New England Patriots bold predictions in '21 revisited ... for better or worse

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Crystal ball: Bold prediction. Two words that often come back to haunt a beat reporter.

But this is part of the fun, too. After all, what's a bold prediction if it isn't revisited?

The Patriots (10-6) visit the Miami Dolphins (8-8) in the regular-season finale on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS), and then will look ahead to the playoffs, which makes it timely to look back at some bold 2021 predictions that hit the mark, and some that missed (at times very) badly.

Feb. 11: Jimmy Garoppolo will be the Patriots' quarterback. Not off to the best start here. If the 49ers' asking price had been more modest, perhaps things would have unfolded differently.

July 6: N'Keal Harry is on the roster bubble. The 2019 first-round pick, whose agent at one point requested a trade, ended up having a solid training camp and was never in jeopardy of not making the team. He might be now, though.

Aug. 4: Sony Michel will be traded to a running back-needy team. Michel was shipped to the Los Angeles Rams, so in the best Troy Brown impersonation, "Bingo! I got bingo!"

Sept. 6: Mac Jones will win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase is the current favorite ahead of Jones, but like many of Mac's passes, this was surprisingly accurate. A strong Week 18 from Jones could tilt the needle back in his favor.

Oct. 29: Jakobi Meyers will catch his first career TD pass. False start! A Halloween-day TD against the Chargers seemed like a nice Hollywood script, but it wasn't until two weeks later, Nov. 14 against the Browns, that Meyers accomplished the feat.

Nov. 7: Stephon Gilmore will have an interception against the Patriots. Judges might rule this falling outside the "bold" category, so we're toeing the line here. Gilmore got the pick, but one wonders if he regrets his pick to play elsewhere for the same salary he was earning in New England.

Dec. 6: Nick Folk will have his field goal streak from less than 50 yards broken in challenging Buffalo weather conditions. This was a bad miss -- something Folk seldom has. Sorry to have ever doubted you, Nick.

To complete the circle, this week's bold prediction: Crimson Tide-on-Crimson Tide crime with Christian Barmore registering a sack against Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa.

2. DMac's future: The conclusion of a regular season often sparks questions about the future of players, and longtime Patriots safety Devin McCourty's plans are of interest given the combination of age (34), elite leadership (10-time captain) and contract status (free agent). As most players do, McCourty figures to assess his situation after the season, but I sense no indication that he's considering retirement at this point. It would be a surprise if he's not playing, whether it's in New England or elsewhere.

3. Godchaux's playoff hunger: Linebacker Kyle Van Noy has been a key part of two Patriots Super Bowl championship teams, so he knows all about deep playoff runs. After clinching a postseason berth last week, Van Noy stressed that the Patriots' focus is still on finishing the regular season strong, but he also shared how excited he is for veterans experiencing the playoffs for the first time -- like starting defensive tackle Davon Godchaux (fifth year) and reserve Carl Davis (seventh year). Godchaux, who spent the first four years of his career with the Dolphins, said: "It's Miami this week, but I'm so excited for the playoffs."

4. Opponents in '22: Sunday's results will solidify two more of the Patriots' 2022 opponents, as they will host the AFC South foe that finishes in the same spot in the standings, and visit the AFC West team that finishes in the same spot in the standings.

Odds favor the Patriots finishing in second place in the AFC East, which would add the Colts to next year's home slate, and lock in a visit to the winner of Sunday night's Raiders-Chargers game (a trip to Vegas would be a big draw for fans).

If the Patriots leapfrog the Bills into first place, it would add the Titans to the home schedule and a visit to the Chiefs.

  • Home: Ravens, Bengals, Bears, Lions, Bills, Dolphins, Jets, AFCS

  • Away: Browns, Steelers, Packers, Vikings, Bills, Dolphins, Jets, AFCW, NFCW team to be determined

5. Mac on the mark: Jones enters the season finale having completed 67.6% of his passes, which is the second-highest percentage in Patriots history (minimum 200 attempts), trailing only the 68.9% posted by Tom Brady in his magical 2007 season. The degree of difficulty in the passes Brady threw that season was generally greater than what Jones has attempted this season, but Jones' marksmanship is impressive nonetheless. If he has an accurate performance Sunday, Jones can pass Dak Prescott (67.8%) for best completion percentage by a rookie in NFL history.

6. Timely finish: The Patriots' 50-10 blowout of the Jaguars last week finished in a tidy 2 hours, 47 minutes, the team's quickest game of the season. The longest two games of the season: 3:25 in the overtime loss to Dallas, and 3:17 against Brady's Buccaneers.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the 2:47 tied with Chargers-Eagles (Nov. 7) for the fifth-fastest game in the NFL this season, behind Broncos-Raiders (2:32, Dec. 26), Lions-Falcons (2:41, Dec. 26), 49ers-Jaguars (2:45, Nov. 21) and Eagles-Washington (2:46, Jan. 2)

Last season, the Patriots played four games at 2:47 or quicker, in part because of their reliance on the running game. But from 2010 to 2019, when they were airing it out with Brady & Co., they played just two games during that span that were 2:47 or quicker.

7. Andrews' streak broken: Last Sunday's lopsided win over the Jaguars allowed starting center David Andrews to rest his injured shoulder in the fourth quarter, breaking his streak as the only Patriot to play every offensive snap this season. Andrews is at 98.8%, which is still the highest total of any Patriots offensive player, followed by Jones (96.1%), left tackle Isaiah Wynn (86.9%), right guard Shaq Mason (85.7%), Meyers (84.3%), guard Ted Karras (74.6%) and tight end Hunter Henry (67.8%).

8. Kraft-y decision: Former Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown publicly turning on Brady and personal trainer Alex Guerrero last week was shocking, as it was Brady who championed Brown over the past three years, opening the doors of his own home to welcome him to New England. Brown lasted just 11 days in New England, and owner Robert Kraft took plenty of heat for stepping in to jettison him, especially from Brown himself. What became more clear than ever last week was Kraft being proved correct on that decision.

9. Mayo's market: Things usually move quickly with the NFL's head-coaching carousel upon conclusion of the regular season. While the Patriots will be busy preparing for the playoffs, it would be a surprise if multiple teams with vacancies didn't reach out to request permission to speak with New England defensive assistant Jerod Mayo, whose profile seems be rising around the NFL. The Jaguars and Raiders jobs are already open, while teams like the Bears, Broncos and Vikings bear watching.

10a. Did you know, Part I: Tagovailoa is 2-0 against the Patriots, and if he helps Miami to a win Sunday, he will become just the sixth quarterback to have won his first three starts against Belichick. The others are John Elway, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Brees, Jake Plummer and Jay Fiedler.

10b. Did you know, Part II: Including the playoffs, the Patriots are just 16-14 against Belichick's former assistant coaches since 2000. That includes a 2-3 mark against the Brian Flores-led Dolphins.