Like we’ve seen many seasons end in recent years, the 2018 NFL campaign came to a close with the New England Patriots once again hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. They finished with an 11-5 record during the regular season, propelling the team to its 10th straight AFC East Title. The offense was once again spectacular, finishing inside the top-eight in the league in points scored, rushing yards per game and passing yards per game. After winning a shootout with the Chiefs to get out of the AFC, their playoff run culminated with a hard-fought defensive battle against the Rams in which they came away victorious by the score of 13-3.

Team Preview

Key Departures:

Rob Gronkowski, TE; Chris Hogan, WR.

Key Acquisitions:

N’Keal Harry, WR; Demaryius Thomas, WR; Benjamin Watson, TE; Michael Bennett, DL; Jamie Collins, LB.

2019 Fantasy MVP

Julian Edelman, WR

This team will only go as far as Tom Brady can take them. However, he’s far more valuable in real life than in fantasy. The player who is likely to emerge from the season with a huge fantasy impact is Edelman. With Gronkowski now retired, Brady has lost one of his most trusted pass catchers. Edelman received 108 targets last year in just 12 games, so expect him to see even more passes thrown his way this year.

A stat that shouldn’t be overlooked is that Edelman finished with the seventh-most red zone targets (20) in the league last year despite missing four games. Players behind him in that category included big names like Stefon Diggs (19), Julio Jones (17) and Mike Evans (14). As long as he can stay healthy, which is a big if, expect him to challenge his career-highs in receptions (105), receiving yards (1,106) and touchdowns (7).

2019 Fantasy LVP

Rex Burkhead, RB

The Patriots finished the regular season with the third-most rushing attempts (478) in the league, so they certainly aren’t shy about running the ball. Burkhead is more of a threat catching passes out of the backfield than he is rushing the ball, and there was significant excitement surrounding him last season before he went down early with a neck injury. On a lot of teams, he could be fantasy gold. However, with Sony Michel, James White and Damien Harris all in the fold, Burkhead is likely going to need one of them to get injured to carry significant fantasy value.

2019 Breakout Player

N’Keal Harry, WR

The Patriots used a first-round pick to select the talented Harry, who had at least 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdown receptions in each of his last two years with Arizona State. Edelman is clearly going to be the team’s top receiving option while White should also catch a lot of passes out of the backfield, but the Patriots don’t have a ton of quality talent at wide receiver. Thomas is a big name, but he’s coming off of an Achilles injury and is already on the downside of his career. There have even been reports that Thomas will start the season on the PUP list. Don’t be surprised if Harry emerges as one of the best weapons in this pass offense.

Final Thoughts:

The rest of the AFC East made some upgrades during the offseason, but this is still New England’s division to lose. The Patriots start out the season playing three of their first five games on the road, but it should be noted that they don’t make any trips to the West Coast this season. They could get off to a hot start with six of their first seven games coming against the Jets, Bills, Redskins and Giants. Coming out of their bye week brings a tough four-game stretch against the Eagles, Cowboys, Texans and Chiefs, but the Patriots could coast to the finish line with their last three opponents being the Bengals, Bills and Dolphins.

Losing Gronkowski leaves them without one of the best red-zone threats in the league. Watson is also suspended for the first four games of the season, so don’t be surprised if the Patriots run the ball a lot when they get in close. Sony Michel finished with 42 carries inside the red zone last year, which ranked sixth-most in the NFL. He did recently have a minor procedure on his knee, but he is expected to be ready for the start of training camp.

While Michel will likely receive plenty of carries regardless of their position on the field, White might have the highest upside of their running back group. He received a whopping 123 targets last year and should challenge for 100 receptions while posting over 1,000 total yards this year. Also, don’t forget that he had 12 total touchdowns last year.

With Watson’s suspension, don’t sleep on fellow tight end Matt LaCosse in their first four games. He didn’t play much during his tenure with the Giants and Broncos, but he’s a good pass catcher who won’t have much competition at his position. Their easy schedule should also help, so keep him on your radar, especially as a cheap DFS tournament play.

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