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Patriots projected to play one of the NFL’s easiest schedules in 2018

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The New England Patriots 2018 schedule isn’t exactly intimidating if you go by winning percentage from last year.

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AFC Championship - Jacksonville Jaguars v New England Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

If you’re like most of us and swear to god that you’re going to pistol whip the next person who says “The Patriots only win so many games cause they play so many tomato can teams!”, the 2018 season is shaping up to be a busy one for you. Despite New England spending the last decade or so debunking the “tomato can” theory in real time, “next man up” and all that, the Patriots’ list of victims opponents for 2018 isn’t exactly helping their case at the moment.

By way of the NFL scheduling gods, the Patriots get to play the AFC South and the NFC North next season, and then they also draw the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Throw in the normal six division games, and there’s your regular season. CBS Sports crunched the strength-of-schedule numbers on Monday, which is much appreciated because math isn’t for everyone, and New England’s slate ended up ranked....tied for 22nd in terms of how many games their opponents won last year.

It’s probably just easier to say that based on 2017 opponent win percentage, the Patriots have the 9th-easiest schedule in the league. Ironically, the teams with the hardest schedule and the easiest schedule - the Green Bay Packers and the Houston Texans, respectively - both have games against the Patriots in 2018, and both of those games are in Foxborough. One of those teams should be used to playing in the cold by now....the other, well, not so much.

Speaking of which, assuming Aaron Rodgers makes it to town when the Packers and Patriots play, check out this list of decent-to-All-Pro quarterbacks that suffered season-ending injuries in 2017 that’ll be back on the field again in 2018 (hopefully, anyway, because who feels good about beating a team with Brock Osweiler at quarterback, REALLY?):

  • Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in Week 6 and spent most of the season on IR before coming back for the Panthers game where he threw three picks and got put on ice again as soon as Green Bay got mathematically bounced from the playoffs. Rodgers being back from his busted collarbone seems like a lock.
  • DeShaun Watson, who for a minute looked like the one man on this planet who may be able to beat Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, tore his ACL in practice and headed to Injured Reserve in November. Given that Watson’s already been on the treadmill more than you have this year, though, it seems like a pretty safe bet he’ll be back for next year.
  • Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is supposedly “very close to throwing” as of a couple weeks ago, and...well, that’s about all we know. Supposedly, Luck came back from his four-month Eurotrip “noticeably stronger, refreshed and confident” (per the Indy Star). Guess we’ll find out.
  • Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill also blew out his ACL way back in August, which cursed the football world with an entire season of Jay Cutler under center, including that upset win against New England that seems like a million years ago now. It’s a strange world we live in when Ryan Tannehill coming back almost certainly means better division games, and also 2018 in a nutshell, really.

There’s also going to be at least two quarterbacks on the schedule that New England’s never seen before: Kansas City’s Pat Mahomes and Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky. Both of their respective teams are betting the farm on these dudes growing into franchise quarterbacks in tough divisions, and given the Patriots’ spastic defensive struggles this past year, new-school offense vs a (hopefully) reloaded Patriots defense should be a pair of must-see showdowns.

The full schedule comes out in April 2018; until then, there’s a whole lot of work to be done.