New England Patriots 2019 NFL season preview: Life after Gronk

Woody: Gronk's emotion speaks volumes (0:56)

Damien Woody reacts to Rob Gronkowski getting emotional talking about football and how fans don't realize sometimes that athletes are human. (0:56)

The New England Patriots are ranked No. 3 in ESPN's preseason Football Power Index. Here's everything you need to know about the Patriots heading into the 2019 NFL season:

The big question: How much will Rob Gronkowski's retirement hurt?

The Patriots have looked impressive at times in the preseason, but tight end is one notable question mark. Under coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Patriots have traditionally been an offense that reshapes itself annually based on the strength of its personnel. After nearly a decade of at-times dominant play at tight end, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Patriots deemphasized the position without Gronk. -- Mike Reiss

Offseason in a nutshell

After once again experiencing more defections than additions in free agency -- with DE Trey Flowers (Lions) and OT Trent Brown (Raiders) the biggest departures -- the Patriots' signature move was acquiring veteran DE Michael Bennett and a seventh-round pick from the Eagles in exchange for a fifth-round pick. Bennett will be relied upon to help boost the team's pass rush. The return of LB Jamie Collins, which at the time seemed like a depth move, now looks different, as Collins projects as a key piece in the team's versatile defensive scheme. Finally, the return to health of 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn (Achilles tendon) is a crucial development, as he is the starting left tackle, and the depth drops off notably after him. -- Reiss

Inside the Patriots' schedule

Most important game: Dec. 8 vs. Kansas City. How can it get any bigger than a rematch of the AFC Championship Game? The home game should provide a good barometer as to whether these teams were able to carry over their success into 2019, and if Tom Brady has a chance to make history as the only 42-year-old quarterback to start all 16 regular-season games.

Toughest stretch: If the Browns' 2019 season matches the preseason hype, it starts Oct. 27 at home against them, followed Nov. 3 by a Sunday night road game in Baltimore. Then comes the bye weekend, a road game in Philadelphia (Nov. 17), home game against Dallas (Nov. 24), road game against Houston (Dec. 1) and the home date with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs (Dec. 8). The Patriots were 3-5 on the road in the 2018 regular season, which coach Bill Belichick has already reminded players of this season as something they need to improve.

Over or under 10.5 wins? Over. The Patriots winning at least 11 games has been one of the safest bets in sports over the past decade. The last time they went 10-6 was the 2009 season. -- Reiss

Schedule ranking: No. 32

The Patriots' schedule looks even easier if we examine only their opponents, but they are one of four teams playing consecutive games against teams coming off their bye week (vs. Cleveland in Week 8 then at Baltimore in Week 9). They have a third game against a team coming off its bye week, but that's Week 11, when both the Eagles and Patriots will be coming off the bye. The New England schedule is also interesting because the Patriots get half of their divisional games out of the way by the end of September. Then they have a trip to the Jets in Week 7, and after that no divisional games until they finish with Buffalo and Miami back-to-back at home in Weeks 16 and 17. -- Football Outsiders | See the full 1-32 ranking

Breakout fantasy star: WR Jakobi Meyers

If you watched Meyers during the preseason, you'll wonder how and why he went undrafted in April. After signing with New England, the 6-foot-2 NC State product paced all players in both receptions (20) and receiving yards (253) while hauling in two touchdowns in three preseason games. The presence of Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas blocks his path to immediate production, but Meyers needs to be on your watch list. -- Mike Clay | More fantasy coverage

The view from Vegas

Super Bowl odds: 13-2 (opened 8-1)
Over/under: 11 (O -150/U +130)
Playoff odds: Yes -850, No +575

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook as of Sept. 2.

Most interesting player prop

Over or under 27.5 touchdown passes for Brady:

  • Reiss: Over. One of the top rules in the Patriots beat-reporting notebook is to be careful of doubting Brady, and 27.5 touchdown passes would be his lowest total since the 2013 season, when he had 25. While the Patriots could become more of a running team, and they have had success running close to the goal line, Brady still has Edelman and Gordon at wide receiver as the season opens. Brady should still have his fair share of success in the air.

  • David Bearman: Over. Father Time just doesn't seem to exist for Brady. Dating to his return from the 2008 injury, Brady has failed to reach 28 TD passes just once (2013). Until things change in New England, take the over.

Bold prediction: Wynn will be comeback player of year

The Patriots selected Wynn with the 23rd overall pick of the 2018 draft, but then lost him for his entire rookie season when he tore his Achilles in an August preseason game. This year, Wynn was brought along slowly in spring practices and training camp, and now looks primed to start the season as Brady's blindside protector. -- Reiss

Where the Patriots landed in NFLRank

Speed reads before the opener