Week 1: vs Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs aren’t a pushover, but this is still a manageable first game for the Pats. Tom Brady carved up Kansas City’s defense when these teams last met in the 2015 AFC Divisional round (302 passing yards, 88.6 Total QBR). The Chiefs had trouble pressuring opposing quarterbacks last season (they finished 31st in sack percentage), so we should have similar success offensively.
Week 2: @ New Orleans Saints
Whichever team has the ball last may win. I’m worried that our lack of a pass-rush will allow Drew Brees to pick us apart. Nonetheless, the Saints’ defense is still below-average. Brady and company should have little trouble putting up over 30+ points once again.
Week 3: vs Houston Texans
I said in my AFC playoff preview that people were sleeping on the Texans. They have a great defense and Tom Savage should be an upgrade over Brock Osweiler. This could be the first game when we really miss Julian Edelman’s presence, too. Brady might have trouble finding receivers with J.J. Watt and co. bearing down. Ultimately, however, the gap between the Patriots and Texans is still wide-enough that it would be foolish for me to not pick a New England victory.
Week 4: vs Carolina Panthers
Carolina’s another team I’m high on this year. The Panthers are formidable defensively and will be improved on the offensive side of the ball, as well. Their secondary is a clear weakness, though. They ranked just 22nd in opponent yards per pass attempt last season. Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, and others should take advantage.
Week 5: @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Trap game. This a road Thursday night affair against an unfamiliar opponent. And the Buccaneers are good. They have a few standout playmakers on each side of the ball (i.e. WR Mike Evans; LB Lavonte David). Coming off games against two physical defenses, the Pats will be surprised by an emerging Tampa squad.
Week 6: @ New York Jets
Fortunately a prolonged losing streak is not a possibility. Traveling to MetLife is never easy, but this Jets team could be worse than any Jets team we’ve played in the Brady/Belichick era. The Pats will take care of business with ease.
Week 7: vs Atlanta Falcons
I doubt Atlanta will be nervous going into this Super Bowl rematch. The Falcons were doing something right en route to taking a 28-3 lead. They’ll carry over that success and make things interesting. But of course, Brady and the offense was just as prolific once they found their rhythm, too. And the Falcons will likely have to contend with Rob Gronkowski this time around. Home-field advantage might be the deciding factor in what should be another exciting event.
Week 8: vs Los Angeles Chargers
Tough spot for the Chargers. Their game against the Pats caps off a brutal four-game stretch in which they travel to the Giants, and then play the Raiders and Broncos in consecutive weeks. Another cross-country trip will lead to a slow start. The Pats top 40 points for the first time on the season.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: @ Denver Broncos
We rarely play well in Denver. Even last season, we managed just 16 points. The Broncos defense will still be able to generate pressure on Brady without blitzing, and their secondary should make things difficult, even against our elite receiving corps. Despite being rested after a bye week, this will be a tough mid-November game to win.
Week 11: @ Oakland Raiders
Fortunately Oakland doesn’t project to have much of a secondary: they finished 2nd-to-last in opponent yards per pass attempt last season. Derek Carr and the Raiders may be able to trade touchdowns with us for a while, but I like Malcolm Butler and our defense to make enough stops for us to win going away in the fourth quarter.
Week 12: vs Miami Dolphins
The last time the Pats faced Jay Cutler, we put up 51 points. You just never know when he’s going to implode. I say that happens again in this Thanksgiving-weekend tilt.
Week 13: @ Buffalo Bills
Buffalo will be weak this season after recently trading away a few of their better players. Plus, the Pats have averaged close to 40 points per game in their last three trips to New Era Field. But weather could play a factor in this December meeting, so I’ll predict a lower-scoring result.
Week 14: @ Miami Dolphins
Like New York and Denver, Miami has historically been another difficult environment for us. While we should have a playoff-berth clinched at this point in the season, the Dolphins could be in the thick of the Wild Card hunt. It should be a close game, but Miami’s defense isn’t great and I’ll take Brady over Cutler every time.
Week 15: @ Pittsburgh Steelers
We definitely have had the Steelers’ number (they haven’t beaten us since 2011). Sooner or later, though, we’ll have to play Pittsburgh at full strength. They haven’t had a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown make it through an entire game against us in a while. I think our defense will struggle to contain their offense, so we’ll fall just short in a game with potential number one seed implications.
Week 16: vs Buffalo Bills
Week 17: vs New York Jets
If we can control our own destiny heading into the final two weeks of the year, we’ll be in good shape. The Bills and Jets will almost certainly be out of playoff contention, and thus positioning themselves for the 2018 draft. New England will finish a terrific 13-3 after two resounding wins to conclude the regular season.