NFL pre-season offers hope for some - beware the New England Patriots

The NFL pre-season is two games into its new three-match schedule and it’s always a time of great hope for NFL fans. The teams that have won look like they could be on their way to the Super Bowl, while those that have lost get away with “it's just preseason” and “these games are just about getting up to speed”.

Cam Newton, pictured, will have in-house competition at the New England Patriots after the arrival of Mac Jones.

Of course, both camps are right. A win can build confidence in a fanbase, while losses mean nothing as most of the game has second, third, and even fourth-team players on the field.

Nowadays, many veterans get away without taking a snap in the pre-season because the coaches already know how good they are, and they already know the playbook.

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Pre-season is also a chance for coaches to evaluate depth in their squad and to figure out who replaces the superstar if – god forbid – they get injured.

For players, it's a chance to work out against opponents who will run different schemes, but moreover, it's about demonstrating their value to the organisation.

The pre-season roster starts as a 90-man one, with three key dates for cuts to get the teams down to the 53-man roster needed for opening week.

The first of those passed a week ago, reducing the team to 85 players, and the second will take place today, with a further five players handing in their playbook.

The big cut day follows on August 31 – next Tuesday – as teams go from 80 to 53, although 16 players will find a place on the practice squad where they can be moved in and out of the 53-man roster or picked up by another team.

Of course, some senior players will have to make appearances during the preseason as they realise they also have a fight on their hands for a starting spot.

This season, one of the most intriguing battles is in New England, where the Patriots are in their second year without Tom Brady.

Early last year, I wrote about how good a fit Cam Newton would be with the Patriots and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel's and while the Patriots did pick up the former MVP, his season wasn't the best.

Newton arrived in New England late in the pre-season and was given very little time to learn the playbook.

Then a month into the season, Newton tested positive for Covid-19, which had him miss a few weeks and even after he returned, he wasn't 100 per cent fit.

The former Carolina Panther didn't have a breakout season, but the stats show he was accurate, with a 65 per cent completion rate, although turnovers were his downfall.

The Patriots ended the season, and head coach Bill Belichick was quoted as saying "he liked Cam" but wasn't sure of his return.

Either way, Newton was never going to be the Patriots' long-term future, so when the draft rolled around, it was no surprise to see New England take Alabama's Mac Jones in the first round.

Jones has long been considered a top prospect, and some were surprised he fell to the Patriots in the middle of their first round.

Mac Jones has thrown for 253 yards and 26 completions in the two pre-season games against 38 attempts with no turnovers. While Jones has yet to throw a touchdown, his ability to keep possession and his cool head as he lead the team on three scoring drives last Thursday shows that he has what Belichick and the Patriots value, game smarts.

Of course, Newton – still getting to grips with the new playbook himself – has shown more of his potential with a touchdown and 75 per cent completion rate on just two drives.

While the two battle it out inside the house, this spells trouble for the rest of the AFC East.

The Bills were given free rein last season, and the Miami Dolphins showed significant improvement and the New York Jets never got started.

But what I've seen from the Patriots, who also have a couple of key players back after opting out last season, the dynasty is far from over.

Beware Buffalo. The Patriots are coming, and they have something to prove after Tom Brady went and won one without them last season.