2011 NFL Schedule: Can the New England Patriots Go Undefeated?
The New England Patriots have been killing it in free agency so far, having already traded for talented defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, as well as route-running (and trash-talking) specialist Chad Ochocinco.
Led by superstar quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots finished 14-2 last season. Impressive, considering many thought it would be a "bridge" year.
Turns out it wasn't, not with mastermind head coach Bill Belichick at the controls. Belichick pieced together all the right parts to create an offense that led the NFL in PPG (32.4), and a defense that somehow—despite major injuries—placed eighth in PPG (19.6).
Belichick's strive for perfection is evident.
In 2007, after being accused of cheating, Coach Bill led a Patriots squad that mercilessly crushed opponents on its way to a record-breaking 16-0 regular season.
Here are 10 reasons Belichick and the Patriots—with the help of Tom Brady's golden arm—can go undefeated once again in 2011.
10. Tom Brady ALWAYS Wins at Home in the Regular Season
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The Snow Bowl Game.
The night Tom Brady went from man to legend.
In the last game ever at Foxboro Stadium, Tom Brady's arm and Adam Vinatieri's leg guided the New England Patriots to a thrilling 16-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Why is it called the Snow Bowl?
Let's just put it this way. The weather was so bad and the snow was so disruptive that, on fourth down and four at the Oakland 28-yard-line in overtime, Belichick decided to go for the first down instead of kick the 45-yard field goal for the win. Brady, the cold-weathered warrior that he is, completed a 6-yard pass to David Patten. The drive concluded with an Adam Vinatieri, game-winning 23-yard field goal.
That night, Brady made the first brushstroke on what is now a Picasso-like painting of his work in the city of Foxborough.
Consider these records:
- Most consecutive wins in regular-season home games: 28 (2006–present)
- Most seasons finishing 8–0 at home: five (2003, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010) *didn't play 2008
Now tell me, do you really think Brady's streak is going to end this year?
He is at the absolute apex of his game, has the deepest stable of receivers/tight ends he's ever had and he hasn't lost here since 2006!
Tom Brady is indomitable at home, so you can mark off eight wins right now.
9. This Season's Slate of Road Games Are Easier Than They've Been in a While
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The New England Patriots' single hardest game on the 2011 schedule is Sunday, November 27th, against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
The other five away games?
Might as well mark those ones down. Denver is always a tough place to play for New England, but with this years' quarterback struggles, I'm thinking the Pats win in a blowout.
Back to the good games.
In Philadelphia, the Patriots will have their hands full against a retooled, reloaded and rejuvenated Eagles team. With Michael Vick leading the way on offense and a ridiculous cornerback trio leading the way on defense, Philly will undoubtedly give New England everything it can handle.
So why do I think the Patriots will prevail?
Because excluding what I call the New Orleans Saints massacre of 2009, Tom Brady has not lost to an NFC opponent during the regular season since the second game of the 2005 season. I'll take my chances.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh game is right after a bye. So besides the fact that Tom Brady owns the Steelers, Bill Belichick is known for destroying teams post-bye week.
Lastly, we have the Jets. Look ahead to slide No. 6 for more details as to why I think the Patriots will win. Decisively.
8. The Miami Dolphins Road Game Is in Week 1 and They Have No QB
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It's the same old dance for the Miami Dolphins: they can't seem to find that elusive franchise quarterback.
The New England Patriots have always struggled with the Dolphins in Miami, but this year will be different. The Pats play the Fins in Miami in Week 1. With the quarterback situation still unresolved, chances are whoever the starter is (whether it be Kyle Orton or Matt Moore), they won't know the whole playbook.
An over-matched team with an over-matched quarterback against a totally stacked Bill Belichick team = complete and utter annihilation.
Sorry Dolphins fans, but it's the sad truth.
Not convincing enough?
Think about this: the New England Patriots have won every season opener since their 2003 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Miami? They have won only two season openers since their 2003 loss to the Houston Texans.
Chalk it up.
Pats are going to win in Week 1. There is your suicide pick, folks.
7. The Final Four Games on the Schedule Are a Piece of Cake
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Who is that masked man you might ask?
It's the immortal John Beck.
What's more, ladies and Gentleman, that's your starting quarterback for the 2011 Washington Redskins!
The New England Patriots got lucky. After their December 4th bout with the archrival Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots can basically start preparing for the postseason.
They have games on the road against the Redskins and Denver Broncos, followed by home games versus the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills. The first two are against god-awful teams with terrible quarterbacks (assuming the Broncos deal Orton), and the second two are against god-awful teams at Gillette Stadium.
I'm not suggesting Bill Belichick and the Patriots take these games easily because, as they say, "any given Sunday." But I would imagine that no one is circling these games on their calenders.
The Tom Brady Era Patriots are notorious for getting hot when the weather gets cold, and this year should be no different.
I expect the Pats to win these four games with relative ease.
6. The New York Jets Have Gotten Worse
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Braylon Edwards' size, strength and leaping ability gave New England Patriots' defenders fits the past couple of seasons.
Luckily for Pats fans, he's gone.
The New York Jets, in their failed pursuit of shutdown cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, chose a different direction from a team that has gone to the AFC Championship Game two years in a row.
The Jets ignored Antonio Cromartie, Braylon Edwards and special teams ace Brad Smith in their pursuit of the now-ex Oakland Raiders cornerback. By the time they realized they could no longer grab him, Smith was gone.
New York was fortunate enough to retain athletic corner Cromartie (who I thought they should have been targeting the whole time), but has decided against signing Edwards.
Instead, the Jets opted for the just-released-from-prison version of Plaxico Burress.
At first glance, Burress seems to be an exact clone of Edwards. But Burress has been locked up for two years. Sleeping on metal jail-cots isn't conducive to staying in NFL game-shape, especially for a player who is turning 34 next week.
Aside from Braylon, the Jets also have yet to re-sign defensive tackle Shaun Ellis. Ellis, whose two sacks in the AFC Divisional Game last year set the tone for the game, seems like a good bet to return to New York. Still, you never know what will happen.
Regardless of Ellis, the Jets have considerably downgraded their wide receiver position.
With New England making big splashes this offseason, re-signing Antonio Cromartie is not going to be enough for the New York Jets.
Expect this year to be the first since their perfect 2007 season that the Patriots sweep the hated New York Jets.
5. The AFC East Is Considerably Weaker Than Last Year
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With the departure of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams from the Miami Dolphins, Braylon Edwards' departure from the New York Jets and Paul Posluszny's departure from the Buffalo Bills, the AFC East is going to be a lot weaker this season.
The New England Patriots normally are very successful against their AFC East counterparts, including a 5-1 record last season. This year, expect New England's romp through the division to be quite painless.
Let's start with Buffalo.
The Bills finished off last season "strong," winning four of their last eight games behind Harvard alum and starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick. While I imagine that Buffalo will get a little better this season, Tom Brady's 13-1 record against the Bills suggests that Patriots fans have nothing to worry about.
Next, let's look at Miami.
As a football fan, the Dolphins 10-6 win over the Jets last season was disgraceful. The Fins won the game despite their starting quarterback completing only 5-18 passes for 55 yards. Huh? Don't ask how it's possible, because I honestly don't know. As a Dolphins fan, this game gave you hope for the playoffs with your team sitting at 7-6 and a real shot at the wild card. Too bad Miami botched the next three games to finish another disappointing season on a low-note.
Considering the Ronnie and Ricky backfield tandem is out, I expect Miami to carry that negative momentum into this season. I wouldn't be surprised if Buffalo finishes ahead of the Fins.
I think it will be pretty much more of the same from Rex Ryan's unlovable bunch. They will win some games with defense and they will win some games with the "good" Mark Sanchez. Ultimately though, Sanchez is just not good enough to lead them to the promised land.
New England should dominate the AFC East this season like it did back in 2007 when the Pats didn't lose any divisional game by less than 10 points.
4. The New England Patriots Get the Indianapolis Colts in Gillette Again
This is Peyton Manning's classic "I can't figure out a Bill Belichick defense in New England" pose.
It happens all the time.
Manning's only won twice in Foxborough since Tom Brady's arrival, and one of those wins was in 2005 when the Pats' secondary was being patched together with dental floss. The other—a fantastic game by Manning in 2006—was Peyton's only true victory over Belichick in New England.
This year, with a revamped defense (Leigh Bodden, Albert Haynesworth) and an aging Indianapolis Colts offense, I'm betting Belichick and Brady once again come out victorious.
The Colts are not done in free agency, though, so things can still change.
If Indy adds a player like Ronnie Brown, or makes a bid for one of the few defensive playmakers remaining in free agency, this could be a whole other ballgame. I assume the Colts will stand pat, as they normally do.
With a healthy Dallas Clark back this season and a possibly healthy Austin Collie, Indianapolis should be back among the AFC's elite.
Just don't expect them to steal a game in New England against a healthy, motivated Bill Belichick defense.
3. After Going 14-2 Last Season, the New England Patriots Have Actually Improved
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Last year, somehow, despite low expectations to start the year, the New England Patriots had a 14-2 record.
Tom Brady had another magnificent season, Danny Woodhead became a local legend and Devin McCourty highlighted a young defense that fought injury problems all year long. After losing a frustrating game against the Cleveland Browns in Week 9 (Pats had a Week 5 bye), Brady led New England on a record-breaking march of destruction to close out the regular season.
The Pats went 8-0, outscoring opponents 299-125 on their way to a No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Unfortunately, the New York Jets shocked New England in the AFC Divisional Round with a 28-21 triumph at Gillette Stadium. The loss exposed two large chinks in the Patriots' armor:
- No depth on the defensive line for both pass-rushing and run-stopping.
- No downfield threat at the wide receiver position.
To solve issue No. 1, the Patriots traded for talented, but oft-unmotivated defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. All signs point to a "rebirth" with New England this year, as many believe his lackadaisical play was only because of his situation with the Washington Redskins.
As for problem No. 2? Welcome to New England, Chad Ochocinco.
Ocho, who has been a long-time favorite of head coach Bill Belichick, is finally a Patriot. He and Tom Brady should work well together, as Ocho finally gives Tom that Marvin Harrison-type route runner that he's never had. Don't get me wrong, Wes Welker, Troy Brown and Randy Moss were all great at what they did. But none play the game quite like Chad.
Together with Ocho, Brady should put up similar numbers to his 2010 MVP Season.
2. Bill Belichick
The Hooded Genius.
Bill Belichick has coached the greatest defensive player of all time, Lawrence Taylor, and the worst, Ellis Hobbs.
In all seriousness, though, this is one smart, motivated, hard-working, vengeful dude. You do not want to be on the wrong side of a Bill Belichick conflict because he will find you and he will demolish you.
If it weren't for Tom Brady's unbelievable quarterbacking abilities, Coach Bill would be No. 1 on this list. He is a cold-blooded assassin when it comes to football games, and he will never, ever, take his foot off the pedal. Just ask the Tennessee Titans.
I mean, is there anyone you know who likes to run up the score as much as this guy?
I don't even think it's possible. If he can break your will, he'll do it because it raises him up. It is the reason Belichick is considered one of the greatest coaches of all time. He doesn't give his opponent even a glimmer of hope. At the first sign of weakness, Belichick pounces.
If there is ever a team to go 16-0 (again), it would have to be a team led by The Hooded Genius.
He would have it no other way.
1. Tom Brady
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Hold that finger high, Tommy, you are No. 1.
Tom Brady, the greatest football player in the world in 2011 (and in my opinion, the best quarterback ever).
There are not enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe the greatness of Tom Brady. He is accurate. He can throw long, short, screen, whatever. It doesn't matter.
Brady can make any throw at any time, but the best part about it?
He always seems to make those throws with the game on the line. With a work ethic that is second to none, Tom Brady has grown into one of the smartest players in football today. With a determination that is second to none, Brady has also grown into one of the greatest leaders in football.
All of these facts bring me to my final point:
Tom Brady is the only quarterback in the NFL who can lead this New England Patriots team to a perfect season, and I think he's going to do it.
Not because he finally has this player or that player.
He is going to do it because the Patriots are the best team in the NFL, employ the best coach in the NFL and are led by the single best player in the NFL.
Here's to 16-0...
What do you think? Am I crazy? Prove me wrong in the comments section below...
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