Originally posted on Patriots Extra  |  Last updated 9/9/12

Stephen:  Based on their easy schedule and the improvements on defense, I expect the Patriots to go 14-2 during the regular season. I know it's not always fair to judge a strength of schedule based on last year's record, but I still think the Pats are set up for a deep playoff run with the opponents on the docket. During the first eight weeks, the only game they should conceivably struggle with will be against the Baltimore Ravens. Other than that, the only two games that could result in losses would be the back-to-back matchups against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers. 

Personnel-wise, I think the Patriots are loaded on offense and should be even better than last year. Aaron Hernandez will be a Pro Bowler, and Gronk, Welker and Lloyd should continue to put up big numbers. On defense, the front seven should be more athletic and aggressive. The secondary would benefit from a turnaround season from Devin McCourty and continued health from Ras-I Dowling and Pat Chung. Overall, I think the Pats should beat up on a rather pedestrian AFC, although the Texans are a force to be reckoned with come playoff time.   Jason:  Just going game by game, it's not hard to see a path to a magical 15-1 or 16-0 regular season. That's a huge statement, but given the plush schedule, it's not out of the question. However, we also can't ignore the fact that the Pats are dangerously thin on the offensive line, and that defense is still a big question mark. I'd peg their record right around 12-4. The Pats always seem to lose one or two head-scratchers every year, and the Baltimore, Houston and San Francisco games are absolutely brutal based on each team's strengths and weaknesses.   Rick:  I have the Patriots finishing 13-3 this year. I think the defense will be much improved, especially with Chandler Jones rushing the passer. Belichick improved the defense a ton in the offseason and kept the core guys like Hernandez and Gronkowski in place. I think Brady has another near MVP year and the Pats win the AFC East. However, not having Matt Light and Brian Waters on that offensive line scares me enough to the point where I have New England losing in the AFC Championship Game to a team like the Ravens who have handled Brady in the past and if it wasn't for a missed field goal and a dropped touchdown pass, it would have happened last year.   Derek:  The Patriots finished 13-3 last season, which could actually be considered a "disappoinment" by New England's lofty standards.  Still, they were a healthy Gronkowski away from capturing the Lombardi last season.  Now Bill Belichick has had a full-offseason to tweak and retool his roster, and I for one, am extremely optimistic about the Patriots' chances in 2012.   Should the passing attack be even more potent?  Yes.   Should the running game be more explosive?  Yes.  Should the much-maligned defense be substantially better?  Yes.    Honestly, the only questionmark that nags at me heading into the season is the O-line.  Even then, this "nagging" issue has names like Mankins, Vollmer, Connolly, and Solder strung along it, and in reality should be just fine.  In my series of articles where I broke down the schedule game-by-game, I had the Pats going 14-2 with losses to Baltimore in Week 3, and a throw-away game in Week 17 to the Phins.  I will stick with that record to maintain any shred of credibility as somebody without over-the-top bias for his favorite team.  That being said, if the Patriots are 3-0 coming out of Baltimore, then watch out.  They will have a veritable run of "cream puff" games from then until Week 14 when the Texans come to town.  The Patriots may very well continue to build momentum, and build it, and build it, and be at 12-0 heading into that game.  And when Belichick and Brady are that close to recapturing their shot at immortality...    If they can get that game in Baltimore, the table may very well be set for 16-0.
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