Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pats should roll through remaining schedule

Before the start of the 2011 season, the second half of the New England Patriots’ schedule looked pretty tough.

Following their Week 7 bye, the Patriots headed to Heinz Field for a battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers (which the Pats lost, 25-17), then had another tough matchup against the New York Giants a week later (which the Pats also lost, 24-20).

After that, New England had to travel to New Jersey to take on the New York Jets for the second time in five weeks. The Patriots then avoided their first three-game skid since 2002 with a message-sending 37-16 victory over Gang Green Sunday night.

Suddenly, now in the middle of a rollercoaster season, the latter half of the Patriots’ schedule doesn’t look nearly as intimidating as it did on paper before Week 1.

An easy stretch

Next up is the Kansas City Chiefs, who have had flashes of success since hiring former Patriots personnel guru Scott Pioli to oversee the team, along with former Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley as head coach. And, with starting quarterback (and former Patriot) Matt Cassell likely to miss the game, Week 11 seems a lot less challenging for New England, who will host the Chiefs.

Week 12 looks a whole lot less challenging, too. Before the season started, most fans thought the Eagles were a sure bet for a playoff berth, if not a Super Bowl shot. How times have changed. With the Giants in sole possession of the NFC East, the Eagles find themselves treading water just to stay alive. Star wide receiver DeSean Jackson was deactivated before last week’s game for missing a team meeting, and quarterback Michael Vick has “a couple broken ribs,” according to coach Andy Reid. The only help the Birds get that week is home-field advantage.

For Week 13, the Patriots welcome the Indianapolis Colts to Foxborough. What is usually one of the most anticipated games of the year is hardly going to be a contest. And the NFL knows that. That’s why the league already dropped the game from its Sunday Night Football telecast and moved it to the 1 p.m. time slot. The Colts haven’t won a game all year without injured quarterback Peyton Manning, and, honestly, they haven’t been close.

The following week, the Patriots head to FedEx Field to take on the Washington Redskins -- another team with a QB problem, among many other things. The ‘Skins just lost their fifth straight game to the then one-win Miami Dolphins. Sounds like another game the Brady Bunch shouldn’t have much trouble with.

Week 15 may pose the biggest threat of the remaining regular season games. Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has morale roaring, and it’s never an easy trip heading out West and playing at Mile High.

Divisional finish

The Patriots end the season with two divisional games against the Dolphins and Buffalo Bills in Week 16 and 17, respectively. Regardless of how bad an opponent may be, AFC East divisional games are rarely taken lightly.

The Bills are the only team in the AFC East to beat the Pats this year, and the Dolphins will be ready. Luckily for New England, both of those games are at Gillette Stadium, and the team will be in a playoff mindset, knowing that how it performs at the end of the regular season will roll over into the playoffs.

Follow Sam @SammySports