In a change from the last two decades, very few people think the Pats have a chance to win the AFC East. However, this is the NFL, and there is always a chance.
This year, the AFC East is formidable with the Super Bowl favorite Bills, who have added future Hall of Famer Von Miller to an already stacked roster.
In addition to a Dolphins team that went 8-1 in their last nine games and added one of the best receivers in the NFL in Tyreek Hill and three-time Pro Bowler Terron Armstead.
Even the Jets had a reputable offseason with an outstanding draft. However, despite our poor offseason, we aren’t hopeless, and I think 12-5 would win it for us (which is not out of the realm of possibility if Mac Jones improves in Year Two).
Today’s article focuses on what we need to do against certain groups of teams (games against weaker opponents, division games, games against the Bills, etc.).
The Road to 12-5
Week One Victory
The Pats have to start with a win in Miami against the Dolphins. Hard Rock Stadium is our house of horrors, but the team honestly has to start the season with a win in Miami. On the bright side, Miami did start 1-7 before their scorching finish to the season, and they also have to break Tyreek Hill into the offense.
Goal Record: 1-0
Take Four Of Six On The Great Northern Tour
We have six straight games against the two North divisions. Our first is another nearly must-win on the road against the Steelers in what will be Kenny Pickett’s (assuming he wins the job) second NFL start. Belichick is 22-6 career against rookie QBs as Patriots coach, and he needs to make in 23-6 if we want to get to 12-5.
Then we have two complex games, at home against the Ravens and on the road against the Packers. If we lose both, we need to beat the Lions at home, the Browns in Cleveland, and the Bears. That would get the team to 4-2 in this stretch.
The Lions will be a much-improved team, but it is a game we almost have to win. However, beating the Browns may be made easier depending on the Deshaun Watson situation. It would be the Brown’s sixth game of the season.
The Bears will likely be one of the worst teams in football, and a loss to them would likely derail our whole season (not just our AFC East hopes) both in terms of getting enough wins and in terms of momentum and confidence.
Goal Record: 5-2
Undefeated Surrounding The Bye
The two games before our Week Ten bye and two after are crucial. We almost certainly need to win at least three of these games if we want any cushion to help us manage our closing schedule. These four games will be at Met Life against the Jets and the Colts at home before our bye.
After the bye, New England has the Jets again this time at Gillette then at home and the Vikings on Thanksgiving Night in Minnesota. The Jets seem overhyped despite their admittedly strong offseason, the Pats need to win both against the Jets.
In this situation the Patriots need to at least a split against the Colts and Vikings, which is very doable as both teams should be solid but not Super Bowl contenders.
Goal Record: 8-3
Can’t Lose More Than Two vs the Fearsome Five
Tough road down the stretch for the Patriots. Six straight games to close the season against teams with winning records in 2021. I will go into our last game of the season in much more detail. The Pats face Buffalo at Gillette on Thursday Night Football. The next week they play the Cardinals in Arizona on Monday Night Football, this is the start to their west coast trip.
Continuing the Primtime streak the team must travel to Las Vegas to play the New look Raiders and Josh McDaniels on Sunday Night Football. Another holiday matchup against the Bengals on Christmas Eve (which is a Saturday), and the Dolphins at home on New Year’s Day.
Making all of this even tougher, we do not have the rest advantage in either of our post-Thursday Night Football games. The Bills play Thanksgiving as well against the Lions, and the Cardinals have a bye before our game against them.
The “easier” games will be against the Cardinals, Raiders, and Dolphins, and we almost have to take at least two of those. The Raiders and Cardinals could be frayed by their brutal schedules, the most critical game of these three is against the Dolphins.
That win would be beneficial if this was one of the two (hopefully three) wins in this stretch as this would give us momentum before our season finale and would help with our division record tie-breaker. This will be hard due to previous issues playing Miami later year.
The two most demanding games in this stretch will be against the Bills and the Bengals. We likely have to win at least one of these games. Although this will not be easy. (which is why winning all three against Miami, Vegas, and Arizona in this stretch would be a big help for us).
Goal Record: 11-5
Beat the Bills in Week 18
If we are 11-5 through our first 16 games, the season finale in Buffalo should be a de-facto AFC East Championship Game, especially if we beat the Bills in our first meeting. Arguably our most challenging game of the season, and I hope it is our most important.
Maybe we could get some insane snow and wind like last season (even worse weather would help us out in an even bigger way) to help us in our quest to slow down Josh Allen and win the AFC East.
Goal Record: 12-5
Beating the Bills at least once is almost a necessity. I can’t see how we can win the division without beating the Bills at least once, especially if we finish at 11-6 or 10-7 (even 12-5, it seems unlikely we would win the division without beating Buffalo).
We don’t have many games against teams that likely won’t be playoff contenders. I feel the only teams on our schedule that have less than a 20% shot at the postseason are the Jets (twice), Lions, and Bears. So winning all four of those games will be almost a necessity to get to 12-5.
We have an extremely tough end of the season,, so a 2-4 start like last season would end our AFC East hopes and almost certainly our wild card hopes.
It will be challenging but not out of the realm of possibility for us to get the 12-5 record it will likely take to win the AFC East.
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