It seems pointless at this early juncture to try to forecast the outcome of all the Patriots games this year. We don't know what kind of team we'll have in three weeks, let alone three months. But it might be possible to look at the first month of the season--the four games the team will play before their bye week--and anticipate both a best case and worst case scenario for each game. Details after the jump.
Sep 12 Cincinnati
Best case: the Patriots allow OchoCinco and T.O. to dominate the media circus in the run-up to the game while quietly taking care of business on the field and spank last year's AFC North champs at home. Record: 1-0
Worst case: the Patriots allow OchoCinco and T.O. to run wild against a porous defense and have difficulty moving the ball against the Bengals D, beginning the season with a stunning home loss. Record: 0-1
Sep 19 at New York Jets
Best case: The Patriots have been pointing to this one for a while now and proceed to embarrass Rex (%$^&*())&%#@++) Ryan, the foulmouthed coaching wonder, as Tom Brady shows that the Jets D isn't as invincible as everyone thinks and the team wins a crucial road game in the division. Record: 2-0
Worst case: The Jets defense is as good as everyone thinks and Tony Dungy will just have to learn to live with Rex's profanity since this victory catapults him to worldwide fame. The Pats can't pressure Sanchez and get picked apart while Brady spends most of the game on his back, recalling a certain unmentionable Super Bowl game a couple years back against that other New York team. Record: 0-2
Sep 26 Buffalo
Best case: New England reminds everyone that it's the same old Bills and crushes Buffalo again with a balance of runs and passes and an aggressive, pressuring defense that leads people to wonder why we were all so worried in pre-season. Record: 3-0
Worst case: The Bills somehow find a way to end a losing streak against the Pats that dates to 2003, probably with a late comeback against New England's defense which is now officially a trainwreck. Record: 0-3 (wait, wait, the Patriots can't lose to the Bills, even when they try--see last year's Monday night opener and the miraculous 25-24 comeback) Record: 1-2
Oct 4 at Miami
Best case: the Patriots open up a commanding lead in the division with their third straight AFC East victory, two of them on the road as Chad Henne proves no match for the D and Miami's D can't contain Brady and company and the "Wildcat" is nowhere in sight. Record: 4-0
Worst case: Chad Henne looks like Peyton Manning (or even Eli Manning) against the Pats pass defense and carves up the secondary for a victory while Miami proves once again that they are the regular opponent that gives Belichick the most trouble (even with all of his great teams, Coach Hoodie is only 11-9 against them). Record: 1-3
Honestly, given the uncertainties and questions marks facing this team, I could see either scenario playing out or maybe more likely, wins against the Bengals and Bills and losses in the two road games which would put the Patriots in must-win mode in the division the rest of the way. Best case, worst case, or something in between, we should have a pretty good idea of what kind of season we're in for when the bye week rolls around in Week 5.