Many things have to go right for the Patriots in 2023 in order to make the playoffs. Let's look at potential x-factors in the coming season. I think if most of the stars align, the Patriots can squeeze out nine or 10 wins and hope for a Wild Card berth, and I think that's the best case scenario.
Lots will need to go right for that to happen, but more importantly, the things that need to go right are the major concerns or question marks with the roster. There are three x-factors that stand out to me as the most important ones that will make or break the Patriots' season in 2023.
Three biggest X-factors for the New England Patriots in 2023
1. Can JuJu Smith-Schuster elevate to a true WR1 role?
Here and there during his six-year career, JuJu Smith-Schuster has had flashes of being a true WR1 in the NFL, and the Patriots not re-signing Jakobi Meyers in favor of JuJu is a clear indication that they are hoping he can return to those ways that we've seen from time to time.
Mac Jones, or whoever is at QB for the Patriots in 2023 having a reliable target like Smith-Schuster they can frequently target in the passing game will be a blessing. Can he be more than just a "good" wide receiver? Can we see him be great?
2. Does Christian Gonzalez slide into the CB1 role and make an immediate impact?
I think we've seen the impact that young cornerbacks in the NFL can have. Rookie Patrick Surtain II in 2021 was absolutely excellent, and he probably would have won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award if it wasn't for Micah Parsons.
Sauce Gardner was also very good in his rookie season in 2022 and was a big reason why the New York Jets' defense elevate to one of the top units in the NFL. If Christian Gonzalez can follow in their footsteps and have himself a stellar rookie season, the entire defense will elevate.
Having an elite, shutdown cornerback is insanely valuable in today's NFL. Gonzo being able to travel with opposing offenses' top targets in the passing game will allow the other cornerbacks and the pass rush to elevate their games.
3. Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback
What kind of Mac Jones do we get in 2023? Do we get Mac Jones who builds off his rookie season and forgets the ugly year two, or do we get the Mac Jones who continues to struggle off of the 2022 season?
If we get the former, the Patriots should be an efficient, well-oiled offense that limits the turnovers and scores enough points most weeks to win. If we get the latter, the Patriots will falter once again and will be in the middle of another lost season.
I think Mac Jones can turn into a Kirk Cousins-type of quarterback where he can be efficient with much going right around him. Well, teams have made the playoffs and won a playoff game with Kirk Cousins playing QB, so it's not outrageous to think that Jones can help them get back to the playoffs in 2023.