The year-round NFL media cycle continued Wednesday with the official release of the 2021-22 team schedules. Though we’ve known next year’s Patriots’ opponents since January, the schedule release hypes us up for primetime matchups, make-or-break streaks of tough opponents, and planning NFL-centered vacations. Of course it also lets us make absurdly early predictions for how the season will unfold. Let’s dive into these predictions and the narratives swirling around each game.
Week 1 – Sunday 9/12, 4:25 – Miami Dolphins
The Pats open at home against the division rival that ended their playoff hopes last year. Unfortunately I don’t see revenge coming today as Brian Flores’ squad has only improved since then. They added WRs Will Fuller and rookie Jaylen Waddle to last year’s depleted passing attack, and former Patriots Jason McCourty, Adam Butler, and Justin Coleman to a well-coached defense. On the flip side, the Pats boast their own brand-new receiving corps and bring back linchpin LBs Dont’a Hightower (COVID opt-out) and Kyle Van Noy (1-year sabbatical in Miami). But with so many new faces and a still-uncertain QB situation, the Pats face a tough test in Week 1 against Belichick’s most promising disciple. Fun fact: Hometown boys Hunter Long and Larnel Coleman, from BC and UMass respectively, could make their NFL debuts in Foxborough after being drafted by Miami. Prediction: L
Week 2 – Sunday 9/19, 1:00 – @New York Jets
And then there’s the Jets. Sure, they finally have a competent head coach in Robert Saleh and a(nother) hyped young QB in Zach Wilson. But Belichick eats rookie QBs for lunch, and Wilson’s “nervous 16-year-old on Rumspringa” vibes don’t bode well for his second career NFL start. The Jets give Wilson a better chance to succeed after drafting top-15 offensive linemen in each of the last two years, but they still have a long rebuild ahead. Until we see differently, expect another lopsided affair in the Pats’ favor. Prediction: W
Week 3 – Sunday 9/26, 1:00 – New Orleans Saints
Quite the dropoff from Brady vs. Brees to washed-up Cam Newton vs. Jameis Winston, the founding member of the hilarious 30-30 club. But the Saints still have a deep, explosive roster and Sean Payton is one of the few in-game coaches who can go toe-to-toe with Belichick. I also don’t see the Pats containing Alvin Kamara even with fewer weapons to worry about from last year. If you’re a gambler, hammer the over for total points, Patriots defensive touchdowns, and total gadget plays. Prediction: L
Week 4 – Sunday 10/3, 8:20 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We’re really doing this, huh? Tom Brady returns to Gillette with a shiny new ring, having emphatically answered the “Brady or Belichick?” debate in his first year outside New England. He brings with him the entire defending championship team – all 22 starters, both coordinators, and the head coach. He’s added the Patriots to the psychotically enormous chip on his shoulder after they thought he was too old to compete beyond age 42 (Haha! Idiots!).
This is the most hyped Patriots regular-season game since the final week of the 17-0 2007 season. The “I’m coming home” montage for Brady should just start at 9:00 AM and run until kickoff. It’s the only primetime game in New England this season and will likely be one of the highest-rated regular season games all year. And the world gets to watch Handsome Tom drop 6 touchdowns on the heads of the fans who still love him, many of whom will probably be cheering for him in the stands. I’m gonna go alternate crying and throwing up now. Prediction: L
Week 5 – Sunday 10/10, 1:00 – @Houston Texans
On the exact opposite end of the spectrum from the Bucs, the Texans’ dysfunction has reached comical levels. Coming off consecutive division titles and holding a 24-0 lead in the AFC Divisional Game in January 2020, Houston has slogged through a year of such mismanagement and misfortune that the inevitable 30 for 30 is writing itself. Put it this way – even if franchise QB Deshaun Watson is cleared of all wrongdoing AND decides to stay in Houston, this team went 4-12 last year with him playing at an MVP level. …What’s that? One of those wins was against the Patriots?! Well that’s embarrassing.
But since then the Texans have lost JJ Watt, Will Fuller, and Brandin Cooks (and likely Watson), had zero draft picks in the first two rounds, and somehow downgraded their head coach. The Patriots have upgraded most positions across the board. Pro tip: with the long Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day weekend, it’s a great excuse to explore the vast cultural center that is Houston and score the cheapest tickets of the season. Prediction: W
Week 6 – Sunday 10/17, 4:25 – Dallas Cowboys
With the new 17-game schedule, the Pats pick up an extra home game against The Franchise Formerly Known as America’s Team. Dak Prescott returns unburdened by his contract situation after last year’s broken ankle showed Jerry Jones just how desperately this team needs him. The Cowboys still boast a top-tier offensive line and exciting playmakers in Zeke, Amari Cooper, and CeeDee Lamb. But they missed out on drafting the top two cornerbacks they wanted to bolster their atrocious defense. Despite landing their backup choices LB Micah Parsons and second-round CB Kelvin Joseph, this should be a shootout that ends in the Pats’ favor after the previous week’s cakewalk. Also, Mike McCarthy stinks. Prediction: W
Week 7 – Sunday 10/24, 1:00 – New York Jets
Not much should change from Week 2. But depending on Mac Jones’ development and how Cam Newton looks after six weeks, this could be the first McCorkle vs. Kapono matchup, a rivalry both teams hope will continue for the next decade and beyond. Even if this is Mac’s first career start and he looks predictably shaky, the Pats should win easily. Prediction: W
Week 8 – Sunday, 10/31, 4:05 – @Los Angeles Chargers
The premier game for Patriots fans looking to travel this year, especially if (like me) you’re sour from last year’s ruined plans to spend a week in LA for the Chargers and Rams games. Halloween among the glitz and glamor of Hollywood! Experience the brand new SoFi Stadium, home of this year’s Super Bowl! Maybe Ben Affleck and J. Lo will be there! And it should be a hell of a game as the Chargers are gaining steam as a dark horse to make a deep playoff run after crushing this offseason.
To protect QB Justin Herbert after his record-setting Rookie of the Year campaign, LA signed the best center in football, Corey Linsley, and drafted tackle Rashawn Slater at #13. They hired a young stud head coach in Brandon Staley, the architect of last year’s top-ranked Rams defense, and Sean Payton disciple Joe Lombardi to run the offense. They locked up perennial Defensive POY candidate Joey Bosa long-term to anchor a defense that returns All-Pro safety Derwin James, who missed last year to injury.
All that being said, the Chargers are infamous for losing games in excruciating fashion despite piles of talent. Oh yeah, and the Patriots DEMOLISHED them in LA last year, 45-0. It’ll be much closer this year but until Herbert and Staley fully prove their chops, I’m taking Belichick and his new squad over the young QB-coach tandem. Prediction: W (Unless the Chargers wear their powder blues – instant game changer.)
Week 9 – Sunday 11/7, 1:00 – @Carolina Panthers
A Charlotte homecoming for the greatest Panther in franchise history. We’ll see if Cam is still the starting QB by this point – if so, either he’s having a great bounceback season with his new weapons or Mac Jones isn’t ready yet. Regardless, expect a massive ovation for the guy who almost singlehandedly turned their franchise around a decade ago. The Panthers are putting all their eggs in the Sam Darnold basket this year but this won’t be the same guy who was seeing ghosts last time he played the Pats.
He’s now under the tutelage of HC Matt Rhule and OC Joe Brady and has more weapons than ever, including the return of all-everything RB Christian McCaffrey. But the Panthers defense is middling (Luke Kuechly ain’t walking through that door) and even coming off a West Coast trip, the Pats are a better overall team. Plus this is the time of year the Pats usually start clicking as a cohesive team and reel off a few impressive wins. For those who don’t make it to LA, this would be another great trip – Charlotte and nearby Raleigh are among the most exciting, fastest-growing cities in the US. Prediction: W
Week 10 – Sunday 11/14, 1:00 – Cleveland Browns
Now we kick off the toughest 4-game stretch of the year. The Pats have an unlucky draw in the Browns who finished third last year despite an 11-5 record, then rolled the Steelers in the Wild Card game before almost beating the Mahomes-less Chiefs. And that was without Odell Beckham, Jr. who missed most of the season with a torn ACL. Add OBJ to one of the best running games in football, plus contract year Baker Mayfield under the much-needed consistency of Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski, and this is a scary offense. Throw in the defensive additions of stud safety John Johnson and whatever is left of Jadeveon Clowney and you can see why Cleveland has the 4th-best Super Bowl odds in the AFC (+1600 to +1800 depending where you look). Prediction: L
Week 11 – Thursday 11/18, 8:20 – @Atlanta Falcons
After a bruising game against the Browns, the Pats travel down the coast to meet the revenge-hungry Falcons. This is the first time the Pats visit Atlanta since their epic Super Bowl comeback (and a 23-7 shellacking in Foxborough the following year), and the fanbase is desperate to end the “28-3” taunts. The Falcons added freak TE Kyle Pitts, the best non-QB in this year’s draft, to an already lethal offense. They hired offensive guru Arthur Smith as head coach and lured revered former Pats coach Dean Pees out of retirement to run their defense. The Falcons’ narrative has long been a failure to capitalize on their immense talent, and Smith and Pees are tasked with changing that before the end of Matty Ice’s tenure. With the Pats coming into such an inhospitable stadium on a short week, I think Atlanta makes a statement. Prediction: L
Week 12 – Sunday 11/28, 1:00 – Tennessee Titans
The Patriots wrap up a long Thanksgiving break with a visit from Mike Vrabel, the second promising Belichick protege they face this year. Vrabel famously outcoached Belichick in an ignominious wild card upset that ended Brady’s New England career, but the Titans were hit hard by the reduced salary cap this year. They let walk top pass-catchers Jonnu Smith (he’s ours now baby!), Corey Davis, and Adam Humphries without replacements. They lost aforementioned mastermind Arthur Smith who was instrumental to their offensive success. They’re trying to replace DBs Malcolm Butler, Adoree Jackson, Kenny Vaccaro, and Desmond King from last year’s sieve-like passing defense with Janoris Jenkins and Kevin Johnson who might be even worse.
They did boost their rushing defense with LB Bud Dupree (coming off an ACL tear) and DL Denico Autry, but the Pats’ excellent O-line will give whoever their QB is plenty of time to throw. Belichick and Josh McDaniels should pick apart this defense while containing Derrick Henry now that Tennessee has fewer threats to contend with. Prediction: W
Week 13 – Monday 12/6, 8:15 – @Buffalo Bills
These ain’t your daddy’s Bills. (Older brother’s? Ehh just work with me here.) After two decades of futility, much of it at the hands of the Patriots, the Bills are a force to be reckoned with. Like the Bucs, they return essentially all personnel from last year’s AFC runner-up, including both coordinators and bona fide MVP candidate Josh Allen. To replace the few departed contributors like WR John Brown, they brought in still-productive vets like WR Emmanuel Sanders and RB Matt Breida. To account for Josh Allen’s sometimes reckless playing style, they signed Mitchell “The Bitchell” Trubisky as reliable insurance.
Exciting, efficient play on both sides of the ball? Consistently great coaching and savvy front office moves? Who are these guys?! Under the bright Monday Night lights in front of their patently insane Bills Mafia crowd with another division title likely in their sights, I don’t have much hope here. Prediction: L
Week 14 – BYE
A much-needed rest week, the latest of the season (tied with 3 other teams). The Pats catch some good luck here as 3 of the final 4 games could be crucial to landing a wild card playoff spot. If Cam is still starting but has shown signs of slipping, this would be a great time to install the new McCorkle offense with Mac Jones.
Week 15 – Saturday 12/18 OR Sunday 12/19 – @Indianapolis Colts
The Pats travel to another team they’ve owned for the last decade. But now the Colts have a great defense, one of the top O-lines in football, and enough new faces to make things interesting. They smartly replaced retired OT Anthony Castonzo with Eric Fisher on a 1 year prove-it deal. They drafted edge rushers Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo to bolster a line already anchored by terrifying All-Pro DeForest Buckner. And head coach Frank Reich is the offensive genius who dropped 41 points on New England in the Super Bowl and turned goddamn Nick Foles into a Super Bowl MVP.
Of course the huge X-factor here is new QB Carson Wentz. He’s likely not as bad as he looked last year and not as good as he looked during his abbreviated MVP-caliber season. But where does he fall in the middle? With the Pats coming off a bye (even though Indy is as well), unless Reich can turn back Wentz’ clock to 2017, the Pats should cause enough turnovers to secure the win. Prediction: W
Week 16 – Sunday 12/26, 1:00 – Buffalo Bills
Ok, hear me out. Yes, the Bills are still the better team. No, not much will have changed since their last game three weeks ago (unless we’ve gotten into McCorkle Time?!?!). But two important factors to consider: 1) The Pats will have just spent a lovely Christmas at home with their families, possibly with an extra day off from the previous Saturday game. A joyous occasion for all. 2) It’s pretty hard to beat Belichick twice in the same season, and even harder to do it in the regular season.
In 21 years in New England only 6 teams have beaten him in the playoffs after beating him in the regular season (twice by Peyton Manning). And only 3 teams have beaten him twice in the regular season, 2 of which came in his first year in 2000. The third was… let me check my notes… the Bills last year. Shit. Well this Pats team is lightyears better than last year, and all the Christmas stuff I said, and… I can’t do it. The Bills are too good. I can’t believe we’re living in a world where the Buffalo Bills sweep the Patriots in consecutive years. Prediction: L
Week 17 – Sunday 1/2, 1:00 – Jacksonville Jaguars
Nice of the NFL to give the Pats an extra bye this late in the season, especially coming off another lovely holiday at home. It’ll be fun watching Trevor Lawrence (assuming he hasn’t pulled a Joe Burrow and gotten killed by then), and maybe he’s the rare rookie QB smart enough to beat Belichick’s schemes. But probably not considering the abject lack of talent surrounding him. Plus by this point Lawrence and Urban Meyer might have already lost more games than their combined previous decade – talk about adversity! I like Lawrence but it sucks he has to work for Urban so I hope the Pats hang 50 on them and shut out the offense. Sorry, Trevor. Prediction: W
Week 18 – Sunday 1/9, 1:00 – @Miami Dolphins
It might all come down to this. Barring a huge Bills regression (unlikely) or a big Patriots or Dolphins leap (possible), Buffalo should have locked up the division by now. But the Pats and Dolphins could very well be vying for a wild card spot and this could even be a de facto playoff game. Unlike the two Bills games in three weeks, a LOT can change from Week 1 to Week 18, including the starting QB for both these teams. With an entire season to build team chemistry among their new faces, I expect a much different Pats squad from Week 1. Hopefully this is the game that puts them back in their rightful spot in the playoffs. Prediction: W
There ya go. The Patriots go 10-7 this year, following a rough 1-3 start with 5 straight wins that keeps them over .500 the rest of the way. It’ll be weird seeing how the extra game affects seeding but that should very much put them in the running for the playoffs. Now to sit back and wait for Deshaun Watson to get traded to Carolina or Aaron Rodgers to Indianapolis so this article becomes worthless.