With the bye week near its end, it’s time to look forward to the next four games on the schedule and project how things might shake out for the Patriots.
Most pro football coaches will tell you that they try to play seasons in quarters, evaluating the schedule, as well as the team’s performance, in four-game stretches. Through the first two quarters of the season, the Patriots have passed muster, amassing a 7-1 record to lead the conference. Now Bill Belichick and the coaching staff move forward to the third quarter of the season.
Looking ahead, the Patriots have the Seahawks, 49ers, Jets and Rams coming up on their schedule. It’s certainly a favorable road for New England compared to other AFC playoff contenders, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tough games to be played. Even still, in this “Any Given Sunday” league, the Patriots will need to remain at the top of their game.
Should the Patriots manage to keep up the level of performance they’ve shown throughout the first half of the seam, outings against the Rams and 49ers shouldn’t prove to be much trouble. The New York Jets likely won’t go down without a tough fight, but it’s next week’s home rematch of Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks, however, that looks to be the toughest of the upcoming four-game schedule.
Emotions will be running high for both teams in this prime-time tilt. Seahawks fans and players still haven’t gotten over their crushing Super Bowl XLIX defeat at the hands of the Patriots. They will be looking to prove something in the rematch — that the loss was a fluke of bad play calling and a once-in-a-lifetime play from Malcolm Butler.
On the other side of the football, the Patriots will be looking to send a statement as well. The holdovers from the Super Bowl championship team will look to send a message of their own. Seattle didn’t lose that game. We won it. They will be motivated to win in convincing fashion, removing any doubt as to who the better team was in Arizona.
Even with a less-than-100% Russell Wilson, the Seahawks are emerging as a legitimate contender in the NFC playoff race. They are more than capable of giving New England a tough game, even on the road. Even with a strong defense, however, Seattle simply can’t account for all the weapons that Tom Brady has at his disposal — especially without Michael Bennett to put pressure on the quarterback.
In what will undoubtedly be the final trip to his hometown Bay Area as an active player, Tom Brady will lead the Patriots into Levi’s Stadium against a team ill-equipped to stop him. The 49ers are dead last in the league on defense, allowing 31.3 points per game. Look for the Patriots to score early and often.
As for the other sideline, the Chip Kelly experiment is off to a rocky start in San Francisco. He’s without a bona fide quarterback capable of running his system, leaving the 49ers offense sputtering from week-to-week with few answers. Even at home, there’s likely little this team can do to keep up with the high-octane New England attack.
Tom Brady would rather have played in this stadium last February, but he’ll gladly take the win in this affair.
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Anyone who doesn’t expect a tough game on the road against the Jets is fooling themselves. The records don’t mean much in this rivalry. New England almost always gets everything they can handle each year when their schedule takes them into MetLife Stadium. The Jets may be down, but Todd Bowles is a capable coach and he’ll have his team ready to go for this one.
Tom Brady is 22-8 against the Jets in his career. The only team he has beaten more is the Buffalo Bills (26 times) and this contest will likely notch another one in the W column. Scoring an anemic 18.6 points per game, the Jets offense is struggling behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has once again shown why he has never been able to stick with a team in his career. Flashes of brilliance aside, he can’t win week-to-week in the NFL.
For the Jets defense, the main weakness is their vulnerability in the passing game. They rank dead last in passing yards allowed per game (289.1) and cornerback Darrelle Revis has all but admitted he isn’t the shutdown defender that he was in his prime. New England should be able to take advantage of holes in the Jets secondary, blowing a competitive game open late against a tired, overmatched group.
Certainly the easiest of the next four games on the schedule, this one has bloodbath written all over it. The Rams are second-to-last in points per game (17.1) through eight weeks and it won’t get any better for them at Gillette Stadium. Whether it’s Case Keenum or Jared Goff under center, the Rams offense is going to struggle to put points on the board.
Look for the New England rushing attack to fare well against a defense that’s giving up over 100 yards per game on the ground. This is exactly the sort of contest that could see LeGarrette Blount blow up with a multiple touchdown performance. Given the nature of the opponent, it’s likely Josh McDaniels will dial up the running game early and often — exploiting the Rams porous run defense while giving Brady a safer outing to preserve him for the stretch run.