No. 4: New England Patriots
Strength: Coaching of Bill O’Brien. Mac Jones development was hurt substantially last year by the not-so-inspired idea of having a defensive coach (Matt Patricia) run the offensive show for the Pats. Can BOB become the next Quarterback Whisperer and lead Mac Jones back to the more relaxed and productive style he displayed in his rookie year? The energizing presence of O’Brien should help get Mac back on track.
Weakness: Mac Jones playing from behind. This ain’t Alabama anymore and you don’t just cruise to victory. Tom Brady engineered 46 4th-quarter game-winning drives in his career. Mac Jones led zero 4th-quarter comebacks in 2022 and he did it only once in 2021. Brady might be an unfair comparison but, looking at his contemporaries, Kenny Picket had four 4th-quarter game-winning drives in 2022, while Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence each had two. Mac Jones still has to prove that he can be a leader and bring a team to victory when it is behind.
X-Factor: Malik Cunningham. Does anybody really think that Bill Belichick spent 200,000 of Robert Kraft’s hard-earned dollars (guaranteed money) to sign Malik Cunningham, just to cut him a couple months later? Cunningham will have a role with the offense and it’s likely more than just prepping the defense for mobile QBs, although that will be a part of it. I think it’s more likely Cunningham is trained for a read-option or goal-line package. The Pats struggled in 2022 both in scoring in the red zone and in third and short situations. Cunningham could be part of the solution to both problems.