On Tuesday night, the schedule for the 2012 NFL season was released with massive primetime specials on ESPN and NFL Network. For the New England Patriots, they now have what amounts to the easiest strength of schedule based solely on last year’s records of their opponents. Now, this does NOT mean that the Patriots are a lock to make it to New Orleans in February? There are still many pitfalls on the schedule, but a lot of the tough opponents seem to have to come to Gillette Stadium. Even though the opponents do not seem as tough, keep in mind also that the Patriots are playing three of their first four away from home.
We won’t predict the schedule right now, but here I will give you my top five games to watch in 2012:
5. 49ers at Patriots (December 16th, 8:20, NBC): This could be a potential Super Bowl Preview like it almost was last year. The last inter-conference matchup of the year will have a ton of storylines. For one, New England will see a hero and a villain return from the same team. Fans still love Randy Moss as he should make his second return to Foxboro since being a Patriot. However, the man who made the infamous catch for the Giants, Mario Manningham, will be in action. Cue the replays from NBC all during that game. For the 49ers, can Alex Smith have another good season with all the weapons around him? As for the Patriots, this matchup will have their dynamic offense seeing one of the best defenses in the league and you know a Harbaugh coached defense will get after the quarterback!
4. Texans at Patriots (December 10th , 8:20, ESPN): This game makes the list because it is the only Monday Night Football game the Patriots are on this year. Houston was one of the best teams in the AFC last year and they did not even have their starting quarterback. Matt Schaub should be back and the tandem of Schaub-Johnson will be tough to stop for the young defense. This game could be a shootout of points even in the cold December air. Plus, this game could have playoff seeding on the line for a potential AFC playoff rematch.
3. Patriots at Ravens (September 23rd, 8:20, NBC): Revenge will be on the minds of the Baltimore Ravens as New England goes on the road for this tough Sunday night matchup. The Ravens feel they outplayed the Patriots in the AFC Title game until Lee Evans (now in Jacksonville) dropped a game winning touchdown and kicker Billy Cundiff missed a cheap shot field goal. The Ravens will want to get New England in this one and we know their defense is probably the best at confusing Tom Brady. How will Joe Flacco improve in 2012? This will be one of the best games of the first month of the season.
2. Broncos at Patriots (October 7th, 4:15, CBS): It is the game that everyone has been waiting for around the National Football League. Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. Two of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game finally go back to play each other. Manning’s team will be on primetime a lot in the early part of the season and he has to try to make a young receiving corps better along with a defense that was on the field a lot last year. It is not Tim Tebow in Denver, but they will be a contender in the AFC West in all likelihood if Manning is 100%, Another big game for both home field and seeding in the AFC playoffs early in the season.
1. Patriots at Jets (Thanksgiving, 8:20, NBC): I am a little bias in this one being a New Yorker but Rex Ryan is already talking about putting aside his massive Thanksgiving feast for this game. In my estimation, I think Tim Tebow will be the starter for the Jets by this game. These division rivalries are always heated and there will be many storylines surrounding this game at MetLife Stadium. Plus, this could be a game that determines a division winner, but watch out for the two Bills games earlier in the year. The Jet defense vs. Tom Brady is always an interesting matchup and it will be even more heated with #15 this year!