Friday, April 21, 2017

Analysis: Patriots' Schedule A Matter Of Perspective

It's good to be the king...

The National Football League released the 2017 schedule on Thursday evening, and while the fans of the New England Patriots have known for weeks who their opponents were going to be, the schedule revealed the details - and the schedule makers couldn't have been any kinder to the defending champions.

But many are viewing the Patriots' overall schedule with gritted teeth - and that because of playing five of eight after the bye on the road, including three in a row in early December and two in a row in altitude in November - and those games will be challenging for sure, but things do tend to balance out.

How? Well first of all, the two games in altitude come at a fortuitous time, coming off of the midseason bye.

After playing two consecutive home games to close out the first half of the season, the Patriots take their bye in week 9, the effective two week break giving them many options to prepare for games at Denver and at Mexico City to play the Raiders - perhaps taking off for Denver on Tuesday or Wednesday to acclimate to the thinner air in the Rockies...

...then after playing the Broncos on that Sunday night, they will have the option to either stay in Denver or head straight for Mexico City, depending on the availability of venues in which to prepare for the Raiders.

After that two week stretch, the Patriots return home for the Dolphins, the go for three straight at Buffalo, Miami and Pittsburgh - but then end the regular season with two straight at home against the Bills and Jets.

According to my math, those circumstances neutralize both the disadvantage of playing two straight games in high altitude by giving the Patriots two weeks to prepare, physiologically, for the thin air of Denver and Mexico City, gives them two of their three game roadie against divisional opponents, then see them closing with two straight at home against divisional opponents.

The latter means that if the Patriots take care of their business down thew stretch and secure a first round bye after playing the Steelers in Pittsburgh on December 17th, they may not have to leave Foxborough for the following seven weeks until having to travel to Minneapolis to participate in Super Bowl LII.

So stress out all you want about the schedule, but the glass-half-full perspective shows that there is nothing goofy about the schedule-making - no conspiracies, no hanky-panky.  And the fact that they play five prime time contests and also play in two late-afternoon games scheduled for National Broadcasts means that Patriots' fans around the globe will be sure to catch nearly half of their schedule by doing nothing more than picking up their remote and clicking a couple of buttons.

Thursday, September 7 (8:30pm)
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Raising the banner is always a special occasion, but the Patriots need to figure out where to put the sucker, as they have run out of room adjacent to the scoreboard.  But, alas, they will figure it out - and also get the opportunity to face a dangerous Chiefs' squad that won the tough AFC West last season before being scalped by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional round of the playoffs.

On the surface, the Chiefs did very little to improve upon last season, re-signing a couple of core players and signing TE Gavin Escobar while giving the ax to RB Jamal Charles - so don't look for them to improve much over their 20th ranked offense and 24th ranked defense.

Sunday, September 17 (1:00pm)
New England Patriots at New Orleans Saints
The Superdome, New Orleans. Louisiana

An early test for the Patriots' defense, as the Saints finished first in total offense in 2016 - but lost a playmaker when they traded WR Brandin Cooks to New England.  The Saints still have Drew Brees chucking the ball about and they signed former Panther Ted Ginn to try and replace Cooks' speed on the outside.

They still sport a terrible defense (27th overall, 31st in scoring defense), so the first round pick they got from New England in the Cooks trade will probably go toward shoring up their secondary, which ranked dead last in the NFL.

Sunday, September 24 (1:00pm)
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

The Texans have a great defense - tops in the NFL last season - and they have plenty of receiving weapons on offense, but no one to get the ball to them.  Unless Houston takes a quarterback in the draft, it will be third-year man Tom Savage pulling the trigger in the passing game.  Savage will have a top ten running game to keep the heat down to a minimum, but that might not be enough for them to repeat as the "Default" champions of a horrible AFC South...but then again, the division is so bad, it just might.

Sunday, October 1 (1:00pm)
Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

The Super Bowl that should have been in 2015, but the Panthers were a just a shadow of themselves in 2016 - but a play here or a play there and a little luck, and it would have been them winning the NFC South instead of the Atlanta Falcons.

The Panthers lost seven games by less than three points, and still finished with six wins.  Fighting through injuries, they were able to hold things together, and now they have almost all of their weapons returning healthy.  Don't let the Panthers' record fool you, they were nowhere near as bad as their record indicated.

Thursday, October 5 (8:25pm)
New England Patriots at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida

Scary team on the rise.  The Bucs tripped over themselves coming out of the gate in 2016, losing five of their first eight, four of those losses dropping close decisions to eventual playoff teams, then went 6-2 down the stretch to make a valiant run at the post-season, but coming up just short, beating the likes of Kansas City, Seattle and Atlanta in the process.

Sunday, October 15 (1:00pm)
New England Patriots at New York Jets
MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

Sunday, December 31 (1:00pm)
New York Jets at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

The Jets come into this season is full rebuilding mode, and with a coach who is squarely on the hot seat.  A team with nothing to lose - especially a hated division rival - is a very dangerous team.  Unfortunately for the Jets, they come into the season without a quarterback of any note, offensive and defensive lines in disarray and zero weapons.  Tough go for the Jets.

Sunday, October 22 (8:30pm)
Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

How motivated are the Falcons going to be to cone into Foxborough and give the Patriots a taste of the whip?  This game is the crown jewel of the NFL's first half and a chance for the Falcons to gain some measure of respect after having their hearts ripped out of their chests in the Super Bowl.

Problem is, Atlanta will be fielding a team that is essentially the same as it was in February, a team that gave New England all they could handle and then some, but eventually wore down and blew a 25 point lead.  We all know the story, now the Falcons want some payback.

Sunday, October 29 (1:00pm)
Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

The second of tow consecutive home games to finish up the first half of the season heading into their bye, the Patriots should have a decided advantage over the helter-skelter Chargers - but this team should not be taken lightly.

Playing in the toughest division in all of football, the Chargers went 1-5 in the division, but taking the Chiefs into overtime and playing the Raiders tough before dropping heartbreakers, and splitting their series with the Denver Broncos - in between beating good teams from Atlanta, Tennessee and Houston.  The Chargers have inherent talent, but not the the intestinal fortitude to finish off an opponent.  We'll see if that improves with a new coaching staff.

Sunday, November 12 (8:30pm)
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado

The Broncos may all well be the Patriots' division rivals, having played each other at least once a year since the 2011 season, New England going 6-3 against the Broncos in nine tries in that time span - with two of their losses coming in conference championship games played at Denver.

So no one has to remind Patriots' fans of the consequence of playing the Broncos.  They have a great defense and plenty of weapons on offense, but their quarterback situation took a step back last season after they let Brock Osweiller leave in free agency, as he had already proven that his skill set was a good match for what Denver liked to do with the football.  But altitude aside, the Broncos are always a tough matchup.

Sunday, November 19 (4:25pm)
New England Patriots vs. Oakland Raiders
Azteca Stadium, Mexico City, Mexico

Denver may be known as the Mile High City, but Mexico City has them beat by a full third of a mile. Playing the Broncos in Denver the previous week will act as an impromptu hyperbaric chamber for the Patriots, allowing them to acclimate to being a mile above sea level in advance of traveling to Mexico City, which one can reasonably expect to happen immediately after their Sunday night gig in Denver.

The Raiders are as high-powered on offense as any team the Patriots will play all season, though their defense leaves them scratching and clawing to score enough points to win.  The Raiders bitch-kitty is their run defense, and the Patriots have four excellent running backs to rotate in and out to keep their running game fresh...

Sunday, November 26 (1:00pm)
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

Monday, December 11 (8:30pm)
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida

The Dolphins are always a tough draw, and the fact that they play each other twice in a span of three weeks doesn't make that any easier for either team.  Miami may have made the playoffs last year, but did so ranked in the bottom third of the NFL on both sides of the ball.  The difference between the Dolphins and most other teams on the Patriots' schedule, however, is that they have the stones to finish tight games.

Many will remember their comeback and near upset of New England in Foxborough early last season when the Dolphins scored 21 unanswered points to close within a touchdown of the Patriots, and were threatening to tie the game up with seconds to play until safety Duron Harmon picked off quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the end zone to salvage the win.

One can expect the same effort from Miami this time around as well, as the current staff seems to have the team headed in the right direction.

Sunday, December 3 (1:00pm)
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, New York

Sunday, December 24 (1:00pm)
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts

This is another instance when the Patriots have to play a division rival twice in a short period of time.  The first was when the Patriots and Dolphins combined to make a Buffalo sandwich in between their contests, and now the Patriots have to play the Bills twice in four weeks, with the Dolphins and Steelers on the docket in between.

The Bills have plenty of talent on offense and play an explosive brand of football, though most of the explosion comes from their dynamic running game, but in contrast, the Bills defense can't stop the opposition's running game to save their lives.  Their saving grace had been their secondary, that is until New England lured cornerback Stephon Gilmore away.

With all of the speed Buffalo has in their receiving corps, they just don't make enough plays in the passing game to keep opposing defenses honest, averaging a mere 190 passing yards per game in 2016.  But a new regime is taking over in Buffalo and, of course, when it comes to playing the champs, every team has a little more motivation.

No comments:

Post a Comment