Sizing up the Patriots schedule


Sizing up the Patriots schedule

If you haven't heard, the Patriots, at least on paper, have the NFL's easiest schedule this year. For example, their 2012 opponents had a combined .453 winning percentage in 2011. Only four of them (Texans, 49ers, Ravens and Titans) had more than eight wins.

The schedule looks so easy, in fact, that some folks around here are already dreaming of an undefeated season.

I won't go there yet, but I will take a closer look at the Pats 16 games, and offer up a few predictions:

Here we go:

Week 1: New England at Tennessee

History: The Titans moved to Tennessee from Houston in 1997, and since then theyre 1-5 against the Pats. New Englands won four straight in the series since 2003, including the last two by a combined score of 99-23. Although, its worth noting that Tennessees undefeated against the Pats under second-year coach Mike Munchak.

Question: Is Chris Johnson back?

If its all on Jake Locker to beat the Pats on Sunday, then the Pats will not be beat. Therefore, its up to the former CJ2K, aka CJ15carriesfor55yardsandnoTDs, to disrupt the Pats game plan and take the pressure off his rookie. Johnson was impressive in his one career game against the Pats, rushing for 128 yards on 17 carries. However, the performance was somewhat offset by the fact that his Titans lost the game 59-0.

Prediction: Chandler Jones picks up two sacks in his NFL debut, the second of which forces a fumble that seals the Pats 24-14 victory. On the replay, Phil Simms remarks: Ill tell you what, Jim Nantz. Jones really put Jake in the Hurt . . . Locker! followed by 15 seconds of whats best described as country club laughter.

Week 2: Arizona at New England

History: On September 29, 1991, quarterback Tom Tupa threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns in the Phoenix Cardinals 24-10 victory over Dick MacPhersons Pats. In the nearly 21 years since, the two franchises have played five times, and the Pats have won every time the last four games by a combined 128-22.

Question: Can the Pats stop Larry Fitzgerald?

If historys any indicator, then yes. In two career games against the Pats, the six-time Pro Bowler has a combined eight catches for 137 yards and a TD. (And its worth noting that 77 yards of that and the one TD came in the fourth quarter of a 47-7 loss when I believe Jonathan Kraft was in at cornerback). Although on the flip side, Fitzgeralds first game against the Pats was only the second game of his career.

Prediction: Fitzgerald finally gets the best of the Pats, to the tune of 11 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Final Score: Pats, 42-14.

Week 3: New England at Baltimore

History: On October 9, 1983, the Pats dropped a 12-7 decision to the Baltimore Colts. It was a crushing defeat, but more importantly, it marks the last time that New England has lost a regular season game to Baltimore. Thats right, theyre 6-0 against the Ravens since the recently-late Art Modell snatched them up from Cleveland.

Question: Can we get a Ray Rice repeat?

Slightly lost in the commotion over last years AFC Championship, Sterling Moores deflectionLee Evans drop and Billy Cundiffs missed chip shot, is the fact that the Pats completely neutralized Rice (21 carries for 67 yardsone catch for 11 yards). Thank God Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady that day or the Ravens really would have been screwed.

Prediction: Its a game filled of heartbreak (Bernard Pollard will end at least two Patriots seasons) and controversy (Terrell Suggs will be arrested at halftime when hes caught stealing a pair of used underwear from Tom Bradys locker). But ultimately, New England will prevail. Final Score: 23-20.

Week 4: New England at Buffalo

History: Since Week 1 of the 2004 season (aka Bledsoes Revenge) the Pats are 16-1 against the Bills, with the only loss coming at home in Week 2 of last season. Although, in Buffalos defense . . . nah, theres no defense.

Question: Are the Bills finally for real?

Well know much more by the time Week 4 rolls around granted their at Jets, vs. KC, at Cleveland schedule isnt very daunting but for now, this road game in Buffalo looks to be the Pats most challenging division game of the year.

Prediction: Mario Williams picks up two sacks, the second of which forces a fumble that seals the Bills 31-27 victory. On the replay, Dan Dierdorf remarks: Ill tell you what, Greg Gumbel. Jones really put Tom in the Hurt . . . Locker! followed by 15 seconds of whats best described as awkward silence. Says Dierdorf afterwards: What the hell? It worked for Simms.

Week 5: Denver at New England

History: The last time Peyton Manning played against the Pats? That would be November 21, 2010, in a 31-27 loss at Gillette Stadium. No. 18 threw for 396 yards , four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Quick quiz: I will pay the equivalent of Mannings Broncos signing bonus to anyone who can name the three receivers Peyton connected with in the end zone

Answer: Reggie Wayne, Blair White and the immortal Gijon Robinson.

(It was the first and only score of Honey Gijons career.)

Question: Does Peyton still have it?

At this point, Im definitely a Peyton doubter. Then again, most of that doubt stems from a conversation I had with a chiropractor. Hes a friend of mine who claims that Peytons neck issues are going to mess with his circulation, screw with his grip on the ball and reek all sort of havoc on his accuracy. Perhaps thats not the most scientific explanation, but it made a lot of sense in the moment, and leaves me with tempered expectations for Manning in Denver.

Of course, everythings relative. Im not saying that hell be the second coming of Bubby Brister. But his days as a Top 5 NFL quarterback are long gone.

Prediction: Manning continues historic resurgence with a 350 yards and three touchdown performance, as I scramble to track down and edit everything Ive written on this page. On the bright side, the Pats still win the game, 34-24, thanks in large part to Bill Belichick having Von Miller detained at T.F. Green Airport.

Week 6: New England at Seattle

History: The Pats have only played Seattle twice since 1993, and came out on top in both games. Before that, New England had lost five straight to Seattle (dating back to the days of Raymond Berry and Chuck Knoll) but still leads the all-time series 8-7. Also, Seattle is located in the Pacific Northwest.

Question: Are we ready for Russell Wilson?

We better be. The kid's Doug Flutie 2.0.

not sure if he also still brings his glove to baseball games.

Prediction: In the postgame locker room, a jubilant Pete Carroll greets every Seahawks player with an explosive high five, an authoritative butt slap and a smile. Im so proud of you, Carroll says. That was just so much fun out there today! Final score: Pats 34, Seahawks 16.

Week 7: N.Y. Jets at New England

History: You want tight? The Pats lead the all-time series with the Jets: 53-52-1. You want tighter? Picture Rex Ryan in a body stocking. (Damn, that worked much better pre-weight loss. And we're way past funny on feet jokes. Come on, Rex. Help us out.)

Question: Who will be the Jets quarterback?

If its not Tim Tebow, then hes either injured or the world has exploded. You really think that Sanchez will survive games against Pittsburgh, Houston and San Francisco? No way. The Jets will lose, the controversy overflow and they'll have to give Tebow a shot. If not by now, then right now.

The Prediction: "It's games like this that make me realize just how close we really are to getting back to the playoffs and winning the whole damn thing." - Rex Ryan, after New York's 30-13 loss.

Week 8: New England vs. St. Louis (in London)

History: On November 18, 2001, the Pats hosted the Rams on Sunday Night Football, and lost a tough 24-17 decision. However, they wouldn't lose another game all season, and haven't lost to the Rams again since. The Pats lead the all-time series against ClevelandLASt. Louis Rams 6-5.

Question: Can Steven Jackson get some love?

Back in 2004, Jackson was drafted by a very promising Rams franchise, had the opportunity to learn under Marshall Faulk and made the playoffs as a rookie. In the seven years since? Nada. The Rams have finished 6-10, 8-8, 3-13, 2-14, 1-15, 7-9 and 2-14. They're also on their sixth head coach. Meanwhile, Jackson's been there all along, getting his ass-kicked in anonymity. He turns 30 next summer. How about one more trip to the playoffs before he's got nothing left?

Prediction: Yo soy a spot of tea. Rob Gronkowski goes global with an eight-catch144-yardthree-touchdown performance in the Pats 35-7 victory. Asked how he plans to celebrate, Gronk replies: "Thinking about tryin' to get into that Pippa chick."

Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Buffalo at New England

More History: The Pats lost nine straight games to Buffalo between 1971-75. They lost 11 of 13 from 1988-1994. Still, they lead the all-time series 62-41-1.

Another question: Which way will Stevie Johnson go?

He's perpetually teetering on the edge of stardom and diva disaster, but now that he's got his money it has to go one way or the other. If he doesn't perform, no one will have patience. And if that's the case, Johnson seems more likely to blame God than keep his act together.

Prediction: No way the Pats gets swept by Buffalo. Pats 35, Bills 0.

Week 11: Indianapolis at New England
History: Peyton Manning made his Foxboro debut on September 13, 1998, in a 29-6 loss. On November 18, 2012, a new era of Colts football arrives at Gillette. In all, and this includes the year Manning missed and the year Brady missed, the Pats were 13-7 against Indianapolis in the Manning Era. 3-1 in the playoffs.

Question: How long will it take?

Peyton took the Colts from 3-13 his rookie season to 13-3 in year two. Then again, Peyton had Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James and Bill Polian leading the charge. All Andrew Luck has is his college tight end and the sweet sounds of John Cougar Mellencamp blasting from his owner's suite.

Prediction: Luck has a respectable first date with Bill Belichick, throwing for 230 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. But Tom Brady shows the rookie who's the boss with 350 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in the Pats 42-17 win. After the game, Tony Dungy tells a national audience: "You know, I think Luck is ready to take the torch from Brady right now." Followed by Rodney Harrison snapping and punching Dungy in the face.

Week 12: New England at N.Y. Jets

More History: As you know, Brady first arrived on the scene against the Jets on September 23, 2001. The Pats lost that game 10-3, but since then Brady's gone 17-5 against the Jets. He's also never lost consecutive games in the rivalry.

Another Question: Is this it for Rex?

Yup. He's under contract through 2014, but he's coaching for his job. Especially since, with the way things are set up with this team, it's either going to go very well or unspeakably bad. I know where my money is.

Prediction: "First of all, I'd just like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ." - Tim Tebow, during his post game press conference. "Hey, no problem, buddy." - Tom Brady, walking by after his 400 yards, four touchdown performance. Final Score: Pats 35, Jets 21.

Week 13: New England at Miami

History: On October 7, 2001, Tom Brady took the field in Miami for the second start of his NFL career. He walked off a 30-10 loser, and his numbers were indicative of the score: 12-24 for 86 yards. But since that beating, the Pats are 15-6 against the Dolphins. (Although, four of the six losses have come in South Beach).

Question: What gives?

We have to wait 13 weeks for a game against Miami? Never thought Id see the year when the Celtics would the play the Heat before the Patriots played the Dolphins. (Just kidding, Ive never considered that scenario before in my life)

Prediction: Before the game, a confident Ryan Tannehill informs reporters that theyre about to witness: The biggest upset in the NFC South history. Final Score: Pats win, 29-13.

Week 14: Houston at New England

History: This will be the fourth ever meeting between the two teams. The Pats currently lead the series 2-1. Houston's one win came on January 3, 2010, in a game that didn't matter except that it cost the Pats Wes Welker and ruined their season. No big deal.

Question: Who's still standing?

You know that Arian Foster and Andre Johnson are good to miss at least a few games this season. Put Matt Schaub down for a handful, as well. And when you consider that there's a good chance the Texans will run away with the South even faster than the Pats close out the East, you have to wonder who will be suiting up for Houston.

Prediction: I'm going to say that they all suit up, and the Pats lose in a shoot-out, 37-34. "The Texans are the team to beat!" screams everyone in the world, as Belichick laughs maniacally in his office. "Yes. YEESSS! It's all going to plan."

Week 15: San Francisco at New England

History: The last time New England lost to the San Francisco was September 17, 1995. So long ago that the Pats kicker on that afternoon, was Matt Bahr . . . whos now 56 years old. The Pats have won the three meetings since, but are still only 4-7 all-time against the 49ers.

On that note, how weird is it that the Pats and 49ers have only played 11 times throughout their entire history? I mean, I get that theyre in the NFC and all, but the Cowboys are in the NFC too and theyve played the Pats . . . 11 times. Damn it.

Question: Are the Niners built to last?

It depends how much you believe in Alex Smith. While on one hand, he looked like the real deal during last year's fantastic run (especially in that playoff win over New Orleans). At the same time, it was interesting how willing Jim Harbaugh was to throw Smith on the junk pile when Peyton Manning became available.

How much can you believe in a guy if you'd rather send him packing in favor of taking a chance on a 36-year-old quarterback fresh off multiple career-threatening neck surgeries?

Prediction: I smell a big game for Randy Moss! Too bad hell be playing for Arena Leagues SanJose SaberCats. Prediction: Pats, 21-14.

Week 16: New England at Jacksonville

History: The Jaguars beat New England in the first round of the 1998 playoffs, but thats their only win against the Pats in nine tries. Because of math, that means Jacksonville (much like the Ravens) has never beaten New England in the regular season. You also know that this is very unlikely to change in Week 16.

Question: But what if no one plays?

Week 16, right? Theres a pretty good chance that the Pats are in a position to rest some players, meanwhile the Jaguars have a first year coach, a second-year quarterback and a rookie wide receiver who will be treating every game like its the Super Bowl.

Prediction: With the division wrapped up and a first-round bye locked down, Bill Belichick rests his starters and lets the second-unit challenge the Jags. Final score: Pats 17, Jaguars 7.

Week 17: Miami at New England

More History: This will be the 95th all-time meeting between the two teams. Miami currently leads the series 50-43.

Another Question: How cruelinsane is it to hand the keys to a rookie quarterback when you don't have any receivers?

Starting Tannehill might be the greatest mismanagement of a rookie since the Wizards left Kwame Brown alone with Michael Jordan.

Prediction: "Yeah, yeah. Whatever. I was obviously joking last time. Everyone knows that the Pats left the NFC in 1995." - Ryan Tannehill. Final Score: Dolphins 21, Pats Scrubs 17.

Final record: 13-3

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Evaluating a Gronk-less offense


Evaluating a Gronk-less offense

Episode 13 - "The Ex-Pats Podcast"

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Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen look back at a solid Patriots win against a bad team in the Los Angeles Rams. The guys were trying to figure out exactly what L.A.'s gameplan was going in.

The linebacker rotation seems to be more consistent a few weeks after the Jamie Collins trade. How much of an impact will the loss of Rob Gronkowski have on offense? Malcolm Mitchell continues to impress, but 3rd down was a problem.

Finally, we look ahead to Monday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens, who have been playing well and are never intimidated coming into Gillette Stadium.

Would Brady's training regimen help Gronkowski avoid injury?


Would Brady's training regimen help Gronkowski avoid injury?

There are times during Tom Brady's Monday morning interviews with WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show when he feels like opening up about some of the things that have helped him stay on the field as long as he has. In those moments, when his passion for nutrition and position-specific training comes through, he provides insight into an approach that he says he has tried to share with others. 

On this particular Monday, Brady was asked if one of his teammates might benefit from a similar focus on hydration and muscle pliability.

Rob Gronkowski has been the best tight end in football for several years due in part to his size and strength, but he had season-ending back surgery on Friday, making this the third year that he will finish on injured reserve since 2012.

"I think it’s always up to the individual," Brady said when asked if it would help Gronkowski to work more with Brady's body coach Alex Guerrero. "He’s dealt with certain things that are almost impossible to avoid on the football field. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. For me, I try and do all the things I can do to avoid as many things as possible and be as proactive as possible so that I can try to be out there every week. I believe that if you have a great foundation, it ends up being a lot harder to get hurt. That’s kind of where I focus my time and energy over the course of the week so that . . . you know you’re going to get hit, you know you’re going to sustain these impacts, and how can your body be prepared to withstand those things?

"I've definitely gone about it a different way than probably 99 percent of the people that have played in the NFL. And I have a lot of belief and conviction how I feel, and I try to instill that in the guys that I am with, but some guys definitely understand it, and work hard at it, and want to do the right thing. Sometimes when you’re young you don’t feel anything, so why do I need to put time and energy into something that I really don’t feel is a problem?

"It probably took for me to be 30 years old to really understand, ‘Wow I really notice a difference.’ I noticed it a little younger than that, but not on a really catastrophic scale. Guys are working hard at feeling as best they can. I think that is important. Every step of the way, every year you try and improve on different things."

Gronkowski has openly discussed that he likes to have fun off of the field, but he has also insisted that he understands when it is time to put in the work to prepare for an upcoming season. He spent part of last offseason training at Jay Glazer's Unbreakable Performance Center -- the same gym where fellow Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett worked out -- where improving mobility and flexibility are part of the regimen along with building strength, speed, power and explosiveness.

But might Gronkowski find himself avoiding some of the injuries he's experienced if he focused more of his time on pliability? Brady didn't want to take the conversation in that direction, acknowledging that Gronkowski works hard on staying in shape, but he did say that in his opinion there isn't enough focus on flexibility in athletics in general.

"I mean Gronk is so hard working, and Gronk has spent a lot of time with Alex at different points," Brady said. "Gronk has his rehab and he’s going to do it, and I have no doubt he’s going to come back stronger and better than ever. All of us learn every year about things that work and don’t work. And it’s really up to the individual. Gronk, it depends what all the . . . I don’t want to single out Gronk because he’s the only one that's injured. There's a lot of players that get injured over the course of the year, and then you go about changes in your routine because you think this may work and this may not work.

"To me, I feel like it’s very touch-and-feel with how you do take care of your body. Some weeks it is a little more strengthening. Some weeks it’s a little more conditioning. Some weeks it’s a little more pliability depending on how your body feels. I don’t think people spend enough time on pliability at all. I think that is the missing third leg to what athletes in high school should be learning and college athletes. We learn at a young age it’s all about strengthening and conditioning. And strengthening at the expense of pliability, to me, gets you injured. If you’re injured you can’t play. If your body is your asset and you’re injured, you’re not going to have much of a career for any athlete. Every team is trying to incorporate the things they see and they feel and they want to do a better job of. I think, I feel like that is part of what I want to teach people is how I've done it."

Brady said he has had conversations with Gronkowski about his training and that Gronkowski has been "committed." But one wonders if there's any more that a physically-gifted 27-year-old with a long injury history can learn from a 39-year-old who has withstood physical ailments over the course of his career and still seems to improve with age.

Brady admitted that the physical needs for a player at his position are different than the ones for someone who plays tight end and is expected to execute blocks or break tackles. Going with longer, softer muscles may not work when you have to block down on a 320-pound defensive tackle.

"It’s great to have that. It’s great to be a very strong physical person," he said. "That definitely helps you in your field, especially whatever your job is. For me, strengthening is really just to withstand the hits. I don't need . . . You guys saw me block last week, I don’t really strength train so I can go block people. It requires a different level of strength for certain positions, and a lot of people need to put a lot of strength for their positions.

"Whether it's baseball players or hockey players . . . so much of what you guys have seen me do is try to replicate playing quarterback when I work out. Over the offseason I work on my drops and my mechanics so that I can be the best quarterback. Those functional exercises are what's important for me. I don't want to do anything that's going to throw my timing off, and my throwing mechanics, by slowing down or densening certain parts of my body -- my hips or my core -- I need to be really pliable so I can maintain the timing and mechanics of my throwing motion so that I can throw the ball accurately because ultimately that's what my job is." 

Brady added: "You can't help the team if you're not out there. Different positions require different levels of strength and conditioning. I think that the key to sustaining the impacts is having your muscles pliable and that's soft and long and the ability to absorb the hits and really balance. That’s what I focus on. I’ve spent a lot of time with Alex keeping my muscles long and soft. Along with that goes the nutrition and feeling my inflammation rates down and keeping my muscles really hydrated. You go on these cross-country flights and you do a lot of things to dehydrate you. I stay very hydrated so it’s a combination of things that I feel put me in a great position to take those hits. Again, there are some that you can’t avoid and that is part of football. The ones I feel that you can avoid, those are the ones I want to avoid, and I think that's how I have stayed out there as long as I have."

The work he has put in with Guerrero, the changes to his diet, the commitment to rest and recovery -- it doesn't feel like a sacrifice to him, Brady went on.

Take Saturday's celebration of the 2001 Patriots that team owner Robert Kraft threw, for example. It sounded like the kind of thing any player would have built their schedule around, but Brady could only check in briefly before getting to bed. 

"I think there will be a time to sit back and reflect and enjoy those experiences," he said. "I take them for what they are . . . It's important for me to get my rest. It was nice to see a lot of the guys that I played with, but I couldn’t stay that long because my meetings finished at 8:30 at night, and I wanted to stop in because it’s important for me to see those guys. And Mr. Kraft, he put on a great event and I wanted to just make sure I was supportive of that. But I wanted to get home and to get to bed. Then to get up the next day and to be focused on the game, that’s where my energy was at.

"It’s not a sacrifice because I love it. At the end of the day I love what I do. I love the experiences that I’ve had. That is what I enjoy. I always feel my motivation is that I could have, should have done better.

"After every game that is what I think. 'God, I could have done this. I should have done this.' I think it’s a little maniacal because you do and you deal with so much stuff, sometimes the games, there’s a lot of imperfection in football, and there’s a lot of imperfection of what you do out there, especially when you’re making split-second decisions. It’s gratifying to come out of a game and go, 'Man, that was pretty good game.' And that’s happened, definitely. That is what you’re always trying to strive for. For me, I just want to try and put myself in that position every week to be the best I can be for my team."

As Brady said, some of the things Gronkowski has dealt with have been unavoidable. But one has to wonder, given everything he's been through, if he might not consider a real change in how he takes care of his body -- his "asset," as Brady put it -- in order to more consistently put himself in position every week to be the best he can be for himself and his team.