Week 1.
Zappe-Mania was fun for a while, but the reality that Mac Jones is the far superior quarterback has sunk in for Patriots fans. But what about newly-signed quarterback Matt Corral? Would the Patriots actually consider trotting him out there as the No. 2 option behind Jones in Week 1?
I wouldn’t hold my breath for that kind of drama. Corral is going to need time to digest a completely new offense before he can even be considered for a top backup job. Zappe will likely get promoted from the practice squad at some point and join Jones again on the main roster, ahead of a tough meeting with a ferocious Eagles defense.
Ezekiel Elliott joining the fray gave the Patriots a solid one-two punch in the offensive backfield with Rhamondre Stevenson. The two every-down backs will take most of the snaps, but the team could opt to get either Ty Montgomery or Kevin Harris involved for some work as well.
New England’s ability to run the ball effectively against the Eagles’ defensive front could mean the difference between winning and losing on Sunday.
Tyquan Thornton will miss his second straight regular season-opener, but this time, the Patriots have a pair of rookie training camp standouts that could make an early impact.
Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte are two players to keep an eye on heading into this matchup. Both have shown the ability to separate and make plays on the field. This should also be a much better year for Kendrick Bourne and DeVante Parker, alongside first-time Patriot JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Things didn’t work out with Jonnu Smith, and the Patriots went out and made a sneaky, good signing with tight end Mike Gesicki. The former Miami Dolphin has been another reliable playmaker for the team in the red zone, next to Hunter Henry. Together, the dual tight end combination should be able to do serious damage to opposing defenses this season.
The offensive line has been the most troublesome area for the Patriots throughout training camp and the preseason. It’s a big reason why coach Bill Belichick currently has 10 offensive linemen on his roster.
The good news is Mike Onwenu, Cole Strange and Trent Brown are all back on the practice field. So for the first time all year, the Patriots could have their main starters on the field together on Sunday. There will have to be a change at right tackle with veteran Riley Reiff going on injured reserve.
That role will likely go to fellow veteran tackle Calvin Anderson.
The defensive front for the Patriots could be ready to make some noise with the addition of Keion White and the return of a healthy Christian Barmore. White flashed his pass-rushing potential by causing all kinds of issues for Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud in the preseason opener. Barmore, on the other hand, has the potential to be one of the best defensive tackles in the league, if he can stay healthy.
Matthew Judon and Josh Uche hope to be feasting on even more sack lunches than they had last season. Uche will especially be looking to break out considering he’s playing in the final year of his contract.
With that said, Marte Mapu is the player people should be watching at this position. The rookie third-round draft pick has the potential to make an impact for the Patriots right out of the gates. He’s a versatile weapon on defense that Belichick will enjoy deploying in a bunch of different ways.
Rookie first-round draft pick Christian Gonzalez has come as advertised, but it clearly hasn’t been perfect, either. There have been moments where he’s been beat on plays, and those issues could show up again against a talented Eagles offense with so many weapons at the receiver position.
Jack Jones hasn’t taken off the way the team hoped in training camp, which likely means Jonathan Jones and Gonzalez will serve as the two outsider cornerbacks with Marcus Jones seeing work in the slot on Sunday.
Kyle Dugger was one of the Patriots’ best defenders throughout training camp. There was also the exceptional training camp competition between Jabrill Peppers, Adrian Phillips and Jalen Mills for the vacant safety spot across from Dugger. An argument could be made that the Patriots have the best safety group in the NFL. They can continue to show why by shutting down the Eagles’ explosive passing plays in the opener.
The Patriots went with their rookie draft picks as their top specialists.
Chad Ryland and Bryce Baringer are jumping into the shark tank right off the bat as the starters against the Eagles. One has to wonder if a lack of experience at kicker and punter ends up costing the Patriots in this game.
The team saw enough at training camp and the preseason to believe they are ready to contribute. We’ll see if that line of thinking was right or wrong on Sunday.