No NFL team has been affected more by COVID-19 than the New England Patriots. From key starters opting-out of the season to Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore testing positive for the coronavirus, the six-time Super Bowl champions just can’t seem to catch a break.
However, Bill Belichick’s team just passed an important COVID-19 test ahead of its rescheduled matchup with the Denver Broncos. Will New England get back on track against an opponent who has been decimated by injuries? Or will the Patriots’ own personnel issues prove problematic against Vic Fangio’s squad?
COVID-19 has had a massive impact on the Patriots
Well before the Patriots took their first official snap of the season, the team suffered the wrath of COVID-19. A league-high eight players opted-out of playing, including Dont’a Hightower, Pat Chung, and Marcus Cannon. That left Bill Belichick little choice but to give young, unproven players a chance to show they belong in New England.
However, after getting off to a 2-1 start, the Patriots suffered a critical blow when Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19. With Kansas City Chiefs backup QB Jordan Ta’amu also testing positive, the NFL postponed the matchup between the two most recent Super Bowl champions. Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham combined to throw three interceptions in a 26-10 loss at Arrowhead Stadium.
To make matters worse, Stephon Gilmore tested positive just a few days after the game. That resulted in the Patriots canceling practice. The NFL then moved the New England-Denver matchup to Week 6 due to the Patriots having multiple cases of COVID-19.
New England just passed an important COVID-19 test
In a season unlike any other, the Patriots have faced unique challenges due to COVID-19. On Tuesday, the team finally got some good news as it relates to the coronavirus. Dan Graziano of ESPN reported via Twitter that all Patriots tests came back negative.
In speaking with the media, Bill Belichick told reporters, “We’re on track to play.”
That represents a major step forward for a Patriots team that has already placed four players on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Byron Cowart became the latest New England player to land on the list after he tested positive on Sunday. However, no Patriots players have tested positive in the last two days.
Unless a setback occurs, New England will host Denver on Sunday at 1 p.m. But can Belichick’s team earn its third victory of the season against a Broncos squad dealing with its own personnel issues?
The Patriots should have no trouble handling the Broncos
While the Patriots have been dealt some tough blows courtesy of COVID-19, the Broncos have suffered some major personnel losses of their own. Star receiver Courtland Sutton tore his ACL in Week 2. Drew Lock’s shoulder injury has forced Denver to start Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien at quarterback. Plus, the team lost Jurrell Casey to a season-ending biceps tear.
Assuming Newton and Gilmore can play on Sunday, the Patriots should have no trouble defeating a beat-up Broncos team. Though New England does not boast as much star power along its front seven as it has in years past, Chase Winovich and Lawrence Guy anchor a unit that should have no trouble containing Rypien, who threw three interceptions in his first start.
On offense, the Patriots will likely continue riding their strong running game. New England currently ranks second in the NFL with 179.8 rushing yards per game. Denver has allowed an average of 109 rushing yards in its first four games.
Even with Sony Michel on injured reserve, Josh McDaniels still has a deep stable of backs to call upon, including Damien Harris, James White, and Rex Burkhead. Undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor has also shown flashes of brilliance in limited action.
Ultimately, the Patriots should take care of business at home. Then again, as New England just experienced, COVID-19 can drastically alter a matchup at any given moment.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.