Entering the 2021 season, 12 wins was the prediction featured in the 12 Reasons Why The Patriots Will Win 12 Games in 2021. Although the prediction fell short of two games (more on that later), the New England Patriots renovated team improved the roster by three whole wins and back into the playoffs.

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Not to mention how the Patriots costed themselves two or three wins. Here are the 10 reasons why the Patriots won 10 games in 2021.

1. Patriots Offensive Line Was One of The League’s Best

From the 12 reasons:

“The offensive line is vital in today’s NFL. This year’s Super Bowl proved that a poor line can make the greatest offense look mortal. Thankfully, the Patriot’s offensive line will be one of the team’s biggest strengths. Ranking 3rd in Pro Football Focus’ offensive line units of 2021, the Patriots have top of the league production from the tackle, guard, and center position. For instance, Michael Onwenu is coming off of the highest graded run blocking rookie seasons (84.9). Onwenu only committed one penalty, giving up two sacks and zero QB hits.”

The Patriots offensive line experienced growing pains as the season began. The unit was simply underperforming to start the season. However, the unit stabilized and played at a top-10 level. Placing ninth in PFF’s offensive line ranking, as all five lineman received a 73 grade or higher.

Believe it or not, Michael Onwenu was the team’s highest-graded blocker (88.6) yet did not start. This was likely due to communication purposes between Ted Karras and Isaiah Wynn. While Trent Brown and Onwenu do share position versatility, it is likely that Bill Belichick thought that switching up rotations would do more harm than good. With more time in the offseason, expect Onwenu to be back in the starting lineup in his best role in 2022.

2. Patriots Red-Zone Production Did a 180

From the 12 reasons:

“The Patriots were 24th in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage in 2020…The team only threw 5 Red Zone touchdowns. Bill Belichick clearly was aware of this flaw of the 2020 Patriots. Making Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry two of the five highest-paid tight ends in the NFL.”

One of the biggest issues with the Patriots’ 2020 offense was inside the red zone. For a team that is built to run and take care of the football, converting inside the 20 is crucial. While the Patriots weren’t able to utilize Jonnu Smith’s red-zone ability (eight red-zone TDs in 2020), Hunter Henry made their money’s worth. Henry ranked second in red-zone touchdowns among tight ends while being the highest-graded receiver in the red zone.

This helped New England finish seventh in red-zone scoring percentage, making a massive jump from 54.17% to 63.08%. The offense also ranked eighth in red-zone scores per game, increasing from 1.6 to 2.3.

The Patriots moved the ball into scoring territory at a top-10 rate. However, there is a lot of room for New England to grow. The Patriots ranked third in field goal attempts per game while placing 12th in touchdowns per game. This reflects a more honest view on the Patriots red-zone success. They got inside the 20 often, yet settled for field goals more than 29 other teams in the NFL.

3. More First Downs

From the 12 reasons:

“One of the team’s worst problems in 2020 was the lack of first downs. The Patriots ranked 30th in 1st down receptions in 2020. Jakobi Meyers was the best receiver on the 2020 roster, hauling in 37 1st downs. However, no other Patriots receiver managed to crack 30 first downs. Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne will change that as the two snatched 72 1st downs collectively.”

While the Patriots were still in bottom half of the league in terms of receiving first downs in 2021, the offense still finished eighth in total first downs. Mostly due to the success of the run game, but the Patriots added two pass catchers who accumulated over 25 first downs: Hunter Henry and Kendrick Bourne. Jakobi Meyers led the Patriots in first down receptions (42). New England had four receivers in the top 100 in first downs.

4. YAC YAC YAC

From the 12 reasons:

“The modern NFL passing attack values yards after the catch now more than any other era in football. It is an area of football that leads to more yards, more first downs, and more fight that will exhaust opposing defenses. The Patriots lack of a dynamic offense led to the team struggling in this area: ranking 26th in YAC. Tight ends are just as valuable after the catch as receivers are; Travis Kelce and Darren Waller ranked 3rd and 4th in YAC in 2020 among all receivers.”

While the Patriots offense wasn’t the most dynamic, the unit improved greatly in terms of production after the catch. New England had two players inside the top-40 in yards after catch: Brandon Bolden (25th – 416 yards) and Kendrick Bourne (34th – 385 yards).

The Patriots also had three players in the top-30 in yards after catch per reception: Bolden (2nd – 10.1 yards/reception), Jonnu Smith (14th – 8.3 yards/reception), and Bourne (t-29th – 7.0 yards/reception). To put those numbers in perspective, the Patriots had zero wide receivers or tight ends with over 220 yards after catch or 3.7 yards after catch per reception in 2020. Only four other NFL teams had multiple players inside the top-30 in yards after catch per reception.

5. Patriots’ Pass Rush Reborn

From the 12 reasons:

“It broke Bill Belichick’s heart to watch a defense that couldn’t get to the Quarterback…The Patriots 2020 starting Linebacker group featured Chase Winovich, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall, and Anfernee Jennings. Going from that group that ranked 27th in sacks all the way to Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Matthew Judon…Adding onto that group, the team traded up for Christian Barmore and snagged Ronnie Perkins almost thirty spots after his adp. These two rookies made a living off of disrupting the Quarterback in college.”

While the Patriots pass rush faded towards the end of the season, it still made significant strides forward. Sack totals rose from 24 to 36, pressures from 146 to 154, and tackles for loss from 48 to 60. The Patriots 2020 sack leader was Chase Winovich at 5.5 sacks. Free agent addition Matthew Judon recorded 12.5 sacks in 2021 (t-seventh in the NFL). Rookie Christian Barmore became a wrecking ball on the interior line. He trailed only Micah Parsons in pressures, pass rush grade, and pass rush win rate among rookie defenders.

The Patriots have something in Christian Barmore and Matt Judon in their pass rush. Kyle Van Noy continued to play a strong role as well, but the team needs a consistent edge rusher opposite of Judon. Could this be Josh Uche? Uche had a strong summer and kicked off 2021 as a force with three sacks in the first two weeks of the season. While injuries and playing time derailed his momentum, Josh Uche must be featured more in the future.

6. A Top of The League Secondary

From the 12 reasons:

“PFF has New England as their 5th best secondary in the NFL, which might even be too low for most. When healthy, Gilmore is one of the best corners in the NFL. J.C. Jackson is coming off a 9-interception season. Jackson has never given up a completion percentage greater than 59% or a passer rating greater than 66.

“Jonathan Jones is a dark-horse name in this secondary. Pro Football Focus has Jones as their 3rd best slot corner in the NFL. He is the only corner with a top-10 run defense and pass coverage grade in the NFL. People can’t forget about Adrian Phillips too. Phillips led the team in tackles (109) and became a viable leader and presence among the defense. Kyle Dugger should blossom in his 2nd year as his snap count increases. With Devin McCourty still the voice of reason in this secondary, the Patriots will not give up much in the air.”

Cornerbacks

While the Patriots became thin at corner due to injuries and the Stephon Gilmore trade, the unit still produced at an elite level. Mostly thanks to J.C. Jackson, who was second in the NFL in interceptions, allowing a 49.1 completion percentage and a 46.8 pass rating.

Safeties

New England produced one of the league’s best safety units across the league. Kyle Duggar and Adrian Phillips both recorded four interceptions while Devin McCourty snagged three himself. Their coverage stats were excellent as well for instance:

Adrian Phillips: 92 tackles, 59.6% completion percentage allowed, 68.6 pass rating allowed

Kyle Dugger: 92 tackles, 64% completion percentage allowed, 66.7 pass rating allowed

Devin McCourty: 60 tackles, 34.6% completion percentage allowed, 17.6 pass rating allowed

The Patriots defense finished second in the league in interceptions per game, third in points allowed per game, and fourth in passing yards per game.

7. The Power Running Game

From the 12 reasons:

“The Patriots have a frightening amount of size in the running game. For instance:

T Trent Brown, 6’8” 359lbs

G Michael Onwenu, 6’3″ 344 lbs

RB Damien Harris 213lbs

RB Rhamondre Stevenson 231lbs

QB Cam Newton 245lbs

Combined Weight: 1,392 pounds (heavier than two fully grown Grizzly Bears)”

If the Patriots decide to run with Cam Newton, it is going to a nightmare trying to bring anyone down in this offense. But regardless of who plays Quarterback, it is going to hurt trying to tackle these guys in the backfield.”

Clearly, the Patriots running game did not feature Cam Newton, but they did feature a whole lot of size. Belichick brought bully ball back into Gillette stadium, creating a bruising tandem of backs. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson were one of two running back duo’s with at least 15 broken tackles, while being one of three duo’s with at least 350 yards after contact and at least 30 first downs.

Not to forget about Bolden as well, as the Patriots and Browns were the only two teams to have three running backs with a 70 PFF grade or higher. It’s one of the more versatile groups Belichick has had in a long time.

8. The Rookie Class

From the 12 reasons:

“The Mac Jones hype train has taken off well before the team has put any pads on. It is fair to say that Jones is farther along than any other rookie QB in the Belichick era. He has much more work to do in the coming months, but if Jones is as advertised, the ceiling is limitless for the Alabama QB.

“Sticking with the tide, most scouts had a first round grade on Christian Barmore. The Defensive Lineman was the highest rated player at his position yet fell to the 2nd round. If Barmore can lock in and succumb to the Patriot way, he will quickly become a wrecker on this front seven… It is possible running back Rhamondre Stevenson could do a similar thing to Sony Michel. Stevenson is known for his power and exceptionally light feet for his size.”

A team can hope to draft two/three starters who make an immediate impact to call their draft a success. While New England has struggled in the draft as of recent years, it’s fair to call their past two drafts a success.

Mac Jones, Barmore, and Rhamondre Stevenson have created a glistening future for the Patriots. Jones and Barmore found themselves on PFF’s all-rookie team list, ranking seventh and 20th among all rookies.

Mac Jones

While Jones limped towards the finish line, those cannot forget about the impressive season the rookie had. Jones finished 13th in passing yards, eighth in completion percentage, t-14th in touchdowns, while winning 10 games and clinching a playoff spot. Jones led all rookie quarterbacks in essentially every passing stat and played as arguably the 13th best quarterback in the NFL. No one will praise Mac Jones if he is the 13th best QB, but if he just showed the league his floor, Jones could significantly elevate his talent.

Christian Barmore

Like Jones, Barmore was the clear front-runner at his position in terms of rookie production. In fact, Barmore recorded the 2nd highest rookie pass rush win rate by an interior defensive lineman since 2006. The rookie only missed two tackles, ranking third on the team in hurries, second in QB knockdowns, and t-second in QB pressures and hits. All while playing 55% of snaps. Safe to say Barmore is already one of New England’s best defenders and his playing should see a significant increase in 2022.

Rhamondre Stevenson

For playing in only 12 games and 36% of snaps, Stevenson sure made the most of his rookie year. After a four week hiatus due to fumbling his way into the doghouse, Stevenson made up for lost time. After coughing up the rock in week one, the rookie recorded 604 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games from that point on. 5th among rookie running backs in yards, t-2nd in touchdowns, and second in broken tackles. Stevenson was simply a nightmare to tackle, displaying excellent balance and surgical cuts. He’ll be a nightmare in New England’s power run game for years to come.

9. Wide Receiver/Tight End Production

The Patriots went through a massive change of weaponry this past offseason, signing two starting wide receivers and tight ends. For Belichick, an overhaul like that is a rarity. Although it didn’t lead to the elite aerial attacks contenders of the NFL produce, the Patriots passing game was its best since 2017.

The Patriots haven’t rostered two receivers who accumulated 800 yards since Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski. Bourne and Meyers changed that. Ever since Gronkowski left New England, the Patriots have had the worst production from the tight end position. Until Hunter Henry gifted Mac Jones 50 catches, 603 yards, and nine touchdowns. The overall tight end production was strong even with Smith’s disappointing year.

10. Scoring

New England finished seventh in the NFL in points per game (26.6). The Patriots were one of only four teams that increased their points per game by five or more points. If New England can turn even two of their field goal attempts to touchdowns, that number could skyrocket in 2022.

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