NEPD Editor: James Christensen
The Patriots 2012 Schedule certainly isn’t the easiest or hardest in the league, each “quarter” of the season offers its own distinct advantages and disadvantages for New England.
In the first of a four part series, I take a look at weeks one through four of the Patriots 2012 season.
Week 1: Tennessee Titans (Away)
It will be interesting to see who wins the Titans quarterback battle – veteran Matt Hasselbeck or the intriguing Jake Locker. If Locker wins the job, his speed and arm will present an immediate challenge to the now young Patriots defense.
Titans first round pick Kendall Wright, along with veteran stars Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt will also be a big part of Tennessee’s offensive attack.
Matchup to Watch: Vince Wilfork vs Titans Offensive Line
If Vince Wilfork and the rest of the Patriots defensive line is able to win the battle upfront and make the Titans offense one-dimensional, I see the Patriots creating some turnovers and running away with this one.
Wildcard: Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette
How much pressure can these rookies get on the quarterback in their first game?
Prediction: 75% chance of a Patriots win
The young defense might be shaky in the opener, but I think the offense will keep this one in the win column.
Week 2: Arizona Cardinals (Home)
The only home game in the “first quarter” of the season, the Patriots will be ready to perform for the home crowd. Even with a great receiving corps – Andre Roberts is very underrated – the Cardinals issues at quarterback and on the offensive line give the Patriots a distinct advantage here.
I expect Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels to have a field day here against a middle of the road defense in what will probably be the best weather all year.
Matchup to Watch: Patriots Secondary vs Larry Fitzgerald
The Patriots defensive backfield was comical at times in 2011, with some rookie additions and the return of Ras-I Dowling, it will be interesting to see how far they’ve progressed. Fitzgerald certainly won’t take it easy on them.
Wildcard: Michael Floyd
Larry Fitzgerald is hard enough to cover, if Michael Floyd is ready to contribute right away then the Cardinals receivers are going to be a big problem for NFL defenses.
Prediction: 90% chance of a Patriots win
Tom Brady blows the home crowd away with a big victory.
Week 3: Baltimore Ravens (Away)
The Patriots will be going up against a rookie that many New England fans coveted throughout the 2012 NFL Draft process – Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw. Upshaw will be filling in for the injured Terrell Suggs, which is probably good news for Patriots left tackle Nate Solder.
Many Ravens and Patriots games have come down to the last play in the past few years, so I expect this game to be very similar. Whichever team takes care of the ball better will probably win the game.
Matchup to Watch: Ed Reed vs Tom Brady
One of the best chess matches to watch each year: the best safety in the last 20 years against the best quarterback in the last 20 years. If Reed can fool Brady and come up with a big turnover, that might be the deciding factor – that said, Brady keys on Reed more than perhaps any other defender in the league.
Wildcard: Patriots Running Game
If the Patriots are able to grind out some yards on the ground, the Ravens safeties are going to be that much more susceptible to play-action. Look for Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to get plenty of opportunities in this game, at least early.
Prediction: 50% chance of a Patriots win
The Ravens might finally squeak out a close one at home, setting up the Patriots revenge in the playoffs, but it could easily go the other way.
Week 4: Buffalo Bills (Away)
The Bills finally won a game against the Patriots in 2011 after a drought of epic proportions.
The Bills addressed their inability to stop the Patriots passing game with the addition of cornerback Stephon Gilmore and corner/safety hybrid Ron Brooks, but I’m not sure that they’ll be able to have that much of an impact by week four.
Matchup to Watch: Nate Solder vs Mario Williams
If he hasn’t been tested already, Solder will have his hands full against one of the most explosive pass-rushers in the game in Mario Williams. With Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus on the inside, expect Solder to do most of the work one on one.
Wildcard: Patriots Tight Ends
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez totaled 350+ yards and seven touchdowns against the Bills in 2011. I still don’t see an answer for either of these players on the Bills roster.
Prediction: 70% chance of a Patriots win
A win that will keep the Buffalo press box silent.