Patriots: Dream/nightmare scenarios

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Patriots in 2012.

Dream scenario (15-1): The Patriots take advantage of the easiest strength of schedule in the NFL on their way to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Barring injury, it's hard not to see New England winning at least 11 or 12 games this year. Note the dream scenario is 15-1, not 16-0. The pressure of going into the playoffs undefeated is immense. New England found out the hard way after the 2007 season, when they came up just short in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants. It would be easier for New England to get that loss out of the way early so the pressure of a perfect season won't be on their shoulders late in the year. The AFC East looks ripe for the Patriots once again. They went 5-1 against the division in 2011, which is key to winning the AFC East and vying for home-field advantage in the AFC.

Nightmare scenario (9-7): Is 9-7 really a nightmare? Not for most teams. But it's Super Bowl or bust for New England, and a nine-win season with the chance to miss the playoffs is probably the worst this team could do considering its talent and easy schedule. Significant injuries are the only thing I can see derailing the Patriots from another playoff run. Quarterback Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2008 and New England still finished 11-5. But this is a different team, especially on defense. A significant injury to Brady, especially early in the season, would be a nightmare and make the Patriots an ordinary team again. I'm not convinced this team is good enough, especially defensively, to hold up like it did a few years ago without its future Hall of Fame quarterback. Also, who knows if Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer is good enough to lead the charge? Maybe in time, but the Patriots don't want to find out next season.