It's that time of year again, where I take a look at the upcoming slate of 16 games for the Patriots and make a game-by-game prediction. I've done this exercise the past two seasons, predicting an 11-5 record for the team in 2010 (actual outcome 14-2) and a 15-1 record in 2011 (actual outcome 13-3). Overall, I've been relatively close, but I'm not sure that actually means that I was any good a predicting, considering the Patriots' record has largely been between 10-6 and 16-0 for the past decade. As long as you stay in that range, and skew towards the middle, you're almost bound to be near the target.
But at any rate, this is more of a fun exercise and a look ahead at what's to come, then a measure of my football accumen, so let's get to it!
Week 1: @ Tennessee Titans
The Patriots have been astoundingly good in season openers, winning all but one of their previous ten (2003 to Buffalo). Given the fact that the Titans will be trotting out Jake Locker, who will be starting in his first regular season NFL game, and the Patriots will be sending out Tom Brady, I'm giving the edge to the Patriots here. Make it 10 out of 11.
Week 2: vs. Arizona Cardinals
Yet another game that should make Patriots fans very thankful for their quarterback situation. The Cardinals don't appear to be quite sure who will be tossing the ball for them when they roll into Foxoboro for the Patriots' home opener. The Cards don't have a ton of luck when traveling to New England. Thankfully for them, it should be a balmy September afteroon this time and not the blizzard they faced during the team's last meeting in 2008. Although the weather may be better, I'm not expecting a different outcome this time around.
Week 3: @ Baltimore Ravens
This is the grandaddy of them all for the Patriots in the regular season – a rematch of last season's AFC title game. You can be certain that Baltimore is still smarting from missing out on that Super Bowl trip and will be hungry to hand it to the Patriots. With two playoff meetings in the past three years, and some epic regular season battles scattered in between, there is certainly no love loss between these two teams.
This is a game that I believe the Patriots should win on paper. I honestly believe that the 2012 Patriots are more talented than the 2011 Patriots. I can't say the same thing for Baltimore, who appears to have taken a step back. However, will the Patriots be able to walk into one of the most hostile of road environments against a quality team thirsty for blood and pull out a win?
I'm sorry, but this one just wreeks of the typical early-season letdown game that seems to plague the Patriots lately. The Miami wildcat game in 2008, the Jets in 2009 and 2010, and the 21-point collapse to Buffalo in 2011.
Week 4: @ Buffalo Bills
With the New York Jets becoming more and more of a circus each day, it could very well be the Buffalo Bills who become the Patriots main AFC East rivals. The Bills landed a nice punch in the mouth in Week 3 of last season, and with the addition of Mario Williams to the fold, now possess a fearsome pass-rush that could have Brady scrambling all over the place if New England's offensive line woes carry over from the preseason.
I predicted a loss for the Patriots earlier, and back-to-back losses for the Pats have become twice-in-a-decade events. If the Patriots do manage to beat the Ravens, this could end up being a game that trips up New England, but I have to call for a W here.