NEPD Editor: James Christensen
There are only eight short days until the Patriots rookies report to training camp and less than two months until the New England Patriots take the field against the Tennessee Titans on opening day.
In my second of four articles breaking down the 2012 Patriots schedule, I take a look at what Bill Belichick and company will be going up against in week five through eight.
Here is how I saw the first four games of the Patriots 2012 schedule playing out.
Week 5: Denver Broncos (Home)
Peyton Manning against Tom Brady. The history is there, only the colors and rosters are a little different. It will be interesting to see if Manning can transform what was built as a run-first offense into the great offenses from his halcyon days in Indianapolis. I’m guessing a few people might watch this game.
Matchup to Watch: Peyton Manning vs the Patriots pass rush
The Patriots racked up five sacks against the Tim Tebow Broncos in their 45-10 playoff win last January. I doubt Manning allows that to happen again.
Wildcard: Von Miller
Miller totaled only one tackle during two games against the Patriots in 2011. He’ll need to have a bigger impact if the Broncos want to slow the Patriots offense.
Prediction: 55% chance of Patriots victory
The Patriots are the better team on paper, but you can throw out the previews when it comes to Manning vs Brady.
Week 6: Seattle Seahawks (Away)
While the Seahawks game doesn’t have as much national appeal as the Broncos game, it will be a great opportunity to see former Patriots coach Pete Carroll coach against his old team. Bruce Irvin was the shock pick by the Seahawks in the 2012 NFL Draft, we’ll see if he can get to Tom Brady.
Matchup to Watch: Earl Thomas vs Rob Gronkowski / Aaron Hernandez
Earl Thomas might be the best young safety in the league. He is a smart, instinctual and speedy defender that isn’t afraid to hit. If there is a safety that might be able to stick with both of these players, Thomas is it.
Wildcard: Matt Flynn
Provided Flynn wins the quarterback battle in Seattle – which isn’t a given – it will be interesting to see if he is able to play as well as he did at times in Green Bay.
Prediction: 60% chance of Patriots victory
Thomas (and to a lesser extent Kam Chancellor) is special defender, but I expect Tom Brady to have his way with the talented youngster in their first meeting.
Week 7: New York Jets (Home)
Jets week is always fun. Rex Ryan and his players are not the favorites to win the AFC East anymore, which just might make them more dangerous.
Matchup to Watch: Darrelle Revis vs Brandon Lloyd
I’m sure Revis will see some time on Wes Welker as well, but if Lloyd has as big an impact as I think he will in Josh McDaniels’ offense, Rex Ryan will deploy the best cornerback in the NFL against him. That is, if Revis isn’t holding out again.
Wildcard: Tim Tebow
Prediction: 65% chance of Patriots victory
The Patriots won both matchups in 2011 and seem to have improved some of their deficiencies. The Jets, however, continue to have questions on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. I see a Patriots victory in front of the home faithful.
Week 8: St. Louis Rams (Away, London)
The Patriots demolished the Tampa Bay Bucs 35-7 the last time New England played in Old England. They’ll play there again this year, but I wouldn’t expect such an easy game – you never know what will happen with a young team in an unfamiliar environment.
Matchup to Watch: Chris Long vs Sebastian Vollmer
Chris Long was a beast in 2011, racking up 13 sacks as a defensive end. Vollmer, if healthy, will have a tough time containing Long without some additional help. If Vollmer isn’t healthy, second year player Marcus Cannon might draw a tough duty.
Wildcard: Brian Quick
Rookie receiver Brian Quick was the first pick of the second round in the 2012 NFL Draft. His height, speed and athletic ability will be a tough assignment for the Patriots defensive backs if he is able to get up to speed by week eight of the 2012 NFL season.
Prediction: 60% chance of Patriots victory
The Rams are going to be over-matched defensively, but you never know what kind of surface that England will provide. If players are slipping all over the place, the turf could be a bit of an equalizer.