Patriots go 16-0? Here's why it will happen ... and why it won't

Clark ranks Pats as his clear No. 1 team (0:40)

Ryan Clark reveals his top five teams in the NFL, with the Patriots, Chiefs, Eagles, Cowboys and Saints mentioned. (0:40)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' dominating season-opening win against the Pittsburgh Steelers has sparked a "let's dream" vs. "back to reality" contrast.

The dreamer might now wonder if 16-0 is a legitimate possibility. The realist knows it's early and so much can change over the course of a long NFL season.

It can be an entertaining back-and-forth.

Let's dream: A fast start, which has been a struggle in some recent years, is a strong potential. ESPN's Football Power Index gives the Patriots at least a 70% chance to win each of their next seven games -- at Dolphins, vs. Jets (no Sam Darnold), at Bills, at Redskins, vs. Giants, at Jets, vs. Browns.

Back to reality: The iron of the schedule hits after that, with back-to-back road games against the Ravens and Eagles, followed by a home date against the Cowboys, a road trip to the Texans and then a home game against the Chiefs.

Let's dream: The diversity and talent of skill-position weapons is as strong as the Patriots have had since 2007 ... when they went 16-0.

Back to reality: How can we even be having this discussion when the Patriots have significant concerns along the offensive line? They already lost starting center David Andrews for the season, and with starting right tackle Marcus Cannon (shoulder) potentially sidelined in the short term, the already-thin depth is stressed that much more.

Let's dream: Tom Brady, at 42, looks as good as ever. His deep ball passing on Sunday ignited memories of Randy Moss. Brady had two completions of 40-plus air yards for the first time since 2007 (also against the Steelers).

Back to reality: But don't forget about protecting him. The offensive line concerns -- which also trace back to spring with Jared Veldheer retiring and include Brian Schwenke's retirement and third-round pick Yodny Cajuste opening the season on the non-football injury list -- are significant. Also, the tight end personnel in the post-Gronk era remain a wild card.

Let's dream: The defense looks like it has the potential to be one of the best in Bill Belichick's 20 years as coach. The unit played without starting outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy on Sunday, and the backups stepped in impressively. Safety Devin McCourty said the defense has reserves who could start on many teams.

Back to reality: While Belichick has plenty of oversight, the defensive coaching staff still is light on experience, and we're early in terms of how opponents will try to attack the D's perceived weaknesses. Don't get swept up by one game.

Let's dream: And now they add Antonio Brown to the on-field mix.

Back to reality: And now they add Antonio Brown to the off-field mix.

Let’s dream: Which other team in the NFL has really stepped up to the point that you would pick them to stop the Patriots?

Back to reality: The Patriots haven't even played a game on the road, where they were 3-5 last season. Also, you make it sound like games in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Houston are sure things. No way.

Let's dream: They are unbeatable at home, having won 14 straight games at Gillette Stadium (more than twice the next longest streak).

Back to reality: That means nothing when on Dec. 8 Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs -- who almost ended the streak last season -- come to town.

Let's dream: Josh Gordon looked terrific in his return to action, with three catches for 73 yards and one touchdown.

Back to reality: While Gordon has many people pulling for him, issues with substance abuse are bigger than the game of football and Gordon must continue to prove himself.

Let’s dream: There isn't a road trip farther than Houston, which limits travel strain.

Back to reality: But there's always an unpredictable game, regardless, such as last season's "Miami Miracle." Who had the Patriots losing that one?

Let's dream: Belichick, 67, has no peer.

Back to reality: It is what it is.

Let's dream: With some of the strongest locker room leadership they have had, players would not get swept up by the hype.

Back to reality: We're on to Miami.