Let’s begin this preview with a quick stat: It’s been 19 years since a team that lost in the Super Bowl even made it back to the big game the following year. That being said, this Patriots team has all the tools needed to erase that streak.
With the failed hail mary pass at the end of Super Bowl 46 fresh in the minds of this Patriots squad, they have a very manageable task ahead of them--take care of the easiest schedule in the league and head into the playoffs as the top seed in the AFC. Well, that's the plan at least.
But, who’s to say this team isn’t ready for another dominant season? They had an impressive offseason, beginning with a draft that was solely dedicated to improving the defensive side of the ball. The Pats made a big splash by landing two big names on draft boards across the league in DE Chandler Jones and LB Dont’a Hightower, both coming in the first round. Then New England brought in veteran wide-receiver, and Josh McDaniels specialist, Brandon Lloyd to give Tom Brady the deep-threat he has lacked since the departure of Randy Moss.
New England also made a big statement this offseason by signing their tight end duo, in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, to long-term deals. This is a clear statement that the Pats are going to feature these two in their offense not only for this season, but for the foreseeable future as well.
So, it is evident the Pats are ready for the here and now, as their aging quarterback’s clock is ticking and who knows when they will have this clear an opportunity to win another championship again.
If you looked at the Patriots schedule and thought to yourself, “Wow, that’s very favorable for a league runner-up last year,” well you were correct, my friend. At first glance the Pats only true challenges on their schedule come at Baltimore, and at home against Denver, Houston and San Francisco. So don’t call yourself a homer if you think the Patriots will run through this schedule, as they more than likely will.
This was a similar benefit that New England faced in the second half of last season, as they seemed to be favored by double-digits in every game. While it’s nice to have an “easy” schedule, it can also leave the club in a position where they don’t truly know their identity. Good thing the Houston and San-Fran games are late in the season, as they should be a good measuring stick for where the team stands entering the playoffs.
Looking at the AFC, it is truly a toss up as to who will make it to the conference championship game. There are more question marks for teams all over the conference entering this season than I can ever remember. How will Peyton Manning adapt with his new teammates in Denver?
Will the Texans finally live up to their potential and make a deep playoff run? Will the Ravens get over the hump and back into the Super Bowl in what appears to be the end of the road for Ed Reed and Ray Lewis? The answers to these questions would make the AFC a lot easier to predict, but that’s why you play the games.
The Patriots offense will continue to roll, as they only hit a few bumps in their relatively easy regular season schedule. Their first loss of the season will come in Baltimore in Week 3, as Flacco and company will benefit from being in front of their home crowd for the Sunday night showdown. New England will take this game as a lesson learned and go on to win their next five contests heading into their bye week in Week 9.
New England will suffer a setback after the bye week, potentially at the Jets, which will have the Pats entering their game against Houston at 11-2. They will beat Houston in a down-to-the-wire type contest, but drop their next week’s matchup against the 49ers. The Pats will then finish the year with wins over Jacksonville and Miami, giving them a record of 13-3 entering the playoffs, which will be good enough for the 1 seed in the AFC.
The Pats will sit back and watch the Wild-Card round playoff games during their bye week, as their soon-to-be opponent takes a beating just trying to reach the second round. They will then host either the Ravens or the Broncos in a prime time Saturday night game. While there will certainly be lots of hype surrounding this game, the Pats will benefit from an improved defense this time around and move on to host the AFC Championship Game against the Houston Texans.
The Texans will be a difficult matchup for the Patriots, as they have a dynamic offense and impressive defense to go along with it. This game will be close to the finish, but New England will use their home crowd to return their sixth Super Bowl in the last twelve years.
In Super Bowl 47 the Patriots will go up against the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay cruised through the regular season last year, and seemed to be a little too confident heading into their Divisional round playoff game against the Giants, as NY took down the seemingly untouchable Packers. Aaron Rodgers squad will learn from this defeat and be more prepared than ever heading into the postseason, as they will represent the NFC in New Orleans.
At this point nothing would surprise me. This would be a very balanced Super Bowl and any result would make sense. I will save my final prediction once we reach this finale. Until then, let the games begin.
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