I want to think this through a little more but my first quick thoughts on the 2009 Patriots schedule are that this isn't bad at all. Most of the games that look the toughest are at home, the bye week comes at a great time, and there are no screwy Thursday games or Saturday games with all the short weeks those create.
Some particular observations:
- 5 of the 7 games against 2008 playoff teams are at home
- There is just one stretch that looks brutal--the third quarter of the season (weeks 10-13 when they are at Colts, Jets, at Saints, at Dolphins. That's a lot of travel and a lot of tough teams back to back.
- Another "weather" (or "elements") game at Buffalo December 20, but last year's experience in the season finale up there suggests that the Patriots are actually much better equipped to handle those conditions than the Bills.
- Weeks 4 and 5--these are the Patriots two "interconference by position" games matching the Pats (2nd in the AFC East) against the second place teams in the AFC North and AFC West. Had the Pats won the division last year these two games would be at home against the Steelers and at San Diego. I think the Patriots are really a first-place club and it's nice to be playing (for once) a second-place schedule. Besides, they can always beat the Steelers in the playoffs!
- There are 5 games against 4 rookie head coaches (two against Rex Ryan's Jets, vs. Raheem Norris and Tampa Bay, vs. Josh McDaniels and Denver, vs. Jim Caldwell and Indianapolis. The best coach in the league should eat these guys up.
- I have a hunch (backed up by trends and histories) that the Dolphins,the Falcons, the Ravens, the Titans, and the Panthers will not be as good as they were last year. For example, Carolina's John Fox has never had two winning seasons in a row and they were 12-4 last year. The Dolphins and Falcons stunned everyone last year and the only direction they can go is down. The Ravens and Titans both had significant personnel losses. All those teams will be good but I'd be very surprised if they were as good as in 2008.
- However, I also have a strong hunch that the Saints, the Jaguars, and maybe the Bills will be better than they seemed in 2008 and so these games will be tougher than they appear at first glance.
My very preliminary, subject to change, not-yet-thought-through, certain to be revised and recalled projection of wins and losses? How about 12-4 with an option for 14-2? They might be undefeated at 7-0 heading into the bye week. And how sweet would that be? I think the Patriots win the division, pick up 12-14 victories, and have as good a chance as anyone of being a Super Bowl team. It's a demanding schedule but the Patriots are well-equipped to deal with it.