Final Game-by-Game Predictions for the New England Patriots' 2012 Season

Marc FreshmanContributor ISeptember 7, 2012

Final Game-by-Game Predictions for the New England Patriots' 2012 Season

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    Football is back. More importantly, the Patriots are back.

    Over the last few months, we've watched Bill Belichick fine-tune every last nook and cranny of this team. Surprising draft selections, shocking roster cuts and startling new additions have all blended together to create a new team for a new season.

    We've waited a long time for this moment.

    Now, finally, the New England Patriots are ready for war. It's time to win another banner for the collection.

    But before we get our uniforms dirty, let's take a look at what's ahead.

    Here are game-by-game predictions for New England's 2012 season.

Sept. 9: Patriots at Titans

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    The Titans will look to open their season with a huge upset over the Patriots.

    But the Patriots rarely lose to inferior opponents. It only happened once last season, when the Bills stormed back from a 21-point deficit. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a season-high 369 yards, and Tom Brady threw four interceptions.

    Clearly, that was a strange game.

    For the Titans to manufacture a similar situation here, this game will need to be equally as strange.

    For Jake Locker to flirt with an upset, he'll need to throw more than 300 yards against a strong Patriots line and a secondary which often bends without breaking.

    Locker's arm won't win this game. He'll consistently feed the rock to Chris Johnson, but that will only take the Titans so far. New England's run defense was excellent during the preseason.

    The Patriots will seal them off at every turn. 

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 10 points.

Sept. 16: Cardinals at Patriots

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    This game truly comes down to a simple quarterback issue. John Skelton won't be able to coordinate multiple scoring drives against New England.

    Arizona can pressure and defend at a high level, but ultimately, Skelton still bears the burden of putting points on the board. That won't happen. 

    Patriots get this one.

    As a side note, keep your eyes open for Arizona's rookie Justin Bethel, who alternates between safety and special teams. He was on my draft wish list for the Patriots, and you'll see why. He's coming off an extraordinary preseason, and I expect him to play very well in this game.

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 17 points.

Sept. 23: Patriots at Ravens

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    Year after year, we view the Ravens as a major threat, as if they're always on the verge of smudging their fingerprints all over the Lombardi trophy.

    But why do we have that perception? The Ravens haven't been to the Super Bowl since 2000. 

    As you can see, history contradicts our frightening perception of Baltimore. In fact, history tells us that we're the bigger threat here. After all, we've been to the Super Bowl five times since 2001.

    So why do the Ravens inflict so much dread in us?

    Truth is, we don't fear the Ravens because they threaten our success, nor do we fear them as a serious Super Bowl contender.

    We fear them because they threaten our bodily health.

    We fear that Bernard Pollard might drag down Rob Gronkowski and put him in a walking boot. Or worse, we fear that something might happen to Tom Brady.

    But do we really fear that the Ravens will beat us? Of course not. 

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 3 points.

Sept. 30: Patriots at Bills

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    I don't believe the Bills are serious about getting to the Super Bowl, nor I do I believe they're serious about winning the AFC East.

    I do, however, believe they're serious about beating the Patriots. At least once. 

    The Bills just made a monumental investment in Mario Williams. They also acquired sack-machine Mark Anderson from New England. These guys are in Buffalo for a reason, and this particular game is that reason.

    They can't lose this game in front of their fans. It would be a disaster. Mario Williams, specifically, can't let this game get away.

    This is Buffalo's Super Bowl.

    The Patriots are the better team here, but the Bills have a good chance of being the better team on this specific day. They simply have too much to lose by losing this game.  

    Final Prediction: Bills win by 3 points.

Oct. 7: Broncos at Patriots

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    Tim Tebow was doing a pretty good job in Denver. But, for one reason or another, John Elway didn't view him as a long-term solution. Fair enough.

    But here's my question: Is Peyton Manning really a long-term solution?

    Honestly, I still find the whole thing perplexing. Tebow was winning games. That team was building something odd and unique. They were constructing their own formula for winning. Granted, it was an ugly formula, but it was still working at a pretty decent rate.

    Yes, Manning is a better quarterback than Tebow. That much is clear.

    But still, this could've been Tebow's sophomore season as a starter, and anything would've been possible. But instead, it's Manning's freshman year as a Bronco, and the clock is already ticking.  

    The Broncos will struggle this season. It'll take time for them to come together as a unified force, especially after they suffer some early losses to the Steelers and Texans.

    Tough to see them beating a team that just went to the Super Bowl.

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 14 points.

Oct. 14: Patriots at Seahawks

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    The Seahawks are another team that'll struggle this season. They'll spend the year finding their rhythm, establishing their tempo and sculpting their identity.

    It's extremely difficult for that kind of squad to beat a Super Bowl team.

    In all fairness, though, it's been done before. As we've already discussed, the Bills were able to squeak out a victory against the Patriots early last season.

    Thing is, the Bills had some extra fire in their belly. They entered that game with a 2-0 record, knowing full well that a victory would extend their streak to three and hand a defeat to their divisional rivals.

    Seattle won't have that same fire in their belly.

    The Seahawks have no particular grudge with the Patriots. They'll enter this game with a 2-3 record, which won't be enough to pump up their morale. Also, they'll still be in the midst of a quarterback competition between Russell Wilson and Matt Flynn, which means their team will still be in a state of flux.

    None of these elements help Seattle's chances against New England.

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 10 points.

Oct. 21: Jets at Patriots

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    By all rational standards, you'd expect the era of Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan to be on its last leg.

    But rational thought doesn't apply here. After all, these are the New York Jets we're talking about.

    The Jets missed the playoffs last year. Mark Sanchez showed clear signs of moving backward instead of moving forward. So, naturally, the Jets responded by giving him an extension.

    The Jets just wrapped up a truly atrocious preseason effort, getting swept and offensively struggling to the point of madness. Naturally, Rex Ryan responded by saying, "This will be the best team I've had."

    Good to see that nothing's changed.

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 14 points.

Oct. 28: Patriots at Rams (London)

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    The Patriots have a surprisingly large fanbase overseas. These fans call into Patriots radio shows to chat, they read Patriots articles and leave in-depth comments, and they really follow the team with a passion.

    You can bet those fans will be at this game, and they'll be cheering for the Patriots.

    This will be one of those games where everything goes right for the Patriots. It'll be like the game against the Chiefs last season or the game against the Titans from 2009.

    Expect Rob Gronkowski to have a monster afternoon.

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 35 points.

Nov. 11: Bills at Patriots

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    Buffalo won't be able to duplicate the same sense of urgency from their previous encounter with New England. They'll be at Gillette Stadium at the exact time when the Patriots are really hitting their groove.

    Tom Brady will have found his rhythm with Brandon Lloyd. Rob Gronkowski will be dominating. Wes Welker will be racking up yards at a feverish pace. Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower will be accustomed to having their way on the field. Vince Wilfork will be in the midst of another career season.

    I don't expect this game to be close.

    The Patriots are the better team, and they'll play like the better team.

    No upset, no meltdown, no miscalculations. Just Patriots football.

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 21 points.

Nov. 18: Colts at Patriots

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    This is a transition season for the Colts. Long-term expectations for Andrew Luck are huge, but short-term expectations for the team are more modest. 

    However, the Colts have a pretty relaxed schedule on their hands. Prior to this game, they play the Bears, Vikings, Jaguars, Packers, Jets, Browns, Titans, Dolphins and Jaguars.

    It's very possible that the Colts will head into this game with a 7-2 record, having registered losses to the Bears and Packers.

    That record is good enough to energize the team and its fanbase. Expectations will suddenly increase. The hype machine will take over, and the Colts will be the team to "watch out" for.

    But here's where it all comes crashing down: Colts vs. Patriots.

    This will be the inevitable jolt back to reality. This will be the game where expectations cool down and the hype bubble bursts.

    This will be the game where Tom Brady reminds everyone that he's still the king of the AFC.

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 14 points.

Nov. 22: Patriots at Jets

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    The Jets will likely head into this game with a 5-5 record. They'll be at a crossroads. This will be the time for Mark Sanchez to make whatever declaration he intends to make with regards to his career.

    Unfortunately for Sanchez, this will come at the exact moment when the "Tebow chatter" is at an all-time high.

    Jets fans will be faced with two options: Go with what isn't working (Mark Sanchez) or go with what might work (Tim Tebow).

    Sanchez's rabbit ears will make him vulnerable to the pressure of this situation. Nevertheless, for Sanchez to win this game and keep his job, he'll need to rise above that.

    He'll need to take his game to a level that we haven't seen yet.

    Thing is, I don't think that level exists.

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 16 points.

Dec. 2: Patriots at Dolphins

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    The Dolphins won't be looking to shock the world here.

    Sure, they'll want to win this game. But the timing won't be right. They'll be coming off losses to the Texans, Bengals, Colts, Titans, Bills and Seahawks. They might even lose to the Jets, too. 

    They won't be ready for this showdown with the Patriots. Their spirit will be a little too smashed.

    For Miami, this game will be about development, self-exploration, tinkering with their roster and planning for 2013.

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 28 points.

Dec. 10: Texans at Patriots

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    The Texans are one of the most complete teams in the NFL. They're talented, deep and dangerous.

    Houston's most impressive attribute is its mental clarity. Only a mentally strong team could've excelled last season, despite the list of injuries it suffered. This team doesn't fear injury. It doesn't fear problems or obstacles. It's focused and ready for anything.

    Without a doubt, Houston is New England's biggest threat to the AFC crown.

    The Texans might not have a list of superstars on their roster, but they have more than enough skill and chemistry to beat the best teams in the league.

    This will be a huge year for the Texans. I expect them to win this game.

    Final Prediction: Texans win by 6 points.

Dec. 16: 49ers at Patriots

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    Generally speaking, there are three types of teams that qualify as threats to the Patriots:

    1. Strong teams that haven't peaked yet (Texans)

    2. Teams that have a chip on their shoulder (Bills)

    3. Teams that have New England's number (Giants)

    The 49ers don't really fit into any of those categories. I feel like they peaked in 2011, and I don't think they're as crafty as the Giants.

    If anything, you might be able to argue that San Francisco has a chip on their shoulder.

    However, if they intend to ride that "chip on the shoulder" wave through the new season, then Alex Smith will need to keep defying the limitations of his game and outdo his performance from last season.

    That's a very tall order.

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 3 points.

Dec. 23: Patriots at Jaguars

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    This might qualify as New England's easiest game of the season.

    Granted, it comes late in the year when everyone's weathered and struggling through various injuries, but even so, this game feels like a Christmas present for Patriots fans. The Jaguars simply don't have the proper arsenal to launch a successful attack against a Super Bowl team.

    At this point in the season, guys like Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower will have already experienced their growing pains. They'll be in full bloom. They'll be in "playoff mode."  

    It's tough to see Blaine Gabbert producing at a high level here and leading his troops down the field for multiple scores.

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 13 points.

Dec. 30: Dolphins at Patriots

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    As a rule of thumb, I hate playing against teams with nothing to lose, and I seek to avoid those situations at all costs.

    Teams with nothing to lose are teams without fear.

    At this point, Miami's season will be over. Done. Gone. They have nothing left to fight for except this one game. They'll have the ability to chip away at the record of a divisional rival, while simultaneously planting a seed of doubt in New England's mind heading into the playoffs. Also, they'll be able to take something positive into their offseason.

    Winning one game out of pride is an attainable goal for any professional football team playing at its highest level, especially when it has nothing to lose.

    I still give this one to the Patriots, but I don't expect it to be as easy as it seems.

    Final Prediction: Patriots win by 3 points.

Final Thoughts

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    Recap

    Patriots at Titans: W

    Cardinals at Patriots: W

    Patriots at Ravens: W

    Patriots at Bills: L

    Broncos at Patriots: W

    Patriots at Seahawks: W

    Jets at Patriots: W

    Patriots at Rams: W

    Bills at Patriots: W

    Colts at Patriots: W

    Patriots at Jets: W

    Patriots at Dolphins: W

    Texans at Patriots: L

    49ers at Patriots: W

    Patriots at Jaguars: W

    Dolphins at Patriots: W

     

    New England's Final Predicted Record

    14-2, with losses to Buffalo and Houston

     

    Analysis

    Health is everything.

    Good health is why the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, and poor health is why they were handed an early exit in 2012. Good health is why the Boston Celtics won the NBA championship in 2008, and poor health is why they came up a game short in 2010.

    Poor health is why Tom Brady was in a walking boot before Super Bowl XLII, and poor health is why Rob Gronkowski was in a walking boot before Super Bowl XLVI. We know how those games went.

    Bottom line for 2012: We have the right roster, but it means nothing without good health.   

    If the Patriots stay healthy, they'll win 14 games, and they'll win the Super Bowl.