During July, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be analyzing the schedules of every team in the NFL and ranking each game in order of difficulty (with one being the most difficult). This series will be split up into the eight most difficult games (ranked 1-8) and the eight easiest games (ranked 9-16) for each team. In this article, the New England Patriots most difficult games are the focus.
New England Patriots Most Difficult Games of 2017
1. Week 11 at Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders have dethroned the Denver Broncos as the resident superpower in the AFC West. A stout offensive line and Derek Carr’s MVP-caliber performance in 2016 have them poised to tear their way to a second playoff berth in two years.
The game will be played in Mexico City at Estadio Azteca, a site that most would think to be a neutral location, but last year’s Raiders vs. Houston Texans matchup proved that the Raiders have an intimidating presence in the city. This is coming off a road game against Denver, so it will be back-to-back high elevation games on the road for the Patriots.
2. Week 15 at Pittsburgh Steelers
The last time the Patriots saw the Pittsburgh Steelers, they walloped them 36-17 in the 2017 AFC Championship. However, Pittsburgh’s star running back, Le’Veon Bell, left that game early with a groin injury, and quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, was coming off an injury-affected season.
Coming into the 2017 season after talks of retirement, Roethlisberger might be looking for another feather in his cap to end his career, and a home win against the reigning world champions might just be that. The league’s top offensive trio will be coming off a game against the weakened Baltimore Ravens in Week 14, while the Patriots will be playing their fifth road game in six weeks.
3. Week 7 vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons will be looking to exorcise their Super Bowl demons in a mid-season contest in Foxborough. The absence of Kyle Shanahan at the offensive helm may leave some skeptical, but Matt Ryan’s lights-out style of play looks to continue in 2017 with the return of offensive stalwarts Alex Mack, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman. The athletic defensive newcomer, Takkarist McKinley, will be looking to make a splash when the Falcons hit New England in October.
4. Week 14 at Miami Dolphins
Out of the ice box and into the fire, the Patriots will play their second consecutive road game in a grand tour of the AFC against the Miami Dolphins in Week 14. At this point in the season, the Dolphins will be scrapping to compete for a wildcard playoff berth. Some are saying that this is the best supporting offense Ryan Tannehill has had since entering the league, and the Fins will be hunting for the postseason.
5. Week 1 vs. Kansa City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs have gone 22-4 in the regular season since their five week losing streak in 2015, including such trophies as a road win over a Denver team that would go on to win Super Bowl 50, a 4-0 streak against Carr’s swashbuckling Raiders, and a close road win against the red-hot Atlanta Falcons offense. The Chiefs are anything but predictable, but over reliance on Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce could spell trouble for an offense that lost Jamaal Charles and Jeremy Maclin in the off-season.
6. Week 10 at Denver Broncos
The Broncos have begun to flounder on offense with the absence of an established quarterback, but Mile High was not kind to Tom Brady in their last meeting. The relentless Broncos defense held the high-flying Brady to just 16 completions and no touchdowns in 2016. The Patriots had to rely heavily on the legs of Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount and the foot of Stephen Gostkowski.
7. Week 4 vs. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers will be fighting for relevance after last year’s dismal Super Bowl hangover season. Cam Newton hasn’t looked the same since his league MVP season in 2015, partly due to the shoulder injury that plagued him in the 2016 season. The athletic quarterback had shoulder surgery in March, which has given him plenty of time to shake the rust off. A pair of rookies in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel will try to reinvigorate an offense propped up by Pro Bowler Greg Olsen.
8. Week 3 vs. Houston Texans
New England faltered against the Houston Texans defense in the first half of their postseason match-up, despite the absence of JJ Watt. If Watt can stay healthy, the Patriots may experience a similar uphill battle against Houston in 2017. Still, the biggest question for the Texans is the quarterback situation. The Texans drafted Deshaun Watson, but Bill O’Brien has been cagey about whether Watson or veteran Tom Savage will be the starter once the season starts. DeAndre Hopkins has been working closely with Savage during OTAs. This chemistry could prove dangerous early in the season.
Be sure to check out the eight easiest games on the New England Patriots 2017 schedule.