We are on to Seattle. While this is technically true, we at Pats Pulpit are not on the New England Patriots’ payroll and do not have to fear the scorn of Bill Belichick, which means: We can afford to look further ahead. For example, at the Patriots’ schedule for the second half of the regular season.
After its first eight games, the team currently sits at 7-1 and atop both the division and conference standings. In order to keep it that way and roll into the playoffs with momentum on its side, it needs to successfully maneuver through its final eight contests.
Week 10: vs. Seattle Seahawks (November 13, Foxboro MA)
Sunday night’s game against the visiting Seahawks will be one of the marquee matchups of the 2016 regular season – because the two teams are among the league’s best and because of this. Seattle, which faces the Buffalo Bills tonight, currently sits atop the NFC West with a 4-2-1 record. While the offense is among the least productive in the league, the defense – as usual – is among the best and leads the NFL in scoring (15.6 points/game). Due to scheduling, the Patriots do have one early advantage: Seattle is coming off a short week and has to fly across the country.
Week 11: at San Francisco 49ers (November 20, Santa Clara CA)
At 1-7, the 49ers currently have the worst record in the NFC and are heading towards their second straight losing season. The team struggles on offense and defense as evidenced by the second-worst point differential in the NFL (-93). However, playing on the West Coast as an East Coast team is never easy and the Patriots need to avoid a physical or emotional letdown after what projects to be a hard fought game the week prior.
Week 12: at New York Jets (November 27, East Rutherford NJ)
The Patriots’ second Sunday night game in a span of 14 days (unless it gets flexed to another time-slot) will see the team play in New York. Just like the 49ers, the Jets have been one of the worst teams in the league as their current 3-6 record reflects. However, despite being inconsistent in all three phases of the game, the team still has a lot of talent especially at the skill positions and along the defensive line. Coming off a West Coast trip certainly does not make matters any easier for the Patriots.
Week 13: vs. Los Angeles Rams (December 4, Foxboro MA)
The Patriots return home for their first early afternoon game since week 8 to take on yet another West Coast team, the 3-5 Rams. As has been the case for the last couple of years, Jeff Fisher’s team is talented in the trenches but is unable to translate this fact into success. Maybe inserting this year’s first overall draft pick Jared Goff into the lineup might help kickstart the NFL’s worst scoring offense (16.3 points/game).
Week 14: vs. Baltimore Ravens (December 12, Foxboro MA)
In its lone Monday night game, New England will face the Baltimore Ravens for the first time since the teams’ epic 2014 playoff battle. At 4-4, the Ravens currently sit atop the AFC North, but the team has been up-and-down throughout the season: after a three-game winning streak to open the season, Baltimore lost four in a row. Still, the Ravens have almost always played the Patriots tough in the last few years and this is not expected to change in 2016.
Week 15: at Denver Broncos (December 18, Denver CO)
Probably the most anticipated game on the Patriots’ schedule is the meeting with the defending World Champions; a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship. The Broncos currently own a 6-3 record and are very much alive in the playoff race despite losing at the Raiders yesterday. Just like last year, Denver has a stout, aggressive defense and an uneven but talented offense. And just like last year, the team’s battle with New England might play a major role in playoff seeding.
Week 16: vs. New York Jets (December 24, Foxboro MA)
New England’s rematch with the Jets takes place on Christmas eve in Foxboro. With the Patriots on a shorter week and coming off a trip to Colorado, New York will look to take advantage and spoil its division rival’s playoff plans (at least when it comes to seeding) – as has been the case last season, when the two teams met in week 16.
Week 17: at Miami Dolphins (January 1, Miami Gardens FL)
Last season, the Patriots had the AFC’s number one seed in their grasp but failed to secure it due to a week 17 loss in Miami. This year, New England once again travels to Florida to take on the Dolphins in the regular season finale. The Dolphins are currently 4-4 and have already played the Patriots earlier this season; a game that saw New England hold onto a 31-24 victory despite losing Jimmy Garoppolo to injury.
Even though the Patriots are not exactly facing a murderer’s row of quarterbacks, the team has to go up against two of the league’s most talented teams over the course of their final eight games, while also having to play three intra-division matchups and traveling more than 11,000 miles. In short: It will be an interesting and important eight weeks. We’re on to the first of them.