Friday, July 11, 2008

Looking at the Pats: A 13-3 Season on Tap?

I was watching ESPN on Thursday and they were previewing the AFC East. I was at a bar and the sound was off so I did not hear exactly what they were saying, but at the bottom of the screen, the question was posed, "Has the rest of the NFL caught up to the Patriots?". I thought about this, and instantly the answer that came to my mind was, "yes, they probably have". But guess what? Who cares. The Patriots probably aren't going to win every single regular season game they play this year - and after last year I hope they don't - but they play in a weak division and should still be able to win at least 12 games. 12-4 or 13-3 may not be as exciting as 16-0 but if the end result is the same - HFA for the playoffs - then who really cares. Yes, the league probably has "caught up" to the Pats, but even still they find themselves where they have found themselves at the outset of every season since 2004 - on the short list of teams that can call themselves legitimate Super Bowl favorites. The other teams in their tier right now I would have to say are just Indianapolis and San Diego with Pittsburgh, Dallas, and maybe Jacksonville a step behind them.

Even though the Patriots have been on this aforementioned shortlist the past few seasons, they have not won the Super Bowl since the 2004 season. In 2005 they lost on the road to Denver on account of uncharacteristically sloppy games from both Kevin Faulk - a huge goat in that game - and Tom Brady and a couple of iffy calls that did not go their way - talking the first half pass interference call and Ben Watson's strip of Champ Bailey. In 2006 and 2007 they lost - in the most basic terms - because their defense could not make a stop when they absolutely needed to. Sure there were other reasons, but both times the defense was on the field with a chance to clinch the game and both times they came up empty. Yes, the offensive line got bitch-slapped pretty hard by the Giants pass rush in the Super Bowl but if Asante Samuel hauls in that INT or Richard Seymour finishes the sack on Eli Manning then we are talking 19-0. I can't talk about that anymore though because I just got mad typing. Long story short, the only way the Pats can win it all this year is if their defense markedly improves.

Will they improve? I have no idea. I have huge hopes for Jerod Mayo this year and I think that Adalius Thomas is poised for a monster season after a one year indoctrination period to the Belichek Defense. I also anticipate more great things from Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork plus a Richard Seymour resurgence. As for the rest of the D I have absolutely no idea what to expect. I just really hope to not be sitting on the edge of my seat in late January or early February of next year, watching the Patriots defense let their opponent march down the field for the winning score.

With all that being said, let's switch gears entirely and check out their schedule. Here is what sticks out to me:

1) A relatively easy first three weeks to start their season - and head into their bye - where they play at home against Miami and KC and travel just to New Jersey to play the Jets. Of course things can change quickly, but right now that is about as easy as it can get for a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance. You have to think 3-0 here.

2) After the bye they look at back-to-back California games, at SF and then a Sunday nighter at SD. This will not be the only time they need to fly cross country for consecutive games. Right now, I'd pencil in that game at SD as their first loss of the season, but stranger things have happened and the NFL schedule never plays out the way we think right? Rationally, we say 1-1 for these games.

3) As almost an apology from the league, the Pats next seven games are relatively easy on both the opponents and the travel. Their game after the SD Sunday nighter is a home, MNF game against the Broncos so they get an extended week and the only travel in this stretch of schedule is just to Indy and to Miami, both relatively easy jaunts. Their home games during that stretch are the aforementioned MNF game against Denver, then St. Louis. After they travel to Indy they have three consecutive division games against Buffalo and the Jets and then it is down to Miami. They return from Miami and have what is sure to be a big feature game against the Steelers. Again, smart money is on the Pats going 6-1 or at the least 5-2 during this five game stretch with the losses coming at Indy and somewhere else in there possibly, but of course as I said before, you never know. Final prediciton for this stretch for me is 6-1.

4) And now the the hellacious part of the schedule. Three of the Pats final four games are on the road including another back-to-back west coast jaunt, this time to Seattle then Oakland, followed by a home game reprieve against Arizona, and then the final game of the year in sunny Buffalo, NY on December 28. Logically here, you look and think 3-1 with the 1 being the Seattle game. However, I could also see them beating Seattle, then losing to Oakland in a letdown the following week. There is no chance Arizona wins in Foxboro in late December, but concluding the season in Buffalo is never a nice or easy task and that could be another potential "L" depending on the situation. If the Pats have nothing to play for then, I don't see them winning there, but if they need a win to clinch HFA then I think they pull it out. Regardless, this home stretch is definitely their toughest of the season and wrapping up the season 2-2 definitely seems well within the realm of possibilities. Still, I'm going on the side of optimism and saying 3-1 with the 1 the game at Oakland.

So, where does that put us...

Taking into account the above, right now I'd say the Pats are looking like worst case scenario an 11-5 team and best case scenario 13-3 or possibly even 14-2 if they can manage to win one of their ultra-tough roadies at either SD, Indy, or Seattle. I think they will win one of those when all is said and done but I also think they'll lose a game I have marked as a "W" right now. With everything said and done, my final, bold prediction for the Pats this year is a 13-3 record with all three losses coming on the road at San Diego, Indy, and Oakland.

Mark it down.


Pricing Boy said...

I say 15-1. said...

I can't imagine going through an entire season like last just to be kicked in the junk on the last game.

Brutal evening