Patriots season prediction: 12-4

When six of 16 games are played within the AFC East, where the competition is a notch below, it makes a double-digit win total more than a realistic expectation. The Patriots won 14 games in 2010, 13 games in 2011 and 12 games in 2012, so if the trend continues, this will be an 11-win campaign.

But it’s too easy to sit right on the number that Las Vegas has pegged as the Patriots’ projected win total, so let’s raise the bar to 12. There will be early growing pains on offense given the youth and inexperience at receiver and tight end, but with Tom Brady leading the charge, this still should be a potent unit able to absorb some early rocky moments.

And there are signs that the defense, returning every starter but one, should be an upgraded unit. Playing the AFC North and NFC South and having AFC games against Denver and Houston makes this one of the more challenging schedules the team has had in recent years. Still, the Patriots should make the playoffs and contend for a Super Bowl berth.

No one should be surprised if they’re playing for another Super Bowl title.

Predicted finish in AFC East: first