If the Patriots don’t make the 2012 playoffs, with or without Tom Brady, Gronk and a few other starters, someone’s going to get fired. They have a few challenges in their 2012 schedule, facing four playoff teams in Houston, Baltimore, San Francisco and Denver, but the rest of their schedule is fluffy, causing a few opposing fans to cry foul. Of course, the weakness in the AFC East is not something Belichick and Brady can control, despite the conspiracy theorists out there. A look at the road to the Superdome:
@ Tennessee Titans. Should be a fairly easy start for the Patriots, despite an improving Titans team that barely missed the playoffs last year and went 9-7. It’s hard to get too worried about facing Matt Hasselback, even with Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt. If Jake Locker somehow beats Hasselback for the starting job then the odds of this one going the Patriots way get even better. Pats win.
Vs. Arizona Cardinals. The Patriots home opener should go their way against a team that was 8-8 last year and continues to be led by Kevin Kolb. Pats win.
@ Baltimore Ravens. Lee Evans. Billy Cundiff. Expect the Ravens to come out for blood in this 8:20pm Sunday night game on their turf.. The AFC championship game could have gone either way and Lardarius Webb did a great job keeping Welker out of the action and continues to improve the Ravens already great secondary. Ravens win this one, sparking numerous Ravens fans to complain they were robbed last year. If Bernard Pollard injures his third Patriot in this game, I’m demanding an investigation.
@ Buffalo Bills. The Bills had one of the flashier free agent signings in the offseason with Mario Williams, but they still have to deal with a streaky QB in Ryan Fitzpatrick who was 1-8 down the stretch in 2011. Still, the Bills are strong in Orchard Park and can’t be counted out. Pats still win.
Vs. Denver. For the first time in two years the Patriots will get to face their beloved rival of the aughts, Peyton Manning. Fortunately for the Pats they will not be playing at Lukoil Field, a venue now despised by Pats fans not just for how well Peyton played inside. Likely to be a much closer game than the two wins in 2011 but it’s still tough to assess before we see Peyton in action. Pats win, pending Peyton looking like he did in 2009. If old Peyton comes out then it’s anyone’s game.
@ Seattle Seahawks. It’s really tough to get excited about playing the NFC west, and even tougher to get excited about playing a team with no clear quarterback, particularly when the options are Matt Flynn and Tavaris Jackson. Unless the Seahawks’ new uniforms have some kind of Harry Potter powers, this one should go to the Pats.
Vs. New York Jets. The Patriots odds of winning this game depend entirely on the status of the QB in New York, and the comments Rex Ryan makes to the media the week before the game. Either way it’s not looking great for Gang Green in Foxboro. Pats win.
@ St. Louis Rams (in Wembley Stadium). If the NFL is really trying to make the sport more prominent in Europe, they’d be a lot better served by not having the Rams as the team they send to London for the next three years. Despite being a better team in 2012 with the hiring of coach Jeff Fisher and new and healthier receivers for Bradford, I just don’t see the Rams making this game interesting. Pats win.
Bye – I’m only mildly surprised Goodell isn’t sending the Patriots to the west coast this week.
Vs. Buffalo Bills. The Bills have beaten the Patriots once since 2003 and it was on the Bills’ home turf in 2011. Advantage: Patriots.
Vs. Indianapolis Colts. These aren’t the 2011 Colts but they’re not Peyton Manning’s Colts either. The Patriots forgot to show up in the 4th quarter in their 2011 7 point victory, but I’d expect the Veteran Brady to show newbie Luck a thing or two about playing quarterback. Pats win.
@ New York Jets. At this point Tebow will be the starter. Despite the mess that is the Jets, you can never count them out at home in a big Thanksgiving game with all those terrible New York/New Jersey folks in the stands. Jets somehow find a way to win, leading many New Yorkers to believe Thanksgiving is a Christian holiday. Another Tebow SNL skit to follow.
@ Miami Dolphins. Thrusting your rookie QB and coach into the national spotlight on HBO’s Hard Knocks during their first weeks on the job sounds like an excellent way for the Patriots to pick up two easy wins in 2012. Oh, and even with all of the press surrounding the show, this game still won’t sell out in Miami.
Vs. Houston Texans. The Texans are a tough team that would have made it to the AFC championship without a strong Baltimore defensive effort. If Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are healthy then I think the Texans take this one. If Yates or Beck happen to be starting then the Pats offense should be able to win at home.
Vs. San Francisco 49ers. Fortunately the Pats play the 49ers at home this year. If the Brady and his receivers are in sync they should be able to outmaneuver the 49ers secondary. If the weather makes passing difficult then the outcome could be quite different.
@ Jacksonville Jaguars. Hard Knocks passed over the Jags in favor of the Miami Dolphins. Sorry Blaine Gabbert, that’s not a vote of confidence in your ability to remain a starting QB in this league. Pats win.
Miami Dolphins. See week 13.