BOSTON (CBS) — Sunday is not just the start of a new football season in Foxboro, but the dawning of a new era. It’s the day that Mac Jones officially takes over the franchise.

Bill Belichick’s decision to hand the keys over to the rookie has created some massive buzz around the Patriots in 2021, but he’s not the only fresh face that fans are excited for. Jones has a pair of super talented tight ends at his disposal in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson will also be looking to make an impact on offense after tearing apart defenses in the preseason. On the other side of the ball, Matt Judon only knows one speed and gives the Patriots defense one of the game’s best pass rushers. Sunday will be our first glimpse of how New England’s $163 million spending spree over the offseason will fit on the field.

There are a lot of great feelings around the Patriots as a whole, but let’s not forget, it’s a long season. A long season with an extra regular season game to boot.

Here’s how the WBZ-TV and CBS Boston sports teams see the Patriots kicking off the 2021 season.

Steve Burton, WBZ-TV

Expectations are high for Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones. But this kid is all business. He’s focused, he’s poised and super hungry to start the season off right.

They won’t ask Jones to do too much, but they will ask him to do more than most rookie quarterbacks. He’s a quick learner.

The Pats are loaded at running back and the ground game could cause a lot of problems for opposing teams — including the Dolphins, who are not all healthy at the moment.

The strength of New England is the defense. Look for them to be very stingy this season. If Matthew Judon stays healthy, turn him loose. He may be the most dangerous defender on the field.

The Patriots beat Miami 21-11 last year in their season opener. I expect another win on Sunday.

Patriots 24, Dolphins 17

Dan Roche, WBZ-TV

The Mac Jones era begins at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Jones needs to do what he did all last season at Alabama, when he was the most accurate passer in the game. On Sunday, he simply needs to make the right throws with accuracy while not turning the ball over. Do your part and let the running backs and tight ends take over.

Defensively, the Pats need to heed the advice of newcomer Davon Godchaux and “stop the run to have some fun.” It’s something New England couldn’t do last December in Miami when they were gouged for 250 yards on the ground.

Patriots 24, Dolphins 14

Levan Reid, WBZ-TV

So here we go, the first game of what’s going to be the longest season in NFL history and the Pats want to start off correctly.

We got a chance to hear from some of the veteran players this week and they all said they have to protect Mac Jones because the rookie has a lot on his plate.  With that said, expect the Pats and their big offensive line to run the ball.  Damien Harris will be the bell cow and carry the rock over 20 times. He’s going to have himself a game.

The Dolphins have a new offense they are going to roll out and some confusion should be expected. This Pats defense is swarming. Don’t be surprised if the sack total for New England is four or more.

Fans are back in the stands at Gillette, and the Patriots will open up 2021 with a win.

Patriots 23, Dolphins 17

Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

I initially felt like the Dolphins would win this game, but I was getting too caught up in the quarterback story line. The reality is, with a healthy and powerful offensive line and with a diverse group of running backs, the Patriots are going to try to run right through the Dolphins’ defense. Throw in a potential costly mistake from Tua in a raucous Gillette Stadium full of insane Patriots fans, and I like the Patriots in a close one, with undrafted rookie Quinn Nordin missing a PAT but nailing three field goals for the win.

Patriots 15, Dolphins 10.

Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

Mac Jones is the story going into this one, and every aspect of his debut is going to be analyzed and re-analyzed all next week. But I think he’ll be mostly a footnote (an extremely large footnote) after the game is played.

The Dolphins are going to try to make Mac overthink everything on Sunday, which is why the Patriots are going to keep it as simple as possible on the rookie. The offensive focus will be on controlling the clock with a talented group of running backs, and I expect big games out of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Mac will probably get a few deep attempts in (and maybe his receivers will actually catch them, unlike in the preseason), but it will mostly be quick passes to move the chains. It’d be nice to see his first career touchdown pass go to Jakobi Meyers, who is still looking for his first career receiving touchdown in the NFL.

On defense, the Pats are going to put just as much pressure on Tua thanks to a revamped pass rush. Newcomer Matt Judon may run through an actual wall ahead of his Patriots debut. And the Patriots are going to have to make Tua as uncomfortable as possible, because he doesn’t have Stephon Gilmore to worry about when he rears back to throw the ball. It’s a big game for fellow free agent signee Jalen Mills, who is going to picked on in that No. 2 corner role.

Patriots 24, Dolphins 20

Tune in to Patriots-Dolphins on Sunday, Sept. 12 on WBZ-TV — the flagship station of the New England Patriots! Coverage begins Wednesday night with Patriots 1st Down at 10:30 p.m. on TV38 and continues Friday night with Patriots All Access at 7 p.m. on WBZ! Our opening day coverage begins with Patriots GameDay at 11:30 a.m., the Patriots and the Dolphins kick off at 4:25 p.m., and after the game switch over to TV38 for full reaction and analysis on Patriots 5th Quarter!

CBSBoston.com Staff