The New England Patriots are gearing up for a tough 2013 schedule with a slate featuring four of last season's AFC playoff teams as well as the top-seeded Falcons from the NFC. While the AFC East got even weaker this past weekend, with both Miami and Buffalo experiencing key injuries, the non-division games should all provide tough tests for the Pats.
The Patriots new-look passing attack must be ready to go out of the gate with back-to-back divisional games within five days of each other to start the season. No team has been more consistent over the past decade, but the Pats always seem to get every opponent's best shot, and that should once again be the case this season.
The Patriots' full regular-season schedule is as follows:
|1||at Buffalo Bills|
|2||New York Jets|
|3||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|4||at Atlanta Falcons|
|5||at Cincinnati Bengals|
|6||New Orleans Saints|
|7||at New York Jets|
|11||at Carolina Panthers|
|13||at Houston Texans|
|15||at Miami Dolphins|
|16||at Baltimore Ravens|
Here's our week-by-week prediction for each of the Patriots' 16 regular-season games.
The Patriots haven't lost an opener since they lost in Buffalo to the Bills in 2003. While winning nine straight since then is certainly impressive, the Bills have been the closest to defeating the Pats during that stretch, including an incredible 25-24 come-from-behind win in 2009 and a 19-17 squeaker in 2006.
The Bills' new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has experience from his time with the Jets in dealing with Tom Brady and should have a solid game plan. Still, the Bills have a young offense and will likely start Kevin Kolb, as rookie EJ Manuel is expected to miss at least the rest of the preseason with a knee injury. The game will be close early and perhaps a little sloppy, but the Bills are still a step behind New England.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Bills 14 (1-0)
The Patriots have a quick turnaround for their second AFC East matchup in five days, welcoming the Jets for their Thursday Night home opener in Week 2. Rex Ryan's Jets have always given the Patriots problems in their first meetings of the last four seasons where the teams have split two wins apiece, including 2012's game that went to overtime.
Despite the loss of Darrelle Revis, the Jets have some impressive young defenders, including rookie Sheldon Richardson, who should test the interior of New England's line. However, the Jets are almost in full turnover mode on offense and likely won't be able to match points with Tom Brady and his new receivers.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Jets 7 (2-0)
After a quick turnaround between their first two games, the Patriots get the bonus of 10 days off before their tilt with the Buccaneers in Week 3. The extended break should give the Pats a chance to regroup and avoid losing one of their first three games for the first time since 2007.
The Bucs should challenge the Patriots more than their first two opponents, with Doug Martin's versatility testing New England's linebacker corps, especially in coverage. Vincent Jackson had his way with the Patriots defensive backs in preseason joint practices and should cause problems in the regular season as well.
Still, it comes down to the quarterback play, and Tom Brady should expose a porous Buccaneer pass defense that ranked last in the NFL in yards allowed in 2012 and will still be without a fully healthy Darrelle Revis.
Prediction: Patriots 21, Buccaneers 17 (3-0)
The Patriots are always good for a stinker early in the season, and the Atlanta Falcons have all the right pieces—especially at home—to hand the Pats their first loss of the season. The Pats secondary has been the weak link for the last few seasons, and Matt Ryan will put their 2013 edition to the test.
The Falcons are not without their issues, and Chandler Jones and the Patriots pass-rushers could have a big day against a Falcon offensive line with a lot of questions. But the early signs point to this being one of those games where the Pats struggle and likely drop their first game.
Prediction: Falcons 28, Patriots 20 (3-1)
The Patriots don't often lose back-to-back games, but the stretch of back-to-back trips to Atlanta then Cincinnati will put that to the test. Marvin Lewis' Bengals have yet to beat the Patriots, with Tom Brady putting up over 34 points in each of their last four meetings, but the Bengals have never been more talented nor better suited to take on the New England juggernaut.
Geno Atkins is just the kind of interior penetrator who has given Tom Brady problems, and A.J. Green will test a Patriots secondary that struggled against the deep ball in 2012. With the Bengals playing at home and the Pats coming off a tough road game in Atlanta, this one could go either way.
Prediction: Bengals 20, Patriots 17 (3-2)
The Patriots return home in Week 6, but things don't get any easier with the fearsome passing offense of Sean Payton and Drew Brees—the combo that lit the Pats defense up for 480 yards in 2009—coming to Foxborough. Coming off two tough road games against playoff teams could have the Pats in a difficult spot, but they always seems to excel when their backs are against the wall.
Playing in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium should help, as this one has the makings of a shootout and a potential coming out party for New England's young receivers. Brady can and should surpass Brees' record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass in this one.
Prediction: Patriots 38, Saints 31 (4-2)
Could this be the game Rob Gronkowski returns for the Pats? It will be the first week he's eligible to if he's placed on the PUP list to start the season as expected. The Patriots have blown the Jets out in each of the second meetings of the last four seasons, including last year's "Buttfumble" debacle.
The Jets should be better than they were in Week 2, but the Patriots have had their number in New York for the last two seasons, and there's little reason to think this year will be any different regardless if Gronk is back or not.
Prediction: Patriots 42, Jets 14 (5-2)
The first meeting with the new-look Dolphins does not come until nearly two months into the season, and both teams should be firing on all cylinders at this point. The Dolphins avoid their usual late-season trip to Foxborough, getting a reprieve from the icy New England weather in early January.
There's no doubt the Dolphins are gunning for the Patriots this season after stocking up in free agency with players like Mike Wallace and Dannell Ellerbe. Can this new collection of Dolphins jell in time to take the Patriots down? It's unlikely in Foxborough, especially with Ryan Tannehill showing limited development so far this preseason coupled with loss of Dustin Keller for the season.
It will take a perfect game from the Dolphins, but even with a loss they should remain in the AFC East hunt until December.
Prediction: Patriots 28, Dolphins 14 (6-2)
The Patriots and Steelers renew their rivalry after a one-year reprieve, with Pittsburgh coming to Foxborough for the first time since 2008. The last two matchups have seen the two teams trade dominant performances with the Pats besting the Steelers 39-26 in 2010 and the Steelers returning the favor 25-17 in 2011 in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicates.
Now the script has changed with the Patriots young receiving corps taking center stage and a Steeler defense that is somewhat in transition. Throughout his career, Tom Brady has proven he knows how to light up the Steelers. Can he do it with his new passing attack? Having Rob Gronkowski back would certainly help.
If the Steelers can protect Ben Roethlisberger, this one should go down to the wire.
Prediction: Patriots 35, Steelers 31 (7-2)
Having to face Cam Newton presents a pretty good case for the Pats to keep Tim Tebow around for preparation purposes. However, Newton still presents a new challenge for the Patriots defense, one unlike any other it'll face in 2013. Luckily, the Patriots will have the bye week to prepare.
The Patriots' improved athleticism on defense should put them in position to be successful against Newton; however, if Newton comes out hot, he could torch the Pats' read-and-react defense. This one looks like it will be closer than most expect, with Tom Brady pulling it out right at the end.
Prediction: Patriots 19, Panthers 17 (8-2)
This is arguably the marquee matchup of the 2013 NFL season. Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Wes Welker's return to Foxborough. The storylines are rich and sure to be overanalyzed in the days leading up to the contest.
The Patriots have torched Denver's defense the last three matchups, setting a franchise record for first downs against them in 2012. Can they do the same without Welker? Or will the departure of the quick slot receiver turn the tide in the Broncos' favor? This should be a back-and-forth affair that comes down to the final possession.
We'll give Manning the edge this time around since this game is not in the playoffs.
Prediction: Broncos 35, Patriots 34 (8-3)
If the Texans want to prove they're an elite team in the AFC they'll have to beat the Patriots, and they'll get their third chance in two seasons in Week 13. This time the game will be in Houston, setting up another battle that could have playoff implications.
The Texans' addition of Ed Reed along with the return of Brian Cushing should help them against Tom Brady, while J.J. Watt should be ready to make a statement in what will be Houston's "homecoming" game.
Coming off an exhausting matchup against Peyton Manning and Wes Welker, the Patriots will have to turn the page quickly, but Houston gets the Pats at an opportune time.
Prediction: Texans 24, Patriots 20 (8-4)
After two hyped games against the Broncos and Texans, the Pats get a reprieve against the rebuilding Browns. However, head coach Bill Belichick disciple Mike Lombardi knows how the Patriots like to play and should have a few twists up his sleeve to give his team a shot.
Still, the Patriots have more talent and will be starting to hit their stride down the stretch as they head to the playoffs. They'll be looking to get back on track and send a message to the rest of the NFL against a lesser opponent. But as we learned in 2010, never write any team off, even the Browns.
Prediction: Patriots 38, Browns 13 (9-4)
If the Dolphins have managed to hang on until this point of the season, they could still be within striking distance of the AFC East title. Regardless, this game will likely be a must-win for them, and they'll be ready to throw the kitchen sink at Tom Brady to get a win.
The Patriots don't often lose in December, especially in games that matter. The Pats had their struggles in Miami over the last decade, including their last loss to the Dolphins there in 2009. Miami could be peaking and playing its best football, but the Pats will be as well.
The Patriots should seal up the division title in Miami.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Dolphins 24 (10-4)
The best AFC rivalry over the last four seasons doesn't get renewed until Week 16, and it's almost certain that this one will have real playoff implications. The Ravens have had turnover this year but are always tough, especially at home due to the masterful team-building of Ozzie Newsome.
Still, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed brought a fearlessness and savvy playing against Tom Brady that will no longer be there. The Ravens are still a talented team, but the Patriots look like they've taken a half-step ahead of them. Expect another back-and-forth affair that comes down to the last pass, but this time the Pats hold on.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Ravens 28 (11-4)
Another season, another meaningless finale against an AFC East opponent. The Patriots could still be jockeying for playoff position, but the Bills will be playing for roster spots in 2014.
The Pats should put the final touches on another 12-win season, capping off another AFC East title and top-four playoff seed. There will be some inconsistencies this season for the Pats, but ultimately the half-step backwards at receiver should begin to play dividends by the end of the season and into the playoffs.
Prediction: Patriots 28, Bills 0 (12-4)