We made a mistake last year and won’t fall into the same trap in 2015. In making the annual “enjoy-these-now-and-laugh-at-me-later” game-by-game predictions, this writer projected the Patriots to struggle later in the season.
If we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that a Bill Belichick-coached team generally gets stronger at the end of the year. It’s the start of the year where there’s usually a hiccup that leads to alarms sounding across New England and some to aggressively question if Tom Brady has been surrounded by enough talent.
Which game might that be this year?
Follow along, as we’ll try to dig up some interesting nuggets to make this is a lighthearted, fun and hopefully informative exercise:
Week 1: Thursday, Sept. 10, vs. Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m.
When running backs LeGarrette Blount and Le’Veon Bell were teammates last year in Pittsburgh, they got busted with marijuana, which earned them suspensions to open the 2015 season. Blount is now in New England, Bell remains in Pittsburgh, and neither will play in this game. Here’s guessing they’ll take the high road when the topic comes up. Patriots 30, Steelers 27. Record: 1-0.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
We’ve endured a tough winter here in New England, and this is a gift of sorts from the weather gods; Buffalo in September (and later, Miami in early January). The Bills will be coming off their season opener at home against the Colts, so first-year Bills coach Rex Ryan gets Andrew Luck and then Tom Brady to open his tenure. A "league source" said he was hoping for Jace Amaro instead, but he still smiles at the end of this one. Bills 23, Patriots 20. Record: 1-1.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27, vs. Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
The Jaguars will have opened the season with games at home against Carolina and Miami, so this will be their first road contest. Between the Patriots’ Week 1 matchup against 241-pound quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and this one against 231-pounder Blake Bortles, the Patriots might be asking scout team quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to put in some extra weight-room repetitions this offseason. Patriots 37, Jaguars 17. Record: 2-1.
Week 4: Bye
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11, at Dallas, 4:25 p.m.
The Patriots will be well rested while Dallas will be coming off a Sunday night road game against the Saints. The Patriots are 11-4 after the bye under Bill Belichick, which probably should have us picking them in this game. But something tells us Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, buoyed by his team's strong running game, will be raising his glass of Johnnie Walker Blue after this one. Cowboys 24, Patriots 21. Record: 2-2.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18, at Indianapolis, 8:30 p.m.
The Colts will have 10 days to prepare, as they play a Thursday night road game the week before against the Texans. As much as Bill Belichick would probably like to hang 50 on the Colts and then glare up into the press box at general manager Ryan Grigson in disgust, his team might have its hands full in this one. This could be the 2015 version of the Chiefs game that leads to the annual media "sky-is-falling" flip-out. Serious question: Will the Wells Report be out by then? Colts 30, Patriots 17. Record: 2-3.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25, vs. New York Jets, 1 p.m.
The Jets will have played in London in Week 4, followed by their bye and a home game against Washington leading into the game. Here’s what we see in the crystal ball: His confidence rising after signing Darrelle Revis away from the Patriots, Jets owner Woody Johnson shares with reporters after the game that he was impressed with the way Patriots soon-to-be-free-agents Nate Solder, Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower looked and thinks they might be good fits in New York next year. Patriots 24, Jets 13. Record: 3-3.
Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 29, vs. Miami, 8:30 p.m.
The Dolphins will be coming off a home contest versus Houston entering this one, and Ndamukong Suh gets tired of chasing past and present Patriots quarterbacks when all is said and done. Patriots 31, Dolphins 21. Record: 4-3.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8, vs. Washington, 1 p.m.
Washington is coming off its bye, while the Patriots will have had a 10-day stretch after playing two games in five days against division foes. Last year, Robert Griffin III brought cupcakes to the media workroom for reporters during joint practices in Richmond, Virginia, in an attempt to curry favor. This year, he turns the tables and shows up in the press box before the game to enjoy some clam chowder. Patriots 38, Washington 10. Record: 5-3.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15, at New York Giants, 4:25 p.m.
The Giants will be home following back-to-back road games against the Saints and Buccaneers, and there is some immediate confusion when both teams start backup quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Nassib, thinking it’s the fourth preseason game instead. This one will then turn out to be much more competitive as the Giants look primed for a bounceback year. Giants 24, Patriots 23. Record: 5-4.
Week 11: Monday, Nov. 23, vs. Buffalo, 8:30 p.m.
The Bills will have a few extra days to prepare after playing a Thursday game the week before. This will be their first Monday night game since the 2009 opener against the Patriots, a 25-24 loss. This one will also be close, but Leodis McKelvin will fumble away a late kickoff return, the Patriots will recover, and score late for the victory. Why wouldn’t something like that happen? Patriots 25, Bills 24. Record: 6-4.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29, at Denver, 8:30 p.m.
The Broncos will be coming off a road game against the Bears. Meanwhile, this looks like a tough spot for the Patriots, a short week of preparation and then another prime-time game, this one on the road. The Patriots pull out all the stops, including having their long snapper hit the goalpost for a safety, but they are ultimately doomed when tight end Tim Wright chases down cornerback Aqib Talib on a 100-yard interception return, jars the ball free at the goal line for an apparent touchback, but replay is inconclusive and the Broncos get the ball at the 1 and score to pull away late. Broncos 27, Patriots 13. Record: 6-5.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 6, vs. Philadelphia, 4:25 p.m.
The Eagles will also have extra time to prepare after playing on Thanksgiving at Detroit the week before. ESPN Stats & Information notes that this will be Chip Kelly’s first game as a head coach back in New England since his days at New Hampshire, which is a neat storyline. Given the pace in which these two teams often play, it might feel more like the racetrack in Loudon, New Hampshire. Patriots 41, Eagles 38 (OT). Record: 7-5.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, at Houston, 4:25 p.m.
The Texans will be coming off a road game against the Bills and it will certainly be different seeing big No. 75 Vince Wilfork in the middle of that Houston defense. Knowing Mike Vrabel is on the opposite sideline as Houston linebackers coach, Bill Belichick is inspired to align the player sometimes compared to Vrabel -- defensive end Rob Ninkovich -- as a goal-line tight end as Tom Brady connects with him for the winning touchdown. Patriots 27, Texans 24. Record: 8-5.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20, vs. Titans, 1 p.m.
Second-year Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt was Arizona’s head coach in 2009 when the Cardinals came to town on Dec. 21 and didn’t have the proper footwear for snowy conditions and paid the price in a blowout loss. I just checked and the extended forecast for Dec. 20 and it calls for similar conditions -- weather-wise and on the scoreboard. Patriots 47, Titans 7. Record: 9-5.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 27, at Jets, 1 p.m.
The Jets will have one extra day to prepare, as a result of their Saturday road game against Dallas the week before. But more importantly, in an interview leading up to the game against New England, Jets owner Woody Johnson lets it be known that not only is he impressed with Nate Solder, Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, but he also thinks highly of linebacker Jamie Collins (free agent after 2016) and believes he might be a good fit with the Jets in a few years. Patriots 31, Jets 17. Record: 10-5.
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3, at Miami, 1 p.m.
The Dolphins finish their season the way the Bills open theirs -- with home games against the Colts and the Patriots. New England has to be on the road for the final two games with the Winter Classic being held at their home stadium. Random fact: In Bill Belichick’s tenure, the Patriots have hosted Miami in the season finale five times but have never finished a season in Miami. Don't forget to pack the sunscreen. The Patriots, as they often do, finish on a roll. Patriots 38, Dolphins 21. Record: 11-5.