As we inch closer to the start of the 2010 season, I thought it would be a good idea to make some quick analysis of the schdule and make some predictions about how the Patriots will fare in each of their 16 constests. We took a look at Weeks 1-4, Weeks 6-9, and Weeks 10-13 last week. This time around, I'll be doing a brief preview on the Patriots games from Week 10-13.
As a quick recap, here's how I called each of the first twelve games.
Week 1: Home vs. Cincinatti - W
Week 2: Away vs. New York Jets - W
Week 3: Home vs. Buffalo - W
Week 4: Away vs. Miami - L
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Home vs. Baltimore - W
Week 7: Away vs. San Diego - L
Week 8: Home vs. Minnesota - W
Week 9: Away vs. Cleveland - L
Week 10: Away vs. Pittsburgh - W
Week 11: Home vs. Indianapolis - L
Week 12: Away vs. Detroit - W
Week 13: Home vs. New York Jets - W
Week 14 - Away vs. Chicago
Finally, the schedule lightens up a bit for the Patriots. The final four weeks still won't be a cake walk by any means, but compared to the other groupings of games we've covered, this final batch is the easiest. The Patriots begin their final march to the post-season with a stop at Soldier Field. I mentioned earlier that with the Patriots difficult schedule, their five "easy" games were must-wins. They simply can't afford to shoot themselves in the foot by blowing games against inferior competition. I'm putting Chicago in this "inferior" category, and predicting a W for New England.
Predicted Record: 9-4
Week 15 - Home vs. Green Bay
Green Bay is getting some Super Bowl hype. While I'm not quite sure if it's warranted at this point, what I do know is that the Pack will have no trouble dealing with the New England winter. They're probably the only team in the league for which a game in Foxboro can be considered a warm weather affer. While I believe the Pats can handle the Packers, and Bill Belichick's teams tend to rally down the stretch vs. fall apart, I'm going to call for a loss here. At 9-5, it's going to be playoff intesnsity for the Patriots from here on out. They absolutely need to take care of their AFC East rivals the next two weeks or they could find themselves sitting at home in Week 18.
Predicted Record: 9-5
Week 16 - Away vs. Buffalo
It doesn't get much more must-win than this for the Patriots. In attempt to cut down on the "tanking" we saw from teams like Indianapolis and Cincinatti last season, the NFL has tweaked the schedule so that each team has a slew of divisional games down the stretch. The Pats, Jets, Bills, and Phins all play one another once in the last five weeks. I'm expecting it to be a tight race between New England, New York, and Miami. It will likely be the head to head games against each other that determine the division winner amongst those three. But rest assured, whichever team drops their late-season game against Buffalo will have a tough time making the playoffs.
Predicted Record: 10-5
Week 17 - Home vs. Miami
Late-season games against the Dolphins are almost never dull affairs. Looking back through the history books, it's basically a flip of a coin as to which team will come out as the victor. The one key factor, though, is that this final game is in Foxboro and most of those late-season losses have come in Miami. With the Jets getting Buffalo at home the last week, their status in the AFC East will have already likely been decided. If the Patriots do hold the edge heading into the final week, it will be up to them to make sure that they keep it by downing the Phins.
Predicted Record: 11-5
11-5 has been good enough to make the playoffs in every season except 2008 (don't get me started...). I believe the Patriots' explosive offense will be more than good enough to make up for some of their defensive question marks. I don't know if the Super Bowl is in the cards, but I do think an AFC East title is certainly within reach. After a good hard look at their 16 games, the key to claiming that title will be beating up on their five easier opponents (Buffalo x2, Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit), and taking three of four from Miami and New York. If they can accomplish that, I would have to think they'd be in the driver's seat to claiming the division.