Recently I was looking over the New England Patriots' 2009 home schedule. My dad and I want to get back to Gillette Stadium and prove we aren't bad luck.
As I studied the schedule, a couple of things occurred to me. First, those headlines about the "toughest schedule" really mean something. Second, those headlines about the "toughest schedule" don't mean anything.
Allow me to explain.
Going by last year's attitude and knowing what we knew about the NFL after Week 17 and the playoffs, the Patriots' opponents look pretty good. The schedule includes such playoff teams as Atlanta, Baltimore, Tennessee, Miami, Indianapolis, and Carolina. Add in teams who were close to the postseason—New Orleans, the New York Jets, Tampa Bay—and things look bleak.
The problem with that thinking is that teams change, and they change a lot. One offseason is an eternity for a franchise when you consider how many opportunities they have to improve their club, as well as dismantle it.
In free agency and the draft alone, the Patriots seem to have effectively replaced their secondary. So it's not a great idea to translate a team's results last year into expectations for this season.
With neither argument really covering all the bases, we find ourselves in an interesting spot. This is where we have to mix both ideas and trudge the middle ground.
Last season the playoffs welcomed postseason veterans such as the Colts and Panthers. These teams have been very familiar with the playoffs in recent years and should be considered relatively likely to make it again.
We also saw postseason "rookies" like the Falcons, Titans, Dolphins, and Ravens in 2008. You could make the argument that these "rookie" teams have a strong chance of taking a big step forward or back. Their efforts may have been a streak of luck or just a small look at things to come—call them transition teams.
Anyone remember the undefeated regular season in 2007 and that 4-7 team that gave the Patriots everything they could ever ask for? The cliché "Any Given Sunday" applies to these teams. Their records may have stunk last season, and heck, they may stink this year too, but don't count them out just because of it.
The bottom line is that the Patriots' schedule looks tough when you consider last season, but that's certainly not all that should be considered. Every single year a team or two comes from the bottom to make a grand emergence at the top. Likewise, a few teams will suffer epic meltdowns and miss the playoffs.
There's just no predicting with an entire schedule when you consider all that can change year to year. You can make wild stabs, and I'm sure we could all get a few right. If you can prove me wrong and predict the future, more power to you.
I just know that I sure as heck can’t predict how these teams are going to play this season just based off of their records a year ago. The initial shock of the Patriots' schedule is something to note, but I urge patience as we see how these teams turn out. It might not be as bad as it first seemed.