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We’ve known who the Patriots would be facing in the 2022 NFL season for a while. Now, we know the “when” and “where” as well as the “who” and can take stock of what the means for New England’s hopes of returning to the playoffs.
The early assessment: they’ll have a chance to rack up some wins and could find themselves in a good spot heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, but a brutal close to the season, including both games against the AFC East champion Buffalo Bills, will either make or break them.
Here’s a tentative win/loss projection for each game on the 2022 schedule and what that final record would mean for the Patriots’ playoff hopes.
On one hand, the Patriots won’t have to worry about the shock of traveling from late-December New England to 80-degree weather in Miami. They should be much more ready for the heat and humidity after training through the dog days in August. Plus, the Dolphins have a new head coach and will likely have some growing pains.
However, New England’s offense will likely have issues of its own with the uncertain play-calling situation early in the season. Plus, the Patriots’ game plan from Week 1 last year against Miami — give the Dolphins’ speedy receivers tons of cushion — got them gashed last year and plays into Tua Tagovailoa’s strengths.
Also, let’s not forget Bill Belichick’s squad has lost seven of its last nine contests in Miami. The odds might not favor them here.
Starting off on the road two weeks in a row is a tough way to begin a season. But the Patriots were 6-2 away from Gillette Stadium in 2021, so it might not bother them as much as people think.
Pittsburgh’s defense, led by Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt and do-it-all safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, is a very good one. Plus, old friend Brian Flores, who game-planned well against the Patriots while coaching the Dolphins the past few seasons, will be on hand to aid in the defensive planning here as well.
But the Patriots will have a clear advantage at the quarterback position whether the Steelers start veteran Mitchell Trubisky or rookie Kenny Pickett. Trubisky is, well, not very good, and Belichick rarely lets rookie quarterbacks go off against his teams.
What a fun home opener: hosting Lamar Jackson and the Ravens at Gillette Stadium.
Baltimore traded away its fastest receiver, Marquise Brown, and faces questions about who they’re putting around Jackson at skill positions. But they did invest in the offensive line to keep their star quarterback cleaner and added a slew of talented defenders in the draft as well.
If all or most things are equal, you might as well go with the better quarterback in this matchup. Jones is solid, but Jackson is on another plane and is just the kind of player Belichick has struggled to scheme for. Patriots better pray for rain again.
Does Green Bay have an overwhelmingly better roster than New England? Not really, especially after trading away Davante Adams this offseason.
But they still have Aaron Rodgers, and that makes them playoff/Super Bowl contenders until he retires, leaves town or falls off.
Rodgers doesn’t run as much as he used to early in his career, but he’s far from Tom Brady in the pocket. He can extend plays whenever he wants to, and his arm remains as good as ever. Add in the fact that this game is at Lambeau Field, and it feels like a tough one for the Patriots to pull out.
The Lions might actually be on the verge of getting better in the near future after drafting guys like Aidan Hutchinson and Jameson Williams (who probably won’t play in this game) and returning some promising young talent from the past few drafts.
But they’re still the Lions, and they’re not beating the Patriots at home. Next.
Deshaun Watson is the wild-card in this game. If he plays, the Browns probably beat the Patriots in Cleveland. If the NFL puts him on the exempt list while his sexual assault civil lawsuits are sorted out, New England gets to torture Baker Mayfield or whatever lesser soul takes his place and likely win.
This projection assumes Watson does not play, and the Patriots focus all their efforts on locking up Nick Chubb, forcing a backup quarterback to beat them
Putting this game on Monday Night Football just for the Justin Fields/Mac Jones storyline feels criminal. The Bears are probably going to pick in the top 10 of next year’s draft barring an MVP-level ascent from the 2021 No. 11 overall pick.
Similarly, it’ll take a Herculean effort from Fields to escape the classic Belichick trap for young quarterbacks and overcome the Patriots.
Meanwhile, Jones should have a much easier time dealing with a rebuilding Bears defense.
The Jets had a good draft and have been getting praise for their potential direction as a franchise. Zach Wilson is looking ripped and ready to take a step forward in Year 2. The Patriots look like they’re on the verge of a down year.
But until the final score shows the Jets with a higher number next to their names than the Patriots, they haven’t proven a thing yet.
Matt Ryan doesn’t necessarily make the Colts Super Bowl contenders at this stage in his career. But it feels unlikely he’s going to play as bad as Carson Wentz did against the Patriots last year with star running back Jonathan Taylor and something approximating an NFL receiving corps. (Reminder: Calvin Ridley was out by the team New England played Ryan in Atlanta in 2021.)
The Colts did a great job frustrating Mac Jones defensively and simply punishing the Patriots physically on the offensive side until they finally broke.
All Ryan has to do is be passable, and Indianapolis will likely have the upper hand again.
See: Week 8.
A repeat of last year’s Foxborough 50-piece is more likely than the Jets actually winning this game.
The Vikings are closer to being the Packers than they are to being the Lions or Bears. Justin Jefferson is on the shortlist of the best young wide receivers in football not named Ja’Marr Chase, and running back Dalvin Cook will pose an interesting challenge for a linebacking corps that got exposed for its lack of speed last season.
In the end, though, it comes down to the fact that there’s nothing to fear about quarterback Kirk Cousins. He is average — maybe a touch above-average if you want to be charitable — and his skill set is as vanilla as it gets for a highly paid quarterback.
Take Jefferson away from him, and the Vikings will be in trouble.
This is where the schedule gets real.
New England’s Week 13 road win over Buffalo was the high point of last year’s season. Then, the Bills came to Foxborough and embarrassed them in Week 16, setting up for the even bigger humiliation to come in the Wild-card Round.
Unless Josh Allen and/or Stefon Diggs is hurt, the Patriots probably won’t have come up with anything between now and last year to stop the Bills from being better than them once again.
DeAndre Hopkins will be back for this game after serving his PED suspension, and former No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray, for all the narratives about him, proved he can play like one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in football in 2021.
But this is the part of the year when injuries, aches and pains start to mount, and Murray has continually dealt with nagging issues at the end of seasons and missed three games last year. If he’s hurt or injured to the point where he can’t play, it’s a wrap.
Aside from that, the Patriots might simply be able to bully the Cardinals, who folded down the stretch in 2021, into submission.
Obviously, the coaching chess match — Belichick vs. McDaniels, Round 2 — will get plenty of play here as McDaniels looks to go 2-0 against his mentor.
But you don’t need to get too deep into the storylines to see that the Raiders are just better than the Patriots on paper. They have too many weapons to cover with Davante Adams now in the fold, and their pass rush, led by Maxx Crosby, could be a problem for Mac Jones.
This should be fun: Burrow vs. Jones for the first time.
Though Belichick will likely have a decent game plan in place to make Burrow think through the game, this contest will likely make clear the differences in pure skill between Burrow, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, and Jones, who is continually compared to Burrow as a young pocket passer.
The bigger problem: the Patriots simply do not have the horses to run with Chase, the 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd on the outside, and running back Joe Mixon in the backfield. Even if New England can exploit their offensive line issues, which Cincinnati has tried to address by bringing in guys like Ted Karras, Burrow proved last season he doesn’t need time in the pocket to beat you. Jones, however, does.
Turnabout’s fair play, right?
The Patriots usually have to go and suffer in the elements late in the season against Miami. Now, the warm-weather Dolphins might have to get a taste of winter in Foxborough.
By this point, you’d think Belichick would have learned enough to figure out how to slow down Miami’s offense after the first game and turn this into a ground-and-pound, low-scoring contest that would almost certainly play more into New England’s hands.
Unless Orchard Park becomes Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell, chalk this up as a “L.” Bars.
With the AFC as stacked as it is, some good teams are going to miss the playoffs. At this point, it feels too difficult to put the Patriots as one of the seven best teams in the conference after 17 games for them not be one of those unlucky teams.
As always, though, the difference between a win and a loss in the NFL can be small: a lucky bounce here, a key stop there, some good injury luck to top it off. The Patriots have a competitive enough roster to where they can actually benefit from those boosts if they’re forunate and the coaching staff can still mine every ounce to talent from this group.
And let’s put it this way: if they do manage to make the playoffs after the gauntlet they go through at the end of the season, they might just be a Super Bowl contender after all.
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