In the National Football League, as we all know, there are no guarantees. And at this time of year, one of the most foolish exercises involves a preliminary review of the NFL, when Ws and Ls are placed next to games as if they were yes-or-no questions on a medical questionnaire.
That said, the 2012 Patriots look like they could be in for a relative cakewalk.
Slightly more than two months removed from their loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, the Patriots joined the other 31 NFL franchises on Tuesday in learning their official schedule for the coming season. Aside from their annual games within the division and corresponding matchups with the other division winners in the AFC, the Patriots drew games against the marshmallow residents of the NFC West and AFC South.
Don't know about you, but I've got 'em at 14-2 or 13-3 again, which puts the Patriots within two wins of another trip to the Super Bowl.
Is that presumptuous?
Sparing you the specific starting times and TV schedules, here is breakdown of the Patriots schedule, in order:
Week 1 - at Tennessee
Week 2 - vs. Arizona
Week 3 - at Baltimore
Week 4 - at Buffalo
Week 5 - vs. Denver
Week 6 - at Seattle
Week 7 - vs. New York Jets
Week 8 - at St. Louis (in London)
Week 9 - Bye
Week 10 - vs. Buffalo
Week 11 - vs. Indianapolis
Week 12 - at New York Jets
Week 13 - at Miami
Week 14 - vs. Houston
Week 15 - vs. San Francisco
Week 16 - at Jacksonville
Week 17 - vs. Miami
But the rest of the schedule? Try to find one game where the Patriots won't be the favorite. Just one. With Mario Williams in tow, Buffalo should be better. Seattle is always a tough place to play. The Jets are likely to bounce back and Denver (with Peyton Manning) will certainly be interesting, but it's hard to believe the Patriots will drop more than one of those games - if they drop any at all.
With good reason, many of you (including Bill Belichick, no doubt) chuckle at this kind of elementary analysis (and with good reason). The NFL is an unpredictable league. One injury can alter the course of an entire season. (Ask the Colts about this.) And while those are indisputable truths for all franchises, no team in the NFL has been as consistent as the Patriots over the last 10-11 years in the NFL.
Go back and look at last year's schedule, during which the Patriots posted a 13-3 record. Save for Buffalo, New England did not lose a single game it should have won. Thanks to Belichick's demand for focus, the Patriots almost never slip up against inferior competition. They don't have regular season lapses the way the Ravens did. (Last season, the Ravens lost at Tennessee, at Seattle, at Jacksonville and at San Diego - none of whom made the playoffs. Had the Ravens played .500 in those games, the AFC championship would have been played in Baltimore instead of Foxborough.)
Since the Super Bowl loss to the Giants, Belichick has been a busy man. While the Patriots have concerns and questions on the left side of their offensive line, Belichick has furnished offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and quarterback Tom Brady with a new collection of toys that includes Brandon Lloyd, Anthony Gonzalez and Donte Stallworth, among others. The Patriots still have some obvious questions on defense, but they went 15-3 with a marginal (at best) defense last year before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl - and they played a far tougher schedule in the first half of the season.
Oh, and did we mention that the Patriots have four selections in the first two rounds of next week's NFL draft?
In the last few years, we all know the story lines with regard to the Patriots. The offense has been very good and the defense has been suspect, all as the clock has continued to tick on Brady's career. Now the Patriots are coming off a loss in the Super Bowl, the kind of defeat that has sent many teams into a tailspin. Belichick is undoubtedly aware of this, which might be part of the reason the Patriots restructured Brady's contract to further fortify the roster with talent.
At this stage, based on the sheer volume of moves, it certainly feels as if the Patriots are gearing up for another spirited run at a title.
And based solely on preliminary view, they have the schedule to make it happen.
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