New England Patriots: 5 Biggest Games of the 2011 Season
Some things stayed the same. The Pats had the best record in the AFC and Tom Brady was superhuman, winning the MVP for the second time in four seasons.
With the additions of Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco, and a mass cull of players including Ty Warren and Alge Crumpler, things have been fairly busy in Foxboro since the lockout ended, and the Pats are already looking towards the 2011 season. While most fans will be relieved just to have football back, here are the five games to look forward to most this season.
Week 1 at Miami
The Week 1 matchup against the Miami Dolphins will be on Sept. 12 and will be the first of 16 games.
Eighteen games was talked about, and as little as eight seemed likely with the lockout, but most fans will be relieved that an NFL season is still 16 games long.
The Patriots have struggled more in Miami than most places in recent years but had a blowout win there last year. The game has the potential to be great, but it will be good just to have football back.
Week 5 vs New York Jets
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In the last two seasons, the New York Jets have reached the AFC Championship Game and made their rivalry with the Patriots competitive for the first time in years.
The Week 2 game against the San Diego Chargers could be close but this will probably be the first real challenge for the 2011 Pats.
No one would be surprised to see them enter this game 3-1 or 4-0, and they will quickly have a chance to banish the memory of last season's playoff loss to the Jets.
Week 8 at Pittsburgh
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After the Jets come the Dallas Cowboys, who will not be as bad as they were last year, and then it is the bye week. New England will not want to be any worse than 4-2 through the first six games, especially considering that post-bye week, they have their toughest stretch of the season.
Straight away, they will face the reigning AFC Champion Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Including playoffs, they are 6-2 against the Steelers under Bill Belichick and have lost just once on the road. They won 39-26 at Heinz Field last year.
Week 10 at New York Jets
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Week 9 will see the New York Giants come to Gillette Stadium, then the Pats will head to the Meadowlands to play their flatmates, the Jets, for the second time.
New England has lost in New York each of the last two seasons but had won eight in a row there between 2001 and 2008.
This is the last game in the Jets-Cowboys-Steelers-Giants-Jets stretch that will make or break the 2011 campaign.
Week 13 vs Indianapolis
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Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. The debate will genuinely never end, and as much as the Pats-Jets rivalry has re-emerged over the last two seasons, the Patriots-Colts rivalry has been the defining grudge match of the last decade
The Colts game will, or at least should, be the last test for the Patriots. After this, the road is much easier, with games against the Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills.