With the 2010 Regular season fast-approaching, I thought it might be a good idea to break down the upcoming schedule for the Patriots. In order to keep things relatively short and also give myself three more "easy" articles to fill some space during the dog days of August, I'll turn this piece into a four-part column, covering each of the games in blocks of four.
Of note, 2010 marks the season where the NFL comes "full circle" with the scheduling system it set up starting in 2002. That season, the Patriots' NFC Division was the NFC North. They played at Detriot and Green Bay and hosted Chicago and Minnesota. In 2006 when the NFC North came up again, the home and away games were reversed. Now in 2010, the Patriots will again be making trips to play the Lions and Packers, while the Bears and Vikings return to Foxboro.
Also worth noting is that the Patriots 2010 schedule looks to be one of the most difficult that I can remember. Going soley on 2009 results, the Pats have roughly eleven "contenders" on the schdule and only five games against teams that were pushovers last season. This is clearly a transition year for the Patriots and their young players are going to find themselves thrown into the fire rather quickly. It's certainly easy to see how an inexperienced team could find themselves overwhelmed early on and have their season spiral out of control. Still, I believe any time you have Tom Brady as your quarterback and Bill Belichick as your coach, you're going to succeed. Here's hoping that I'm right...
Week 1 - Home vs. Cincinnati
The Bengals, like the Patriots, finished 2009 with a record of 10-6. They also shared the same fate as the Patriots in the post-season, losing at home during the Wild Card round. By far, the biggest headline this off-season in Cincy was the signing of Terrell Owens, a player the Pats are all-too-familiar with from his recent stint with the Bills and Super Bowl XXXIX. Despite all the smack-talk, the Patriots have essentially owned T.O. during their many battles, and, this far into his career, Owens isn't likely to be a major factor in Week 1. My guess is that this will be a fairly close battle to start the season, but I'm giving the edge to the Patriots. They're at home, they've got the better QB, and they have the better coach. The Patriots also have made a habit of starting the season strong, winning seven of their last nine openers. If there is any consolation though in the case of a loss, it's that the last time the Patriots dropped their opener to the Bengals, they went on to win the Super Bowl (2001).
Predicted Record: 1-0
Week 2 - Away vs. New York Jets
The gloves come off early into the season as the Patriots head to New York. Last season, the Jets shocked the Patriots in the Meadowlands during Week 2. It was a defensive battle where the Pats were shut out in the 2nd half and Darelle Revis' nickname "Revis Island" was born. Here's hoping that the Patriots learned their less and aren't set up for a repeat performance. This is a game that both teams will be jacked up for and it should set the early tone for the AFC East. Everyone's been hyping the Jets all off-season and discounting New England. This will be the game that will determine if they're right. Going off of history, the Jets tend to beat the Patriots when you least expect them to. They catch the Pats sleeping and sneak out a win. I can guarantee you that no one will be caught napping this time as this game's been circled on the calendar since the moment the schdule came out. I'll pencil in a win for the Pats.
Predicted Record: 2-0
Week 3 - Home vs. Buffalo
The Patriots have three fairly difficult games in their first four contests. I'm usually pretty generous when making predictions for the Patriots, but I definitely thought twice about my picks for the games vs. Cincy, NY, and Miami. That being said, this game at home vs. Buffalo should be considered an absolute must-win for the Patriots. If the Pats struggle early and drop two of three against their tougher competition, this game is the difference between a recoverable 2-2 start and a iffy 1-3. They absolutely need to take care of business at home against a clearly inferior opponent. Even if the Pats swept the Bengals/Jets/Dolphins, this season's schedule is far too difficult to throw away games like this. If the Patriots can simply sweep Buffalo and beat Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland, they only need to finish 6-5 the rest of the way to make it to 11-5. I know that 2008 was an abberation, but 11-5 almost always equals playoffs.
Predicted Record: 3-0
Week 4 - Away vs. Miami
By now every Patriots fans know that games at Miami, particularly early-season games at Miami, are a house of horrors for the Patriots. It seems that no matter how bad the Dolphins are, or how self-aware the Patriots are about this not being a game to sleep on, the annual trip to South Beach ends up as a loss 80% of the time. I actually believe that the Dolphins are the Pats' biggest threat this year in the AFC East, and so as much as it pains me, I have to pencil in the first loss of the season.
Predicted Record: 3-1
As a quick recap, the first four games of the season are huge for the Patriots. They will play three divisional games, with two coming on the road. One would hope that the Pats can at least take one of those two games vs. Miami or New York, which would put them in a pretty comfortable position. Then it's all about taking care of business against Buffalo. The Cincinatti game is a bit of a toss-up, but hopefuly home field tilts the scales towards the Pats. Without trying to jinx anything, I think 2-2 is probably a worst-case scenario at this point, with the team hopefully entering their Week 5 bye at 3-1.