Coming off a win at home against the Los Angeles Chargers, the New England Patriots sit alone atop the AFC East at 6-2 and tied for first place in the conference with the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers. As the Patriots approach their bye week, below is a look at the Patriots second-half 2017 schedule and how it should pan out.
New England Patriots Second Half 2017 Schedule Review
Week Ten at Denver Broncos
This game ranked at number six in my preseason rankings of the Patriots 2017 schedule. That was before the Denver Broncos dropped a game to the Buffalo Bills, the 0-5 (at the time) New York Giants, the Chargers, and the Chiefs. Trevor Siemian has been horrible. In his first two games, the former Northwestern quarterback tossed six touchdowns to only two interceptions. In his last five games, Siemian’s touchdown-interception rate is 3-8. His poor performance led head coach Vance Joseph to name Brock Osweiler the starter for week nine against the Philadelphia Eagles.
But Denver’s offensive struggles cannot fall entirely on Siemian’s shoulders. The Denver offensive line gave up 25 sacks in their first seven games. Only three NFL teams have allowed more sacks. The Patriots will be traveling to Denver in Week ten, where the Broncos only loss has been to the Giants. If Osweiler turns out not to be the answer Vance Joseph is looking for, the Patriots will take this one easily.
Week 11 at Oakland Raiders
The Patriots head to Mexico City in Week 11 to take on the Oakland Raiders. I had this as the Patriots most difficult game of 2017, and I whiffed hard on this one. Derek Carr had a banner year in 2016 before a broken leg knocked him out of MVP contention and was a big reason the Raiders lost their first playoff game.
Oakland has been startlingly inconsistent this season. After starting 2-0, the Raiders lost consecutive games to the Washington Redskins, Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, and Chargers. After this four-game skid, the Raiders defeated one of the hottest teams in the league in Kansas City but fell in New York to the Buffalo Bills. Derek Carr’s performance through the air has been inconsistent. In games when Carr is held to one passing touchdown, the Raiders are 0-4. If the secondary comes out strong in Mexico City, the Patriots will walk away with a victory.
Week 12 against Miami Dolphins
This matchup fell to my preseason list of the Patriots easiest games of 2017. When Jay Cutler was brought in to replace Ryan Tannehill, expectations for the Miami Dolphins dropped considerably. In the Tannehill era, the Patriots are undefeated in Foxborough against the Fins. With Cutler at the helm (especially with him dealing with a rib injury), that streak looks to continue.
This is a Dolphins team that has given up five passing touchdowns to only one interception on the road. Tom Brady, who hasn’t thrown a pick at home this season, ought to run roughshod over them. The Patriots get their second divisional win of the season at home in Week 12.
Week 13 at Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills have surprised everyone this season. The Bills were expected to beat the New York Jets in their season opener. But they began to turn heads when they held Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers from finding the end zone. The Bills dropped the Broncos in Buffalo and the slow-start Atlanta Falcons on the road.
At the midpoint of the season, the Bills are second in the AFC East. By Week 13, they should already have another notch in the divisional win column against the Jets. This game could be Buffalo’s opportunity to challenge the Patriots for control of the division. And it’s not that far-fetched. The Bills haven’t lost at home yet this season.
Week 14 at Miami Dolphins
Conservative play-calling from Josh McDaniels will be the story of this game. The Patriots offensive line has been less than stellar through the first half of the season and the Miami defense can get aggressive, and they’ll be emboldened in their home stadium.
Keeping Tom Brady healthy through the last few weeks of the season is going to the first thing on the coaching staff’s mind when facing Kiko Alonso and Ndamukong Suh. After trading Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers, an injury to Brady would leave the Patriots offense in the hands of Brian Hoyer.
Week 15 at Pittsburgh Steelers
This game notched the number two spot in my rankings of the most difficult games, and for good reason. The Pittsburgh Steelers are perennial contenders in the AFC. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell are in the running for the greatest offensive trio in the league. The AFC North is very lackluster again this year, so the Steelers should have a playoff bid either guaranteed or imminent by this point.
This matchup could very likely be a preview game for the postseason. This will also be the Patriots fifth road game in six weeks and the Patriots will be coming off a short week after playing Miami on Monday night. As of the writing of this article, ESPN’s Football Power Index has the Steelers with a 59.1% chance of victory.
Week 16 against Buffalo Bills
The Patriots return home after their jaunt up and down the country. This game could very likely be a must-win game for the Bills to make the playoffs. Matt Patricia and the New England defense should expect a fight out of the Bills, the record holders for longest active playoff drought in the league.
Sean McDermott is out to prove that he can succeed as a head coach in a division dominated by the Patriots. Acquiring Kelvin Benjamin in a trade with the Panthers provides Tyrod Taylor a clear top target for the remainder of the season. It will be a hard-fought win in Foxborough for the Patriots.
Week 17 against New York Jets
Don’t be surprised if Brady doesn’t play more than two quarters in this game. The New York Jets have a tough schedule down the stretch. Favorable draft position will look much more attainable for the Jets in Week 17 than will a wildcard playoff spot. Should the Patriots lose to the Steelers in Week 15, this game might be a deciding factor in terms of seeding. Regardless, the Patriots should rest their key players before another, hopefully, historic postseason run. Expect Brian Hoyer to make an appearance here.
Final Record: 12-4
The Patriots second-half schedule is heavy on AFC East opponents, hungry to unseat the reigning champions. Opponents in the Patriots remaining eight games are a collective 24-21. The Patriots have already been handed losses by the Chiefs and the Carolina Panthers. The Patriots will put up a fight in Pittsburgh, but the circumstances surrounding the game will win out. Their fourth loss will likely come on the road, either in Mexico City, Miami, or Buffalo. The Patriots will win the AFC East for the ninth straight year, but not without a fight from the Bills.