The New England Patriots always have reasons for optimism going into a new season, but those reasons seem to be getting fewer by the year now.
The departure of Tom Brady for pastures new two years ago still hurts, if not emotionally, then in terms of the lost leadership and pure game-winning ability that left the building with him.
The big question going into 2022 is who will call the offensive plays after Josh McDaniels' switch to be the new Las Vegas Raiders head coach.
Any uncertainty could precipitate a sophomore slump for young quarterback Mac Jones, who played well enough to get the Pats to the playoffs last year but didn't exactly set the world on fire - averaging a modest 7.3 yards per pass.
New England allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL last season and the defense should be stout in all departments again, so there is still hope for a deep postseason run as long as legendary coach Bill Belichick is on his game.
|What||NFL Season 2022/23|
|Where||All across the USA with three games scheduled for London, one for Munich and one in Mexico City|
|When||8th September 2022 - 12th February 2023|
|How to watch||The vast majority of games are live and on-demand with NFL Game Pass, while selected games are available via Sky Sports and bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||BUF Bills 6/1, TB Buccaneers 7/1, KC Chiefs 10/1, LA Rams 10/1, GB Packers 12/1|
2nd AFC East (10-7)
After experiencing only one losing season in the last 21 years and 18 playoff appearances in that time, it feels strange to even question whether Belichick can take his team into the postseason.
But there has been a talent drain in terms of personnel and coaching staff while the AFC East, for which they are 5/1 to win, has become tougher as their rivals get stronger - especially the 10/23 Buffalo Bills.
Missing out on the playoffs this time, to make it two seasons out of three, would lead to inevitable talk that the dynasty years are over - and maybe they already are.
For the third straight year, the Patriots take on the Miami Dolphins in their opening game, but this time it's at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Fins won last year's season opener at Foxborough, 17-16, and holds a 5-5 all-time record against the Patriots on opening day.
Much of the pre-game attention will again go to the competing former Alabama quarterbacks Jones and Tua Tagovailoa while added spice comes with the offseason trade of former Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker to New England.
The Dolphins who are 20/33 on the Money Line, are 3-2 in their last five opening games, and the 29/20 Patriots haven't won in Miami since 2019.
New England's schedule, featuring four road games in the first six weeks, including a pair of away games to kick off the campaign, is not ideal.
Belichick's men will face a number of the teams fancied to make the playoffs, but most of those matchups come late in the year after the team's Week 10 bye.
The first meeting with division foes Buffalo falls in Week 13 at Foxborough before New England then face back-to-back road trips west to the Arizona Cardinals and Raiders - now coached by long-time Patriots OC McDaniels.
In past instances, Belichick has arranged to have his team stay out in the desert for that week in between games to reduce the jet lag of flying cross-country more than necessary.
The Patriots host the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals on Christmas Eve before rounding out the regular season with two epic intra-division battles with the Dolphins and Bills - the latter being a potential repeat of last season's frigid clash at Highmark Stadium.
No active head coach can match Belichick's seniority or success. The six-time Super Bowl winner and three-time Coach of the Year is the most successful head coach in the business and has been for well over a decade.
Tom Brady's brilliance certainly helped along the way and his record as a general manager is certainly more up for debate than his coaching credentials.
But you won't find many of his ex-players willing to bad mouth him, despite a dour demeanor that led to him being nicknamed 'Doom' as an up-and-coming defensive coordinator with the New York Giants.
Although things began to look grim after Brady's departure - and instant success with Tampa Bay - Belichick gambled on a new QB star and implemented an offense that allowed Jones to complete 70.3 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns while going 8-4 as a rookie starter.
CB Terrance Mitchell (Houston Texans)
WR Ty Montgomery (New Orleans Saints)
CB Malcolm Butler (Arizona Cardinals)
S Jabrill Peppers (New York Giants)
TE Matt Sokol (Detroit Lions)
K Tristan Vizcaino (Los Angeles Chargers)
WR Lil'Jordan Humphrey (New Orleans Saints)
C Darryl Williams (Kansas City Chiefs)
DT Jeremiah Pharms Jr. (Pittsburgh Maulers)
WR Josh Hammond (Philadelphia Eagles)
S Jalen Elliott (Detroit Lions)
S Brad Hawkins (Atlanta Falcons)
CB Devin Hafford (Pittsburgh Maulers)
TE Jalen Wydermyer (Buffalo Bills)
DE Chase Winovich (Cleveland Browns)
OG Shaq Mason (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
QB Jarrett Stidham (Las Vegas Raiders)
WR N'Keal Harry (Chicago Bears)
RB Brandon Bolden (Las Vegas Raiders)
CB J. C. Jackson (Los Angeles Chargers)
C Ted Karras (Cincinnati Bengals)
OLB Brandon King (Indianapolis Colts)
TE Troy Fumagalli (San Francisco 49ers)
FB Jakob Johnson (Las Vegas Raiders)
WR Gunner Olszewski (Pittsburgh Steelers)
|Defensive MVP||Matthew Judon|
G Cole Strange (1st Round)
QB Mac Jones
Andrews is one of the remaining cornerstone pieces from the Patriots' last Super Bowl win and just the sort of grizzled veteran a rookie quarterback like Jones needed to lean on when trying to figure out what kind of coverage NFL defenses were running.
The former undrafted free agent went on to start all 17 games last regular season and led the offense with 98.64% of the snaps played.
The Patriots spared no expense to lure Judon from the Baltimore Ravens last year and he lived up to their expectations with a stellar first season in New England.
The linebacker led the team with 12.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss with his ability to win one-on-one battles allowing the Patriots to just rush four and still get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Jones' rookie season was a real triumph for himself and the team, particularly as all four of the other top-rated QBs taken before him endured typical first-year struggles.