Thursday, September 9, 2010

2010 Preview: The Schedule

Having written up sections covering the Offense, Defense, Special Teams, and Coaching, here is my final submission of the 2010 Patriots Preview -- the dreaded Schedule.  This is where I try (in vain) to predict which games the Patriots will win and lose before the season even starts.  And as always, broken up into quarters of the season with 4 games per quarter.

Please don't ask what I'll do if they expand to 18 games; maybe expand the predictions with the last two games in an Overtime section or something.  And let me tell you before I start, this is by far the toughest season to predict.  Not because of uncertainty about the team, but because the schedule is very difficult and their opponents all play tough schedules, too.  So it's brutal to figure out how one team's schedule will impact them, before or after they play the Patriots.  In any event... here goes.

First Quarter

New England hosts the Bengals to start the year, and the Bengals brought back important defensive starters and added talent at wide receiver that makes them a very dangerous team.  Couple that with the Patriots inexperience in the secondary, and you'd expect a blowout by the Bengals.  But don't forget that the Patriots added offensive talent, the play-calling was a lot better in the pre-season, and Tom Brady looks like his old self.  But the Bengals have trouble scoring and winning on opening day unless the other team is bad.  And I don't expect the Patriots to be bad, so the Patriots sneak out a win.

The next game is the much anticipated tilt with the "Hard Talks" Jets.  Unfortunately for New York, they got worse on offense since their last game against the Patriots -- a 31-14 loss.  They did bring in long time Tom Brady nemesis Jason Taylor, and might have a slightly better defense than last year.  But the second meeting of 2009 was telling -- Wes Welker played in it and the Patriots destroyed the Jets.  Add to the NY negatives that they play a Monday Night game the week before, giving them a short week to recover from a physical game against the Ravens, and it looks like the Pats should win.

Pats/Bills follows the next week, and it's a no-brainer.  The Patriots haven't lost to the Bills since opening day of 2003 (13 straight victories), and after a disappointing season last year, Buffalo is in full rebuilding mode.  The only way the Pats lose is the old "trap game" scenario... but they only have to stay half-focused to beat their favorite whipping boys.  Put it in the win column... but don't bet on it, given the "trap game" possibility.

The Monday night game against Miami is a tough one to call.  Miami has a tough road prior to the game (at Minnesota and at home against the Jets).  This is their second consecutive prime time game, and that actually works against them because the Florida heat won't be nearly as bad at night.  However, without Jason Taylor the defense will have a tougher time stopping the improved Patriots offense.  And that probably turns the game in the Patriots favor -- close but probably a Patriots win.

Second Quarter

After the bye week, the Pats start the second quarter of the season against the Ravens.  The Pats eked out a win against Baltimore in the 2009 regular season.  But the Ravens defense dominated in their playoff victory in Gillette Stadium.  Baltimore has added significant offensive talent, and QB Joe Flacco should be better in his third year.  The Ravens defense is old and has some injuries coming out of the pre-season, but they should be up to the task this early in the season, so put the Patriots down for their first loss of the year.

Next up is a trip to the west coast to play the Chargers.  San Diego always sports a balanced offense, with upper-echelon QB Philip Rivers and a good running game.  They also play the 3-4, which historically gives the Patriots more trouble because it is designed to stop the pass.  The additional problem for the Pats is that the Chargers have a very easy schedule before and after.  Coupled with the Pats physical game with the Ravens the week before, the Patriots will likely lose this one.

The week after, the Patriots return home for a tilt against Minnesota.  Brett Favre didn't do very well opening night against the Saints, but he should round into form by this game.  And in combination with Adrian Peterson and the running game, the Vikings should have a good offense.  They also have a good defense, that gets a lot of pressure on the quarterback.  So why am I choosing the Patriots to win?  Because the Vikings have two road games in a row, including a division game on Sunday night the week before.  And the Patriots haven't lost to an NFC foe in Foxboro since 2002 (trivia question: name the team, answer below).  So I'm crossing my fingers and marking down a Patriots victory.

Fortunately, the Pats get their second bye week after that -- that is, they play a rebuilding Cleveland team.  The Browns feature QB Jake Delhomme, who will likely have trouble tamping down his gunslinger instincts for the team's short-and-controlled passing attack.  Note that the Browns have a bye just before this game, and the last time Eric Mangini took on Bill Belichick after Mangini had a bye week, the Jets surprised the Pats with an upset win.  The Pats will have to keep their concentration against this lesser opponent, but it should end in a Patriots win.

Third Quarter

The Pats open the third quarter of the season at Pittsburgh on a Sunday night.  Ben Roethlisberger will return from his suspension four weeks earlier, so he should be doing okay by then.  But the Steelers have a very tough schedule just before this game, with two division contests and a trip to New Orleans to take on the defending champions.  All that should work in the Patriots favor, and I don't think Pittsburgh is quite the club they were two or three years ago, so expect the Patriots to pull out a late victory.

Then it's on to the Colts, at Gillette this year for a change.  Indy plays Cincy, New England, San Diego, and Dallas in a row, and this is their only road game of the bunch.  Last year's game should have gone the Patriots way; the defense played well enough to win but the offense turned the ball over twice in the red zone.  Don't expect that to happen again.  And even though it won't be easy to come back on a shortish week from the Pittsburgh game, this feels like a year the Patriots take the Colts down.

That brings us to Thanksgiving at Detroit, which could be a letdown game under normal circumstances.  But by this point in the season Belichick will have enough film on rookie QB Sam Bradford to attack his weaknesses.  Or Bradford will be benched in favor of the dreck they have behind him.  Either way, the Pats have enough talent to overcome the very short week, and should leave Detroit with another win.

When the Pats and Jets meet again in Gillette on Monday, 12/6, both teams will have had 10 days off to plan and prepare for the game.  But the storyline should be the same; can the Jets muster enough offense to keep up with an improved Patriots offense.  The answer is probably not, but it is tough to sweep a good division opponent and at this point in the season the Jets will need this game more.  This is my surprise upset of the season, with the Jets using full-on emotion to will themselves to the win.

Fourth Quarter

After the emotion of the Jets game, the last quarter of the season will start with a loss to the Packers at home.   Green Bay has a very good team, balance on offense and a physical defense, both things that give the Patriots trouble, and that Jets game is bound to take something out of the Patriots.

Next up are the Bears, who have big trouble on the offensive line and unfortunately face the Patriots after two straight losses.  Belichick must be licking his chops at the thought of facing Jay Cutler, the turn-over machine.  Pats offense will put enough pressure on Cutler to perform, and he will fold under that pressure.  Pats win.

The Bills are the Bills, so the Patriots win the next game at Buffalo.

And the Patriots finish up against the Dolphins in Foxboro the day after Christmas.  This game must have been a gift for being so good over the years -- it's always great to watch warm weather teams come north to get their butts kicked.  Should happen again; Patriots get 'em down and let 'em start thinking about warmer climes.

The Pats defensive inexperience could cost them a game, so probably 11-5 or 12-4 for the season.  Not bad given the very difficult schedule, and 12-4 could put them in contention for a playoff bye week.  Here's hoping.

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS.  0-0!

PPS.  Trivia answer: the Green Bay Packers beat the Patriots 28-10 in October of 2002.

No comments:

Post a Comment