With the 2011 regular season fast-approaching, it's time to do a breakdown of the upcoming schedule for the Patriots. So far, in the first twelve games, I have the Patriots at 11-1. Here is my breakdown of the final four games of the regular season.
Week 14 - Away vs. Washington
At this point in the season, I would expect the Redskins to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. However, that's no reason to take the Skins lightly. Taking down the Patriots would be a big statement for Washington, so you know they'll be bringing their A-game. Mike Shanahan is also on the short list of coaches who have been able to go head to head with Belichick and come out on top on more than a few occassions. Still, I think the Patriots are simply the better team. I'm racking up another W for the Pats.
Predicted Record: 12-1
Week 15 - Away vs. Denver
If there is one place that gives the Patriots fits more than Miami, it's Denver. Still, the 2011 Broncos are not the same team that ousted New England from the playoffs in 2006. This could potentially be the easiest game on the Pats' schedule. I recognize that it would be easy for the team to slip up in this set of back-to-back road games against inferior competition. However, this late in the year, Belichick should be priming his squad for the playoffs and the Patriots' focus should be at an all-time high. I think they take care of business on both occassions.
Predicted Record: 13-1
Week 16 - Home vs. Miami
The Dolphins in Foxboro in December? There's no guarantees in the NFL, but I'd be a moron to not predict a win here.
Predicted Record: 14-1
Week 17 - Home vs. Buffalo
Slightly tough call here. If the Pats have their playoff spot locked up, will Brady or some of the other starters play? History says yes, but Welker's injury in 2009 may have changed Belichick's mind a bit. Also, assuming the Patriots win the Week 3 matchup, you know Buffalo will be fighting hard to end their 18,436.5 game losing streak to New England. Still, I think the Patriots will aim to start off 2012 the right way and take care of business at home.
Predicted Record: 15-1
So that's my prediction. 15-1. It's the second-best record in franchise history and a tall order to live up to. However, I really believe in this team and believe that they will be better than last year's squad. The schedule is remarkably easier than the road the team traveled last year as well. So going from 14-2 to 15-1 is extremely possible. I think it will all truly come down to the Patriots' level of focus. Can they avoid stumbling like they did against Cleveland last season? Will they rise to the occassion and take both games from New York and win in Pittsburgh? It won't be easy, but it's certainly possible. Now it all starts tomorrow night in Miami...