A new era begins at 1 p.m. Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
After leading the New England Patriots to six Super Bowl championships and an NFL-record 11 consecutive divisional titles, 43-year-old future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady departed to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement to join him in Tampa.
Cam Newton, the 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player, takes over at quarterback coming off an injury riddled season during which he played only two games.
The Patriots have also had to revamp their defense without three linebackers who combined for 19 sacks last year. Jamie Collins (Detroit), Kyle Van Noy (Miami) and Dont’a Hightower (opt-out), along veteran safety Patrick Chung (opt-out) are gone or not available.
The Patriots went 12-4 during the regular season before being upset by Tennessee 20-13 in the playoffs, while the 7-9 Buccaneers failed to make the playoffs.
Bangor area college and high school football coaches believe the Patriots will still be respectable and a playoff contender.
“I love the Patriots and Cam Newton is a great choice at quarterback now that they don’t have Tom Brady,” Husson University coach Nat Clark said. “They always exceed expectations.”
Clark picked the Pats to go 10-6.
“They still have [head coach] Bill Belichick and it’s a tremendous franchise. And Newton had some tremendous years in Carolina,” he said.
He noted that the offense will have a new look because Newton will provide them with a run threat, unlike Brady, who is a pocket passer.
“[Newton] has a great personality. He will be entertaining” Clark said.
The 31-year-old Newton has rushed for 4,806 yards in his nine-year career and averaged 5.1 yards per carry while Brady has 1,037 rushing yards (1.7 ypc) in 20 seasons.
But Brady has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 74,571 yards and 541 touchdowns with 179 interceptions compared to Newton’s 59.6 percent completion rate, 29,041 yards and 182 TDs with 108 interceptions.
“You never rule out Belichick, no matter what team he has,” Old Town coach Lance Cowan said. “He has proven himself [in getting the most out of his teams]. It will depend on how Cam Newton fits into the system. Buffalo is the team to beat in that conference.”
Bucksport coach Joel Sankey said New England should be a playoff contender, but he’s skeptical about whether the NFL will get through the season trying to dodge COVID-19.
“[Newton] gives them a totally different option with what he can do if he’s healthy. The offense is going to change. It’s going to be fun to watch,” Sankey said.
Bangor High football coach Dave Morris places a high value on Belichick and his coaching staff.
He said he respects the talent of Newton and that he will be a better pro under Belichick and [offensive coordinator] Josh McDaniels.
“They have a great system and any time they face adversity, they seem to fare pretty well. You never want to count them out,” Morris said.
“They do it the right way. They work hard and I’m sure they will keep it pretty simple,” Morris said.
University of Maine head football coach Nick Charlton said he is excited to watch football. He’ll be watching both the Patriots and the Buccaneers.
“It will definitely be an interesting year and I am excited to see how both teams start out,” Charlton said.
Some coaches also will be keeping a close eye on Brady and Gronkowski.
“Tom Brady is my favorite athlete of all time, hands down. And my dog’s name is Gronk,” Clark said. “I’ll probably watch more Buccaneers games than Patriots games.”
Morris said Brady and Gronk should provide a big boost to the Buccaneers.
“They are the missing links to that team from last year. They lost half a dozen games by less than five points,” Morris said.
Tampa Bay lost three games by four points or less, two by six, including an overtime game, and another by seven.
Cowan and Sankey said the new dynamic will be something worth watching.
“It will be interesting to see how Brady does. He’s up there in age but he is surrounded by a lot of talent,” Sankey said.
Tampa Bay opens at New Orleans at 4:25 p.m. Sunday.