Today, we conclude our analysis of the Patriots' upcoming season by focusing on the eight games after their week nine bye.
Week 10, Buffalo Bills (6-10 in 2011) at Patriots: Like the first Bills game, any division game can be a crapshoot. However, the Bills probably won't get it done against the Pats at home.
Week 11, Indianapolis Colts (2-14 in 2011) at New England Patriots: Andrew Luck comes to town, but this one will not match the past match-ups between the two sides. Luck may become the next Peyton Manning for the Colts, but not in his first season. This one should be a blowout in the Patriots' favor.
Week 12, Patriots at New York Jets (8-8 in 2011): This game, like the first Jets game, depends largely on the state of affairs in New York at the time. This could be Tim Tebow's first start against the Patriots. Nobody knows for sure. This one will be in the Meadowlands, but I actually like the Jets' chances better in the first game. The Patriots are usually rolling by the second half.
Week 13, Patriots at Miami Dolphins (6-10 in 2011): Reggie Bush proved a lot in 2011, but the team still needs a big-game quarterback if it will succeed in its push past mediocrity. David Garrard has had some success in the past with Jacksonville, but he is a shell of his former self. He is likely just meant to mentor Ryan Tannehill and help the Dolphins get by before he takes the reigns. Most of Miami's recent advantage against the Patriots stems from the sweltering Miami heat, which will not be as large a factor in this game. This should be another win for the Patriots.
Week 14, Houston Texans (10-6 in 2011) at Patriots: A potential classic in the making. The Texans finally ascended to playoff-caliber levels last season, and hopefully Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson can all stay healthy for a change. The Texans boast a capable defense and a high-flying offense, so this one could be a preview of a playoff rematch. It is tough to tell if the Patriots will hold on in this rodeo, but the Gillette advantage cannot be overstated.
Week 15, San Francisco 49ers (13-3 in 2011) at Patriots: This provides the Patriots with arguably their toughest back-to-back stretch of the season. Even if they are home games, the Texans and 49ers have great defenses, and the Patriot offense will find a challenge against Patrick Willis and company. You always have to give the edge to the Patriots at home, but this is another game that could find itself in the loss column next season.
Week 16, Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11 in 2011): After two tough ones, this game should be a cupcake for Belichick and his boys. Other than Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jags don't have a lot of offensive firepower. Who knows if Blaine Gabbert will live up to his potential, let alone start? He must have breathed a sigh of relief when he finished a horrendous rookie year last season. This should be one of the few true cakewalks for the Patriots in 2012.
Week 17, Miami Dolphins at Patriots: The Dolphins have not been able to win much in Gillette Stadium, losing eight out of the ten games they have played there. Miami is usually the division foe that pulls off the upset against New England, but probably not this year. Unless Belichick is in the mood to rest his starters, this one should allow the Patriots to close out the season with a win.
Final Verdict: A 12-4 season for the Patriots. Some are claiming the Patriots will only drop a game or two, but this schedule has some tough match-ups. The Ravens, Broncos, Jets, Texans and 49ers all have a legitimate shot to win their games against the Patriots. The Pats are also usually good for a wake-up moment from an upset at some point in the season. They likely won't take two games from every division opponent either. Four losses in that schedule is a reasonable assumption, but the twelve or so wins they have will not come as easily as some think.
Let's not count our chickens, Patriots faithful. Trophy number four will only come if the Patriots take it one game at a time.
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