The New England Patriots are leaving their bye week with a 5-4 record and as the seventh seed in the AFC playoff race. In order to eventually make it into the tournament either as division winners or one of the three wild card teams, however, they will need to show some marked improvements over the second half of the season.
Not only has the team of head coach Bill Belichick played some inconsistent football over its first nine weeks — especially on the offensive side of the ball — it also faces a challenging rest of the schedule. According to a recent analysis, New England will face the toughest slate of offenses over the second half of the season as well as the third most challenging group of defenses.
How does all of that look on paper? Like that:
Week 11 vs. New York Jets (6-3): One of the surprise teams of the season, the Jets are the current No. 5 seed in the AFC. How come? Their offense has had its ups and downs, but the defense has been one of the best in the league — something the Patriots found out during the two team’s meeting in Week 8. New England won that one 22-17 on the road, but mainly because its own defense was able to intercept sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson three times to make up for some offensive struggles. | Sunday, Nov. 20, 1 p.m. ET
Week 12 at Minnesota Vikings (8-1): Led by first-year head coach and former Patriots backup quarterback Kevin O’Connell, the Vikings are one of the best teams in football so far this season. They just celebrated a massive road win in Buffalo in Week 10 to move to 8-1 on the season, being able to pull off the upset due to some opportunistic play on defense on one hand, and wide receiver Justin Jefferson showing why he might be the NFL’s best wide receiver on the other. | Thursday, Nov. 24, 8:20 p.m. ET
Week 13 vs. Buffalo Bills (6-3): The Bills may have lost that game to the Vikings on Sunday and are now only the sixth seed in the AFC as a result, but they are still very much one of the best teams in all of football. Their offense led by standout quarterback Josh Allen is one of the most potent in the entire league, while their defense is ranked second in scoring (16.8) and fifth in EPA per play (-0.050). | Thursday, Dec. 1, 8:15 p.m. ET
Week 14 at Arizona Cardinals (4-6): The 2022 season has been an up-and-down affair for the Cardinals so far this season. Three of their four wins have come against some of the worst teams in football — Las Vegas, Carolina, New Orleans — with a fourth coming in Week 10 over a Los Angeles Rams team led by their backup quarterback. Arizona’s defense in particular has had a rough time. | Monday, Dec. 12, 8:15 p.m. ET
Week 15 at Las Vegas Raiders (2-7): The Patriots’ fourth straight prime time game will see them go up against old friend Josh McDaniels on the road — if he is still leading the team at that point. The Raiders, after all, have struggled mightily in their first season under McDaniels: a playoff team in 2021, they are now closer to the first overall draft pick than returning to the postseason. | Sunday, Dec 18, 8:20 p.m. ET
Week 16 vs. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4): The reigning AFC champions have also not lived up to expectations in 2022, and are currently outside the playoff picture as the No. 9 seed in the conference. They still have a massively talented roster, especially on the offensive side of the ball: Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon and Ja’Marr Chase are one of the best trifectas in the league at the moment. | Saturday, Dec 24, 1 p.m. ET
Week 17 vs. Miami Dolphins (7-3): The Patriots will be out for revenge in Week 17, going up against their division rivals after they dealt them a defeat on opening day. Miami is the top-ranked team in the AFC East at the moment, and fields an explosive offense led by offensive-minded head coach Mike McDaniel. Playing in front of a home crowd, the game will likely be huge for the Patriots. | Sunday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET
Week 18 at Buffalo Bills (6-3): Returning to Western New York for the first time after a blowout loss in the wild card playoffs last year, the Patriots’ postseason hopes might just be hanging into the balance against the Bills. A lot will happen between now and January 8, but that Week 18 contest projects to be a big one for both clubs. | Sunday, Jan. 8, TBD
As can be seen, the Patriots’ schedule features a bit of everything. There are four division matchups and prime time games each, four home games and four road contests, and the potential to be moving up or down the standings pretty quickly.