The takes on the Patriots season and how they will fare against the AFC East and the league entirely have been hot.
After free agency mostly died down and the draft concluded, the general belief was that the Patriots were now the team no longer in control of their division and were actually the worst team in it.
Then the schedules were released, and although each division faces almost all the same opponents, the Patriots' schedule in particular looked far more challenging than others. In fact, it was later deemed to be the most difficult strength of schedules in the NFL.
That further solidified those who predicted New England's season would fall flat, with some predicting it would be the reason Robert Kraft would oust Bill Belichick at the end of the year.
However, because rebuilding a team doesn't happen overnight or in just one season, the Patriots have made significant strides in the right direction to become a competitive team again.
The return of Bill O'Brien as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach will inevitably be one of the most significant changes made this offseason. Plus, hiring Adrian Klemm to coach the offensive line, moving Joe Judge back to his usual home of coaching special teams, and accomplishing what appears to be (at least as of right now) a successful draft, those doubting the Patriots' success in 2023 may wind up looking foolish in the end.
That's the conclusion that recently retired Devin McCourty shared while appearing on NFL Network's 'Good Morning Football' this week.
When discussing the outlook of his former team, coupled with Bill Belichick's legacy and potential to beat Don Shula's all-time wins record, McCourty believes the Patriots will be better than what has been predicted, citing Belichick's internal desire to prove the doubters wrong.
"I think this team is going to be better than people think. Bill is focused this year. He’s locked in. We’re talking about legacy now. He’s second all-time in wins. He’s not going to talk about it, but why would you not want to be first? You’re right there. I think he wants to continue to prove to people, ‘I am Coach Belichick. I am the Bill Belichick. We will show what we’re made of.’
They’re out there practicing hard at OTAs. They had a down day the other day at OTAs because the other day was so hard. It’s not training camp, we’re talking about OTAs, but a down day? That's how hard they’re working because they want to prove to everybody that ‘we’re not fourth in this division.’ "
The former safety went on to provide even more insight into what he predicts the team's mindset will be as they prepare for the 2023 season, sharing the mentality behind the Patriots' last Super Bowl-winning team and how that ultimately benefitted them for the entire season.
"In 2018, we took on that mindset of ‘we’re no good, Tom Brady’s done,’ and that’s the best ball we played at the end of the season. This team feeds off that. … They love being the underdogs. I think this team thrives, and everybody thrives in that — when (Belichick) can create the ‘everybody vs. New England’ mentality in the locker room. That's when you usually see this team play their best ball."
Considering the odds stacked against them right now, adopting an underdog mentality may not be a bad idea, mainly when reflecting on all that has been said about the team to this point.
"Mac Jones isn't a good quarterback! They need to trade him!"
"Bill Belichick is a fraud! He's nothing without Tom Brady!"
"The Patriots don't have a single star on their offense! They'll be lucky to win three games next season!"
"New England's defense will never be able to stop any of the quarterbacks in the league!"
And would an underdog mentality be considered that far-fetched?
Even with the most optimistic viewpoint, the road to a good season will not be easy. However, if the Patriots can work together far better than they did a year ago, practice and train harder than they have, and get on the same page, it's not crazy to believe they could be a team overlooked and underestimated.
And maybe, considering the source, we should listen to what McCourty is saying since he was a lifelong Patriot and all.