The 2009 Patriots will go 12-4.
What bolder time to predict an team's entire schedule than May?
Let's take a look at how things are looking for the Red, White, and Blue, and identify from where their challenges could come in 2009.
Before we get to the meat and potatoes, let's take a quick overview of the 2009 composition.
NOTE: This slideshow assumes that Tom Brady starts the season healthy.
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Dean Pees returns to the team as Defensive Coordinator, so I don't expect any drastic changes to the base 3-4 defense in New England.
Skeptics of the Patriots in 2008 were quick to point out some questions in the New England secondary such as age, inexperience, lack of speed and size, as well as injuries.
Yet in the aggregate, New England gave up 201.4 yards in the air (11th in the NFL) and 107.6 yards on the ground (14th in the NFL); so based on their NFL rankings, they were worse against the rush than against the pass.
The problem for New England seemed to be their exposure to the deep pass, while their front seven could apply pressure over the course of a game, when an opponent could find the chance to go downfield, New England didn't always have the answer.
Patrick Chung from Oregon comes in at Strong Safety and Darius Butler comes in at Cornerback, both second round selections from this year's draft.
At the moment the Patriots have 14 Defensive Backs on their roster, and one key addition is veteran Shawn Springs, who might not have the flash that he once had, but has a great ability to read plays and knows his position well. Leigh Bodden 27, signed a one year deal with New England after playing cornerback in Detroit.
Suddenly the secondary is looking solid.
The linebacking core should see another great year from Jerrod Mayo, the 2008 Defensive Rookie of the Year, and the Defensive line, if healthy is an elite force.
With Jason Taylor going back to Miami, Julius Peppers lingers as a potential addition to the front seven.
The Boston Globe suggests that the Patriots could also be interested in former Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who would be an interesting fit in the 3-4 defensive, but the athletic talent and defensive awareness is certainly there.
The loss of Mike Vrabel gives New England some salary to play with, but also leaves the team without a dynamic leader and fan favorite.
The 2008 season proved to New England fans that an efficient system is more important than the names on the field, that controlling the ball is just as important as touchdowns, only not as flashy.
Yet, if you do have some proven superstars on your team, things can get pretty exciting.
We don't know for sure if Brady will be the Opening Day starter but without any hard evidence or reports to suggest otherwise, and considering that New England moved Matt Cassell after putting the franchise tag on him, we can base our May expectations on his presence.
And frankly, its just more fun that way.
Randy Moss was a great sport last year even without being the scoring conduit. He was able to create a defensive lightning rod and by doing so, gave Matt Cassell chances to throw short passes to single coverage, with the occasional chance for a bomb downfield.
As Cassell grew into the position he found himself not rushing himself, taking sacks as they came, and eventually the game slowed down for him.
He earned more time in the pocket with good decisions and kept the games efficient, leading the team to 11 wins.
There's no reason to suggest that Brady will throw 50 touchdowns, but we can expect at least 30 and 12 to 15 to Moss in a reasonable 2009 campaign. With Gallaway and Lewis joining Moss and Welker, they have 4 legitimate weapons and split and wideout.
Fred Taylor has been a quiet addition to the running back core in new England where feature backs from other teams sign on to be a contributing member of a multi-player based set of assignments.
I wont predict Taylor breaking off long runs up the middle but he will be a clock buster and should hit 1,000 yards on the season.
Coach Belichick comes off a season in which he handled the frenetic fans and press in New England pulling their hair out when Tom Brady was injured in Week 1.
By creating a system tailor made for Matt Cassell and still winning football games, many have said that his 2008 season was his finest as a coach.
It took Mike Smith and Tony Sporano having two incredible breakout seasons to overshadow Coach Belichick's success.
Coach Belichick finds a way to keep the team in the framework of the game and he does a great job identifying individual matchups based on the strengths and weaknesses of the players and the formations.
Since 2001 fans took to debate whether Coach Belichick could win without Tom Brady, and while he didn't win a Super Bowl, he produced a playoff-caliber team in his absence and put all those questions to rest.
The next question for the media and fans will be how the Patriots and Belichick will perform now that Scott Pioli has left the team.
T.O.'s first game for Buffalo and Brady's first game back from injury. Its all on Monday night and both teams have a lot to put on the line here in Week 1.
Vegas is already giving Buffalo 10 points in this game.
I think Trent Edwards will surprise us as an accurate quarterback, but the double deep threat of Owens and Evans wont be a well-oiled machine in Week 1 in New England.
With Marshawn Lynch suspended Buffalo will have Dominic Rhodes in the backfield to keep New England honest and I think that the New England Defense will be able to handle Buffalo.
Look for Buffalo to make some clever play calls to scratch away some points early, and if New England goes up big, look for Buffalo to put some plays together against the prevent Defense and score at the end of the game.
On the other side of the ball, look for New England to stretch out the field and feature a committee of running backs who will share the load and expose the Buffalo defense as it tries to hunt down and catch up to the New England offense.
Buffalo has a little bit more manpower in the secondary this year and the addition of Maybin will help lessen the burden on the defense as a guy who can do it all. Until he becomes the stud that he can be, he'll be more of a bridge to the future. I don't see him dominating the Patriots offensive line in Week 1 of 2009.
38 to 17, New England.
New England starts at 1-0
Brett Favre out. Who's the Week 2 quarterback? What does the Jets playbook look like? Is this a rebuilding year or do the Jets have a shot?
You can count on the Jets to play an emotional division game against New England IN New York, and they do have the type of explosiveness that can give other teams headaches.
Without the Mangini vs. Belichick and Brett Farve media circus I wonder just how intense this game will end up being.
Looking at their draft and their transactions they dumped plenty of stock into Sanchez and Week 2 looks to be an easy one for New England.
34-7, New England
New England goes to 2-0
New England will host Atlanta after winning two divisional games without a problem and will be thoroughly tested by the upstart Atlanta Falcons.
In the 2008 playoffs Matt Ryan ran into a defensive scheme that he couldn't figure out and Atlanta simply got outmatched by the Cardinals on both sides of the ball.
Even with the addition of Tony Gonzalez my question is whether or not the Cardinals have found a template to beat Atlanta.
If anybody can put a defensive scheme together, its New England, and Atlanta will have to overcome what New England throws at them.
I think that offensively Tony Gonzalez will create matchup headaches for the monster linebacker and add a tremendous element to the Atlanta running game as a blocker and as a playaction threat to worry about.
With a deep threat receiver, a great red zone touch down producer, a solid running game and a star quarterback on the rise, Atlanta's offense will have the edge over New England's defense.
I think that New England will put up plenty of points and you should take the over in this game, but Atlanta's red zone defense will be the difference in the game as they come in to New England and steal one.
37-34 (OT), Atlanta
New England goes to 2-1.
Baltimore will come in to New England and hand them a loss. New England's 2007 version played an incredibly close game in Baltimore two years ago, and arguably Baltimore's defense is just as good; their offense is better, and arguably New England as a team in 2009 doesn't have the power they did in 2007.
Give a slight edge to New England at home but Baltimore is one of those teams that always gets fired up against New England.
I think that the New England coaching staff will be able to find a way to harness the Baltimore offense and Flacco will have to make some adjustments in his second year, including Week 4 at New England.
For New England, their best defense will be their offense, however Baltimore will be an elite defense, or just under elite status this year.
Baltimore wins, 14 to 10.
New England goes to 2 and 2.
I'm yet to be convinced that an assistant of Coach Belichick can find early success against him after moving to a new team.
Such is the case with the Denver Broncos who blew up their franchise, letting go of a hall of fame head coach and then trading their franchise quarterback away.
If they got rid of Cutler first and realized he was the problem, would they still have Shanahan in Denver? I can't be sure, but that is the first of many questions I have for the Denver Broncos.
Their defensive numbers are toward the bottom of the league and with McDaniel's first ten draft picks, he took one linebacker and three defensive backs. Doesn't this team have Champ bailey?
What about replacing the quarterback that put Denver at the top of the league in yards passing? He took a quarterback in round 6 and we all know in New England that while it is possible, it is graciously rare that a 6th round QB turns in to one of the best of all time, let alone a serviceable one.
McDaniel's surely will take a lot from his experience in New England and for instance, what he was able to accomplish with Matt Cassell, and surely he is part responsible for finding gold (and a head coaching job) where there wasn't before.
However, in Week 5, it wont be close.
42 to 14, New England
New England moves to 3 and 2.
Tennessee is one of those teams that doesn't have a lot of flash but with good coaching and Defense will always stay in the game. After losing Haynesworth to Free Agency, the biggest question is whether the $100 Million man creates a defecit in the Titans Defense.
In 2008 they ranked second in points allowed, and toward the bottom of the top 10 in yards allowed. This suggests that they were keeping teams to field goals instead of touchdowns with more success than other NFL defenses.
Even without Haynesworth they should be an above average defense in 2009.
Offensively, I think we can see Vince young take some snaps and the playbook has room for a Wildcat type of option along with their running back tandem who had a breakout season last year.
Overall, Coach Fischer will probably lean toward the efficient quarterback and not the one who could make mistakes, even if he could make explosive plays.
New England's primary concern here will be to stop the run and challenge the quarterback to make big plays.
The Titans can run the clock and present and exhaustive offense but in the end, I think the Titans take a step back defensively and New England comes away with a home win.
24-20, New England
New England moves to 4 and 2
Wembley Stadium, England
I'm looking forward to this game to see how the Patriots are viewed internationally. Haters and Apologists in the US have their dividing lines, usually by state, but how does the international community feel about the Pats?
I think the Patriots are going to blow out Tampa Bay in England. The usual deterrent that Tampa presents is a strong secondary and defensive scheme that targets the pass and the big plays.
I think that teams who can run do well against Tampa and the Patriots will feature some screens to keep the pressure off the middle of the field and make the secondary have to play sideline to sideline.
I look for 100 yards on the ground but I think the Brady/Moss combination will shine in this game. This is the one I'm picking as a spotlight game where even a solid defense like Tampa will have a tough time with the New England offense.
With quick scores I think that Tampa will put up some points and have to force the ball down field to answer but this isn't Tampa's game and they'll end up falling way short.
52-27, New England.
New England moves to 5 and 2.
The schedule makers were good to us, because in Week 8 the Minnesota Vikings visit Green Bay...I'm just sayin...
How can Sporano follow up a tremendous year in Miami?
More creative play calling I'd presume...Miami found every way possible to move the football down the field but all in all, had a tough time putting the ball in the end zone.
Miami was too inconsistent and used some colorful plays to achieve their success and I don't think that they can put together the same type of offense this season...repeating a breakout is difficult to do.
Of their first three draft picks, two were Cornerbacks, and both were taken in the first two rounds.
With a Defensive minded cook buying the groceries, you have to expect the Dolphins to play as well or better on defense as they did last season.
They were 25th in the NFL in passing yards allowed, so the Tuna focused on the secondary with early picks.
I don't think the young secondary will be able to keep up with New England on their turf and I'll be shocked if they can use the Wildcat enough to catch up with the offense.
32-12, New England
New England moves to 6 and 2.
The classic matchup that the NFL loves returns to Indiana yet again.
The Colts have lost some key ingredients but Reggie Wayne is still the same type of primary target that Peyton Manning can depend on that he had in Marvin Harrison.
A change in coaching wont effect Peyton's playbook, after all, he IS the offensive coordinator and playcaller at the line of scrimmage. I think the only adjustment the Colts need to make will be at defense, especially as the last two MVP's face off against each other.
By Week 10 the Colts might have gotten off to a slow start but things will be clicking by this point and this game will be a classic shootout.
We could be looking at mirror images of each other challenge each other for 60 minutes and this one could really go either way.
I think Coach B overcomes the home field advantage and meticulously played football game and after 60 minutes we're tied.
Coin flip goes to the Colts,
New England goes to 6 and 3
I think that the Jets will be a solid team by Week 11, and while they will still be months if not years away from where they see themselves in the future, I think that the Week 11 Jets come in to Foxboro and challenge New England early.
Overall I think that they wont be able to match blows with the New England offense, fresh off either a loss to the Colts or fresh off a statement game against Peyton Manning. Its unfortunate timing for New York and this division game will go to New England.
41-14, New England.
New England moves to 7 and 3.
The brutal Patriots schedule goes through New Orleans to face the best offense in the NFL last season.
With a healthy team New Orleans will be able to trade blows with anybody, including New England.
The Saints were first in points, pass yards and total yards last season, and the Patriots pass defense should be better this year than it was last year (top 10), but New Orleans at home is going to be a monster.
The question here is how will the Saints defense handle the New England offense? They struggled against good offenses last year and their first three draft picks were defensive players, two in the secondary and one at inside linebacker.
The Saints D is still going to have a very difficult time against New England, and the difference maker will be Reggie Bush and a great special teams game by New Orleans.
56-49, New Orleans
New England goes to 7 and 4.
Landshark stadium in Miami is going to have two distinctive groups of obnoxious New Englanders in Week 13, and I hope to be there myself.
Group 1; Retired New England folk who can escape the fall weather to go to Miami like they do every year, only this time wearing Jimmy Buffett gear and probably drinking too much too quick in the heat and getting sunburned and singing Jimmy Buffett songs LOUDLY during the game.
Group 2; Working New England folk who can escape the fall weather to go to Miami like they do every year, only this time berating the name of the stadium and everything that has to do with Margaritaville, as well as probably drinking too much too quick in the heat and getting sunburned.
If I know my New Englanders Group 1 and Group 2 may end up fighting each other to keep themselves occupied because I think this one is going to be a blowout.
The NFL schedule makers gave the Patriots a tough schedule, and in the second half of the season they put easier division games after what should be some difficult tests; The Jets after the Colts game, and now after the Saints game they play Miami.
The result of the Saints game should either be a statement win or an emotional loss and they will be running on high octane coming in to Miami, which is a requirement because the Dolphins always play New England tough at Land Shark Stadium.
What else works in New England's favor is that by Week 13, Miami may just be out of surprises and out of the playoff picture. This will be their second Sunday night game in a row and Come Monday, New England will be 8 and 4.
42 - 14, New England
Carolina will probably have another inconsistent year, looking stellar at times and at other times looking like a lower tier team, having trouble making plays click on both sides of the ball.
Their draft focus was on the defensive side, and if you can put a defense behind Jake Delhomme then you've got a team that can do some damage, maybe go on a win streak and turn some heads down the stretch.
I think that New England will have their questions answered and as they typically do, will end the regular season stronger than they start it.
I don't think that Carolina will have their questions answered by this point however and what could be a good match will be another lackluster matchup in New England.
30-13, New England
New England moves to 9 and 4.
The streaky Bills are going to end the season with some wins and they will take some close games away from better teams.
I think that the lingering problem will be how effective their passing game is in upstate New York.
T.O. has experience in cold games and played for Philadelpia, but December 13th up in the great lakes is going to be shockingly cold.
If the weather acts as an equalizer the edge has to go to New England, who thrives in the cold and simply has more weapons and better players.
If Buffalo is able to showcase their passing game on a more temperate December day in Buffalo, then I certainly expect New England to have their hands full with Owens and Evans.
Either way, its December football and you'd be crazy to pick against New England this late in the season.
31-0, New England.
New England moves to 10 and 4.
I really like the Jacksonville offensive line in 2009, and I think that they'll see immediate returns in all aspects of their offense; running, passing, playaction, screens.
Not only does Monroe add a monster to protect the quarterback but he's got the size speed and strength to be a multidimensional Offensive Tackle.
In the second round, with their second pick, Jacksonville went right back to the well and selected Eben Britton.
When I saw that Jacksonville made this pick after taking Monroe, I scratched my head and said to myself, "Is that even fair?"
So these picks are great for Jacksonville for the long term but also for this year. They have a lot of bodies on their lines that can play physical football all game long and can tire out and beat up on teams.
The problem is, they don't have a defensive playmaker or a consistent offensive threat.
Even in the best case scenario, the Jaguars offense sustains longer drives, gives the quarterback more time and efficiency, opens holes for the backfield and creates points, keeps the defense off the field and prevents points, but I don't see a consistent system that makes them a dangerous team in 2009.
With their coach, I'll never be surprised by a winning record, but I think New England will be too much for them in Week 16.
41-19, New England
New England moves to 11 and 4.
While I truly believe that New England will finish the season on a tear, Houston could quietly surprise them at the end of the season.
I'll take the opportunity to predict that if Houston stays healthy they will make the playoffs.
Last year before getting injured Schaub was really starting to develop a nice feel of the game and rhythm with his offense, and I see a lot of similarities between the 2008 Atlanta Falcons and the 2009 Houston Texans.
After selecting Mario Williams and playing second fiddle to the Cowboys in a great football state, and with being a relatively new NFL franchise, the Texans have struggled to get respect, and even in wins were seemingly brushed aside by the media and by foreign fans.
They finished 3rd in in the NFL Yards and 4th in passing yards, even with Sage Rosenfels taking some snaps in Schaub's lieu.
Their problem was finding the end zone, but I expect them to complete their next step, in that direction in 2009.
Brian Cushing comes in at linebacker, the first pick in a defensive minded draft, and Houston's offense will have to do the heavy lifting until they can figure out the best game plan for their personnel.
While I'm predicting that Houston will be a playoff team they will host New England in week 17 fighting for a playoff spot and New England will meet a tough test.
Even though Houston loses another game will fall in their favor in week 17 and they will get a Wild Card.
21-20, New England.
New England finishes the regular season at 12 and 4.