With the 2011 regular season fast-approaching, it's time to do a breakdown of the upcoming schedule for the Patriots. Similar to last year, this will be a four-part series were each quarter of the season is analyzed and predictions are made.
If there's one thing that jumps out about the 2011 schedule, it's the relative "easiness" compared to the grueling gauntlet the Pats faced in 2011. Their 14-2 finish last year was truly remarkable when you consider the fact that New England played five games against last year's conference finalists, and had seven games in which they faced post-season teams. While the balance of power in the NFL shifts quickly and you can never really say for sure which teams are going to be creampuffs or powerhouses, things look much more favorable for the Patriots this time around. They get four games against the Bills and Phins, as well as games against the Broncos, Raiders, Cowboys, and Redskins. If they win those games right there, you're talking a .500 season.
But don't forget, the NFL is an unpredictable league. You truly can never know what you're going to get on any given Sunday. That being said, here are my predictions for the season
Week 1 - Away vs. Miami
It's well-documented that Miami can be a house of horrors for the Patriots. Add to it the unpredictability of Week 1, where seemingly any team can throw an upset, and Patriots fans certainly can't take this first game for granted. This is repeat Monday Night Football game from last season. A year ago, Patrick Chung had a second half for the ages to propel the Pats to victory. However, you don't have to look too far back to remember when New England nearly blew an opening Monday Night game to the lowly Bills in 2009. This is going to be a much tougher game than many people anticipate. Still, I like the preparation that the Patriots have shown in the pre-season. If any team isn't feeling a lull from the lockout, it's the Pats. I think they'll pounce early on the Phins and take control of the game from there.
Predicted Record: 1-0
Week 2 - Home vs. San Diego
Last year, the Patriots jumped out to an early lead against San Diego thanks to a myriad of bone-head plays by the Bolts. Then the Chargers rallied back and ended up shanking a field goal that would have lead to over time. San Diego has a lot of bad blood pent up against the Patriots, so you know they have this game circled on their calendar. The Patriots are inducting Drew Bledsoe into the Patriots Hall of Fame this weekend, and I predict they'll honor Drew's legacy by defending their home turf. Wins don't come easy for opponents in Foxboro, especially jet-lagged West Coast teams.
Predicted Record: 2-0
Week 3 - Away vs. Buffalo
The Patriots have a winning streak of 1,394 or so straight games against the Bills. I fully expect that to continue in Week 3.
Predicted Record: 3-0
Week 4 - Away vs. Raiders
Trap game. New Englad makes a trip out West with a HUGE revenge game looming against the Jets the next week. Can the Patriots keep their focus against the Raiders or will they fall in to the Black Hole? I called out the Cleveland trap game last season when I did this schedule overview last year. I'm tempted to pencil in the loss here as well, but I think Belichick will have his team laser-focused early on in the season. If any team can avoid the trap game, it's the Patriots. They'll head into that Week 5 matchup with New York undefeated.
Predicted Record: 4-0