Patriots

NFL Notebook: Power ranking the teams after the offseason and heading into training camps next month

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Power rankings are always interesting. They're just a guess and a snapshot in time, but it's a curiosity to see how teams are viewed by others.

Former boss Peter King is always a sort of bellwether around the league. I mean, he's not the most astute analyst of the game itself — he'd admit that — and can be turned by headwinds, but he talks to a lot of people around the league and often draws his observations from those conversations. So, to me, King's thoughts are worth more than the proverbial grain of salt.

So when I read that King had the Patriots 21st — behind such annual heavyweights like the Bears, Cardinals, Dolphins and Broncos — I just about spat out my coffee. A few of my thoughts:

Peter does know Bill Belichick is still coaching the team, right?

He does remember 2008, when the Patriots lost Tom Brady in the first game and went 11-5 with Matt Cassel, right? (Yes, you can point out the strength of schedule and that this was the year after the Patriots went 16-0, but it's also the year before they were 10-6 and blown out at home in the playoffs, so...).

The Dolphins?! ... So the Patriots, who have finished at least tied for the best record in the division since 2000, are suddenly going to finish behind the Bills AND the Dolphins?!

Look, I get it. Brady's gone. The offense was bad last year and on paper shouldn't be improved. Lost some defenders. Tough schedule. And here's King's reasoning:

21. New England (12-5, lost AFC wild-card game to Tennessee 20-13)

Well, Bill Belichick and the Patriots are set up to answer the age-old question: Can Belichick win without Tom Brady? In regular-season games in his coaching career, Belichick’s teams are 219-64 with Brady starts, and 54-63 when he doesn’t. Without Brady, Belichick’s won at a .462 clip. With Brady, it’s .774.

This year reminds me of Belichick’s first year or two in New England, when he and Scott Pioli got the cap right by making do with lesser players and the highest-paid player in football, Drew Bledsoe. By 2002, it was Brady’s team, and he flourished. Now, after jettisoning Brady, Rob Gronkowski, center Ted Karras, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and keystone linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Jamie Collins, Belichick and Nick Caserio can clean out the cap and rebuild.

The reviews on the 133rd pick in the 2019 draft, Jarrett Stidham, are good, but the shadow of the 199th pick in 2000 will always be a long one for anyone who plays quarterback in New England. There is no book on Stidham, a tough kid who will not be afraid of the hot seat, but his goal is to keep New England in games and leave the Patriots with a decision to make on a quarterback in the 2021 draft. Whatever happens, America will be watching: Four of their final nine games will be in prime time. I think this season breaks the Patriots’ 11-year stranglehold on the AFC East, but I’m pretty sure everyone in that building wants to rub our faces in such predictions, and that’s a great motivator.

Yes, Peter, all of New England can't wait to bleh you, starting with the first game of the season.

But it's easy to criticize someone else's rankings, so you know what that calls for ... The Big Boy Summer Power Rankings. Where did the Patriots fall? Read on:

1. Chiefs (12-4 in 2019, 11.5 o/u wins)

I never love repeat winners, especially those players and coaches with no experience doing it — it's nearly impossible to get the same buy-in after you've scaled the mountain peak — but this pandemic could work to the Chiefs' advantage because the hangover has been wiped away and everyone should have gotten plenty of rest. Patrick Mahomes is so good, as long as he's healthy.

2. Ravens (14-2, 11.5 o/u)

Outside of losing Marshal Yanda to retirement — and that's a huge, huge loss — Baltimore has had just about a perfect offseason, including Greg Roman not getting a head coaching job. If this draft class delivers, there will be no more excuses for Lamar Jackson not winning multiple playoff games.

3. 49ers (13-3, 10.5 o/u)

A supremely talented team, this season will be the definitive referendum on Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan. We'll give them a partial pass for their first time on the big stage, but are they just regular-season heroes who choke in the postseason? We'll know after this season. The NFC is theirs again. Speaking of chokers...

4. Saints (13-3, 10.5 o/u)