2020 Offseason Opponent Breakdown: New England Patriots

Continuing this year's offseason opponent breakdowns on theRams.com, up next is Los Angeles' Week 14 Thursday Night Football opponent, the New England Patriots.

2019

A 12-4 regular season record captured the Patriots' 17th AFC East division title in the last 19 seasons and the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoff picture. However, a 20-13 loss to the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card round gave New England its earliest postseason exit since the 2009 season, when it lost in the same round to the sixth-seeded Baltimore Ravens.

That result also represented just the third time in the Bill Belichick era (2000-present) that the Patriots lost their postseason opener. They have qualified for the playoffs in 17 of Belichick's 20 seasons so far.

Changes

The Patriots' all-time leading passer Tom Brady said goodbye to the organization and announced "his football journey will take place elsewhere" via Instagram in March. Although he signed a two-year extension prior to the 2019 season, Brady was eligible to become a free agent because the final two years of his contract actually voided, and the deal prohibited New England from placing the franchise tag or transition tag on him. He later signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent.

Another key member of their offense from the previous decade, tight end Rob Gronkowski, was traded along with a seventh-round pick to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round pick. Gronkowski retired in March 2019 but reportedly told the Patriots he wanted to resume his career with Brady and the Buccaneers. A trade was the only way for him to do so since he had one year left on his contract at the time he retired.

On special teams, New England released kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who originally joined the club as a fourth-round draft pick in 2006. Gostkowski departed as the Patriots' all-time leading scorer and most accurate field goal kicker in franchise history.

Head coach

Belichick enters his 21st season as head coach of the Patriots. Including playoff appearances, he has compiled a 267-94 overall record through 20 years with the franchise.

What to watch for

Rams defense vs. whoever starts at quarterback for the Patriots

Similar to its matchup with another AFC East team this season, Los Angeles' defense will be preparing for a new starting quarterback.

Will it be former Auburn standout and 2019 fourth-round pick Jarret Stidham under center, or will 12-year veteran Brian Hoyer be running the show? Stidham appeared in three games as a rookie, completing 2 of 4 pass attempts for 14 yards with one interception, while Hoyer is back with the organization for a third time.

By extension, it will also be interesting to see how different, if at all, the Patriots' offense looks with a different quarterback under center. Although there is continuity – offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels enters his 12th season in that position on New England's coaching staff – both Belichick and McDaniels will likely make some adjustments to better tailor the scheme to that player's strengths.

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