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PATRIOTS SEASON PREVIEW

There has been a significant amount of discussion and speculation concerning the Patriots’ chances of making another run at an undefeated season after the many key off-season acquisitions that they made following their Super Bowl winning season.  With the season opener now upon us, let’s take a look at the Patriots 2017 schedule and highlight some key games and issues to watch.

Divisional Games

Although the Patriots have dominated the AFC East since the turn of the century, they usually have some tough contests against their divisional rivals.  In the past it has not been unusual for the Patriots to have one or two losses within the division, usually coming either in New York or Miami, where Tom Brady’s struggles are well documented.  Last season it was Buffalo who came into Foxborough and knocked off a Patriot team quarterbacked by Jacoby Brissett, who was playing with a banged up thumb. 

While strange things can and do happen in division games, the Bills, Jets and Dolphins are not expected to be any match for the Pats in 2017.  Any hopes the Dolphins may have had this season were dashed when Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season with a knee injury.  The Bills and Jets have by all observations already tanked it in the best tradition of the Philadelphia 76ers.  Expect six wins out of this group.

Quality quarterbacks.

The Patriots were fortunate in 2016 to face only a handful of proven NFL quarterbacks.  Among the less than elite signal callers that made starts against the Patriots last season were Brock Ostweiler (Texans), Cody Kessler (Browns), Colin Kaepernick (49ers), Landry Jones (Steelers) and Jared Goff (Rams).  This season the Patriots will face Drew Brees in New Orleans in Week 2, a Super Bowl rematch with Matt Ryan and the Falcons in Week 7, followed by Philip Rivers and the now Los Angeles Chargers to close out the first half of the season in Week 8.  In the second half the Patriots will face emerging star Derek Carr (Raiders) in Mexico City (more on that later), and grizzled veteran Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh in Week 15.

The Patriots bolstered their defense in the secondary with the off-season acquisition of free agent corner back Stephon Gilmore.  But with many question marks in the front seven, the Patriots may have difficulties putting pressure on the quarterback this season.  Giving quality passers time to throw is usually not a formula for success.

Scheduling quirks.

The Patriots will also face a pair of athletic, mobile quarterbacks back-to-back in Cam Newton (Panthers) and Jameis Winston (Buccaneers) back-to-back in Weeks 4 and 5.  The Buccaneers game will be particularly interesting in that it will be a Thursday night game on the road.  Thursday night tilts are normally divisional games, which makes it somewhat easier to make a quick turnaround against a familiar opponent.  The Patriots have also been fortunate over the past few seasons to have the Thursday night game at home, but this year they will have to travel to Tampa on an extremely short week.  The mobile quarterbacks and short turnaround will be an early season challenge.

The most interesting and potentially challenging part of the season will undoubtedly come after the Bye Week when the Patriots travel to Denver, always a house of horrors for the Pats, followed by a trip to Mexico City and a date with the Oakland Raiders.  The Raiders were seen as a legitimate challenge to the Patriots for the AFC Championship last season before Carr was lost to a knee injury in Week 15.  There is no reason to suspect Oakland will not return to be an elite team again this season.  Back to back games in high altitude will also be a test for the Pats.

After the Raiders game in Mexico, the Patriots return to Foxborough for just a single game against the Dolphins, followed by three more road games in Buffalo, Miami (on a Monday night) and Pittsburgh.  Five road games in six weeks, traveling internationally and crisscrossing between multiple time zones and changing climates in November and December, will be a mental test even for the laser-focused Patriots.

Prediction

The Patriots are clearly the class of the NFL, and the team everyone is trying to catch.  An undefeated season is probably not a realistic expectation, but there is no reason not to think the Patriots will once again roll through the regular season with 13 wins or better and earn a number one seed in the playoffs.  Barring injuries, anything less than a return to the Super Bowl will be a failed season for the 2017 Patriots.

Brissett Trade

I have many thoughts on the future of the Patriots quarterback situation after the trade of Jacoby Brissett to the Colts.  If you’re interested in hearing them, tune into to the next Boston Sports on Tap podcast.  I’ll be joining the guys to talk all things Patriots after the season opener with the Chiefs, and hopefully work in some Red Sox talk as well.


Questions, comments, or ideas for the weekly podcast? Send to @BostonSportsTap or @BSoTPodcast and use #AskOnTap.

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