On paper, only one of the other 31 NFL teams will have an easier slate of 2019 opponents than the New England Patriots — the team that won the Super Bowl not even three weeks ago. The combined record of the clubs that the Patriots will play as they try to defend their title is a combine 120-134-2 for a winning percentage of .473, tied for 27th easiest in the league. But is it really as easy as it looks like?
For starters, the Patriots have to go through the same slate of games as every other team next year. They will play each club in their division twice, go against one whole division in the two conferences — the AFC North and the NFC East — and also play the teams that finished in the same divisional position as themselves in the AFC: New England will meet four division winners as a result (the AFC’s other three plus the NFC East’s).
The first place schedule resulting from this will not be announced until mid-April, but we do already know the clubs that will be on it and how they finished the 2018 season:
2019 Patriots opponents
As can be seen right away, the Patriots — who finished the 2018 season with an 11-5 record, a resulting win percentage of .688 and the second seed in the AFC — will face five of last year’s playoff teams this season: the Kansas City Chiefs (AFC seed #1), Houston Texans (AFC #3), Baltimore Ravens (AFC #4) and Dallas Cowboys (NFC #4) because they all won their respective divisions, and the Philadelphia Eagles who earned one of the NFC’s wild card spots as the conference’s sixth seed.
All five of the teams once again project to be a) in the playoff race next year and b) considerable challenges for the world champions despite only one of them — the 12-4 Chiefs, who will have to visit Foxboro — finishing with a better overall record last season. And the playoff teams are not the only reason why New England’s schedule might be tougher than it appears at first glance or when judged by strength of opponents.
Both Washington and Buffalo suffered from bad injury luck at the wide receiver position last year, and might be able to improve with steady play at the position in 2019. The Cleveland Browns are one of the most interesting teams heading into the new year, meanwhile, while the Pittsburgh Steelers still have plenty of talent on their roster despite all the recent off-field current issues the club had to go through.
The New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals, on the other hand, will be tough to predict under first-year head coaches Adam Gase, Brian Flores and Zac Taylor. As things stand right now, however, neither team should be expected to greatly improve its 2018 record — something that also could ring true for a New York Giants squad that once again may only go as far as quarterback Eli Manning allows it to go.
All in all, though, the Patriots having only the 27th toughest schedule in football next year should not distract from the fact that plenty of challenges will still await the world champs. And in the end, New England can only play who lines up on the other side — and the 2018 record will have little bearing on how well teams like the Chiefs, Browns, or Giants perform next year.