New England Patriots: Most Important Matchups on NFL's Easiest Schedule

Aaron Dodge@Aaron_DodgeAnalyst IJuly 14, 2012

New England Patriots: Most Important Matchups on NFL's Easiest Schedule

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    The New England Patriots 2012 schedule is technically the easiest in the NFL. Regardless of the success levels attained by their opponents last year, the Patriots still have a number of tough matchups this season. 

    And as Mary Poaletti of explains, it doesn't always matter. 

    Fifteen out of 43 teams (35%) with the most difficult schedules made the playoffs and 18 of 44 teams (41%) with the easiest SOS went to the postseason. 

    Here's a look at the top five most important matchups for New England in 2012.

Week 3 at Baltimore Ravens

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    The Patriots should get an opportunity to improve upon last year's 2-1 start when they roll into Baltimore for their Week 3 contest against the Ravens. The Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals, whom New England plays in Weeks 1 and 2 respectively, shouldn't be much of a problem.

    Baltimore is 1-7 all time versus New England, which does inspire confidence, but that one win was a crushing defeat in the 2009 AFC divisional playoff game.

    The two teams have played twice since, with the Patriots edging the Ravens on both occasions by a combined six points. Baltimore had a much different offseason than New England and spent a whole lot less money on additions.

    However, that roster is strong from top to bottom, and the Ravens, playing in their home stadium, will undoubtedly give the Patriots a run for their money.

    If New England can once again dodge this bullet, they'd almost certainly be sitting pretty atop the AFC East with a 3-0 record.

Week 5 Versus Denver Broncos

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    It feels as though much of the Indianapolis Colts rivalry has made the move with Peyton Manning to Denver. Manning inherits a little bit of bad blood as well as the Broncos and Patriots played twice in 2011, with their playoff matchup resulting in a heated scuffle. 

    Denver, like Manning, has a history of ending New England's playoff hopes, doing so in 1986 and 2005. Manning did so the following year in 2006 when the Patriots were defeated in the AFC championship game. 

    The combination has all the ingredients for a promising new rivalry, and it will be important for the Patriots to get the head start.

Week 12 at New York Jets (Thanksgiving)

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    The Patriots will play their second Thanksgiving game in three years in 2012, taking on division rival New York.

    New England has won three out of their last four contests against New York, but as a member of the AFC East, the Jets can always be a hassle to get by.

    With nearly half of the season's 16 games coming against their own division, taking care of the Jets late in the year will go a long way toward locking up a playoff slot.  

Week 14 Versus Houston Texans

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    New England may have the NFL's easiest schedule based on 2011 results, but the tail end of their season is full of worthy opponents.

    The Houston Texans come to town in Week 14, likely with the memory of their 2010 win over the Patriots in mind.

    Pats fans will remember the game for the loss of Wes Welker, but the Texans also outplayed the Patriots that day, winning 34-27. With a healthy Matt Schaub and a loaded defense, Houston will be a force to be reckoned with in 2012.

    If New England wants to count this one as a win, they'll have to bring their A-game.  

Week 15 Versus San Francisco 49ers

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    The 49ers and Patriots will match up for the first time since 2008 next season and will do so very late in the year. New England lucks out a bit by drawing two of their toughest opponents late in the year at home, as San Francisco will visit Gillette Stadium for the first time since 2005.  

    New England easily could have taken on the 49ers in the Super Bowl last year if not for a fumbled kick return. The Giants defeated San Fran and went on to do the same against the Patriots for the second time in five years. 

    The 49ers have improved their modest offense this year, and their defense certainly hasn't gotten worse as they've practically retained all of their starters. This one is important and won't be a walk in the park.