Success for the 2023 Patriots will be both simple and complicated – Boston Herald


The glory days are always glory days for a few reasons.

Joy. Fulfillment. Peak human experience and connection.

I’ll throw another one in there: they’re simple.

There’s no doubt about the best days or games or seasons. Gray area doesn’t belong in glory, as the Patriots know. For 20 years, they won a Super Bowl or they failed. That was it. That was the bar, the standard set by the greatest head coach and quarterback of all time.

Since Tom Brady left, the Patriots have been swimming in a gray area. A 7-9 campaign in 2020 both reflected lackluster roster talent and a confluence of circumstances outside the team’s control that dragged the season into the sewer: COVID-19, cap hell, injuries and changing league rules around the pandemic.

The Patriots’ terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 2022 season packed a lot of gray area, too. Was it Mac Jones’ fault the team struggled? Bill Belichick’s? Joe Judge and Matt Patricia’s? The only universal agreement about that season, both internally and among fans and media, was it could never happen again.

Patricia left. Judge was reassigned. Belichick hired Bill O’Brien and has since gotten out of his way when it comes to coordinating the offense and coaching the quarterbacks. And Jones is embracing a prove-it season for his young career.

So what will success look like? Improvement is an obvious starting point, going from last year’s mark of 8-9 to 9-8 or 10-7 or perhaps even better. The Pats can’t simply regress again. From his owner suite, Robert Kraft will be watching with a critical eye, prepared to make more changes.

Mac Jones talks with Patriots owner Robert Kraft during Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 3 in Foxboro. (Staff Photo/Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

“We’re about winning and doing whatever we can to win. That’s what our focus is now,” Kraft said last March at the annual owners meetings. “It’s very important to me that we make the playoffs. That’s what I hope happens next year.”

So is reaching the postseason the goal then? Already we know 14 of 32 teams clinch a playoff berth, and at least one of those 32 — Arizona — is actively punting on this season. That leaves the Patriots with essentially a 50-50 shot to reach their goal — except, when you factor in their schedule.

According to oddsmakers, the Pats will face the NFL’s toughest schedule by opponents’ over-under win totals for this season. Is finishing in the neighborhood of .500 against that type of murderer’s row — including a December stretch versus Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert — really a failure?

Maybe, maybe not. Injuries, as they always do, will factor. But if Jones goes down, or another pillar of the Patriots’ roster, is that excuse enough to let the team enter the offseason without more clarity? Or a real ultimatum from Kraft?

But let’s say they overcome the odds and make the playoffs. They snag a Wild Card spot, beating out at least one of the Bills, Dolphins or Jets, who are all expected to finish ahead of them in the division.

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