Predicting that the Patriots will win the Super Bowl at the start of an NFL season has become old hat.
In the MMQB’s NFL season preview, eight of 10 writers picked the Pats to at least get to this season’s Super Bowl and half of them predicted them to win it all. In a business where contrarian viewpoints are all the rage, that is as close to unanimous as you’re going to get.
The Patriots are going to be very good in 2017, the question is simply how good?
Even if Bernard Pollard comes out of retirement and bites into Tom Brady’s ACL, it would still be stunning if the Pats did not make the playoffs with Jimmy Garoppolo running the ship. So, the baseline – worst case scenario - here is the playoffs.
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The ceiling? Well, a perfect 19-0 season, of course.
Ten years after coming up a few minutes short of the only 19-0 season in NFL history – the Patriots are favored to finally accomplish the feat this season. The Pats are favored in all 16 of their 2017 regular season games right now (even at the Broncos and in Mexico City against the Raiders in mid-November) and if they get to 16-0 you can bet that they’d be favored to win all three of their playoff games.
So that’s the bar, and it’s not unfair. The Patriots have been that great under Bill Belichick and Brady.
Luck and stamina
The Patriots ran out of luck in their quest for a perfect season in 2007 and became fatigued as the season wore on. Luck will again obviously play a factor this time around if the Pats’ ultimate goal truly is to go 19-0.
After Thanksgiving in 2007, the run of blowout victories from early in the season were over. Late in the season - the Pats only beat the Eagles at home by three points, they got extremely lucky in a three point Monday night win over Baltimore, and they only won by three points in the regular season finale that season at the Giants. The AFC title game that season was also a little too close for comfort against San Diego, and it all came crashing down in the Super Bowl loss to the Giants.
The defense – led in part by Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau – played its age down the stretch. It looked like a tired, beat-up group. Ditto for the offensive line, which the Giants solved quickly in Super Bowl XLII.
This year’s Patriots have much younger players in key positions. Brandin Cooks is just entering his prime and Rob Gronkowski is in his prime. The team’s star defensive players are all in their mid-late 20s other than Devin McCourty, who is 30 on the nose.
Brady is, of course, ancient by NFL standards – but he’s really the only key Pats player who is at risk of having Father Time slap him down in December, January or February.
Having a favorable schedule is half the battle if you are even entertaining the thought of going unbeaten. Fortunately for the Pats, they have the fifth easiest schedule in the league entering the 2017 season.
Most of this good fortune is due to the fact that they play in what should be the weakest division in football. The Jets are tanking hard, the Bills are penciled in for only three or four wins and the Dolphins will be relying on Jay Cutler to get them to the promised land.
Things change in a hurry in an NFL season, however. So what looks like an easy stretch in a schedule today may look like a murderer’s row of opponents three weeks from now.
Here are a few games that could derail a Pats’ perfect season
Week 1 vs. Chiefs: Yup, it could end this quickly. Remember the beatdown the Chiefs put on the Pats on Monday Night Football three years ago?
Week 2 at Saints: The last time the Patriots faced Drew Brees in New Orleans, they were pounded 38-17.
Week 3 vs. Texans: The Texans looked mighty capable of taking down the Pats early in that divisional round game last season – and that was without JJ Watt.
Week 7 vs. Falcons: Think the Falcons will be able to get up for this one?
Week 10 at Broncos: Denver has been a house of horrors for the Pats since the Carter Administration.
Week 11 at Raiders: This one is in Mexico City and Oakland is one of the few teams people are picking that could knock off the Pats in the AFC.
Week 15: at Steelers: Yeah, the Patriots own the Steelers. But if Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are healthy at home – that’s always a tough date.