There’s no such thing as an easy win in the National Football League, but some games are harder than others. The New England Patriots face a daunting schedule stacked full of Super Bowl-caliber teams in 2018. The Patriots are the envy of the league, and every team will bring their A game against New England. But which games will give New England the hardest time? Without further ado, here are the New England Patriots hardest games in 2018.
New England Patriots Hardest Games
1. Week Two: at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars should be the Patriots biggest challenge, considering the top-end talent, enviable depth, and personal vendetta Jacksonville has. The defense is littered with star players like cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye and defensive lineman Calais Campbell. Leonard Fournette is one of the better running backs in football, and the Jaguars boast a pretty strong offensive line. Really, the only weak link on the roster is quarterback Blake Bortles.
Additionally, the Jaguars will bring everything they have to this game. Jacksonville blew a ten-point fourth quarter lead in the AFC Championship Game to these very Patriots, and they sure haven’t forgotten about it. This will mean much more to Jacksonville than just any old regular season game. Playing on the road and with Julian Edelman suspended, this will be a very difficult game to win.
2. Week Nine: vs Green Bay Packers
While the Patriots will play teams with more talented rosters, they will never face a better quarterback than Aaron Rodgers. For the past three to five seasons, Rodgers and Brady have unanimously been the two best quarterbacks in football. Facing off for just the second time in their careers, this game should be a phenomenal shootout.
Green Bay has drastically improved its roster entering 2018. After losing Rodgers for the majority of 2017, the Packers finally realized how many roster holes Rodgers covered up. Their defense should be much improved with rookies Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. This game could easily go either way, but will certainly be must-watch TV.
3. Week 13: vs Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings have a solid case for owning the most complete roster in the National Football League. Kirk Cousins is a solid quarterback, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are both top-15 receivers, and the defense is littered with high-caliber players.
There really isn’t a weakness on this roster. Every positional grouping is average at worst and elite at best. Minnesota is traveling to New England, which should help out the Patriots, but all signs point to this game being a struggle for the Patriots.
4. Week 15: at Pittsburgh Steelers
The New England Patriots are familiar enough with the Pittsburgh Steelers to know what they bring to the table. LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown are both arguably the best at what they do, and Ben Roethlisberger is still playing like a top-five quarterback. While their defense lacks the top-end talent of the offense, this unit still led the league in sacks in 2017. On paper, this team should challenge the Patriots for AFC supremacy.
However, the Steelers seem physically incapable of beating New England. The Patriots have won five straight games against the black and gold, most of which in a landslide. Bill Belichick lives rent-free inside Mike Tomlin’s head, and Tom Brady makes a living destroying the zone defense Pittsburgh loves to play. Until the Steelers actually do it, there’s no reason to believe they can beat the Patriots.
5. Week Five: vs Kansas City Chiefs
Nobody knows just how good the Kansas City Chiefs will be with new quarterback Patrick Mahomes taking the reins from Alex Smith. The young quarterback has a higher ceiling than Smith, but his lack of experience could slow the Chiefs offense down early.
The biggest reason this game ranks so high is due to the Patriots historical struggles against Kansas City. Since Brady became the starting quarterback, the Patriots have only lost three regular season games by 15 or more points. Two of those games came by the hands of Andy Reid and the Chiefs. Kansas City plays the Patriots very well, and the Patriots will need to be ready for the challenge.
6. Week One: vs Houston Texans
The Houston Texans are one of the most interesting teams to watch entering 2018. If Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt are both healthy and playing to their ceilings, this team is a genuine Super Bowl contender. However, if Watson hits a sophomore slump or health issues slow Watson and Watt, this team may struggle to reach 8-8.
The Patriots are getting Watson in Week One, and chances are the phenom second-year player will need some time to knock off the rust. Watson probably won’t be playing to the best of his abilities, and the Patriots can capitalize on it. Houston still has a strong roster around Watson, but they become considerably less threatening if their franchise quarterback isn’t playing his best football.
7. Week Three: at Detroit Lions
In many ways, the Detroit Lions are a lot like the New England Patriots. With former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as head coach and former director of pro scouting Bob Quinn serving as general manager, Detroit should find themselves very familiar with what New England Patriots. Conversely, this also means that Bill Belichick should be very familiar with how the Lions will plan to attack his football team.
The Lions have a few borderline stars in franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate, and cornerback Darius Slay. However, the Lions have no semblance of a running game, and the front seven has several glaring holes. Detroit should put up a fight, but the Patriots should prevail.
8. Week Eight: at Miami Dolphins
On paper, this shouldn’t be a contest. The Patriots are far superior to the Dolphins in just about every measurable way. Better coaching, better quarterback play, better overall roster, and a longer history of success. And yet despite all that, it’s very easy to imagine the Patriots dropping this one.
The big reason: the Patriots are playing in Miami. The Patriots have always struggled in Miami, but those struggles have become more pronounced in recent years. Since 2013, the Patriots own an ugly 1-4 record when playing the Dolphins on the road. This includes an ugly 27-20 loss in 2017, in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would suggest. Whatever the reason, New England just cannot play in Miami. Hopefully, they can break the trend this year.
Embed from Getty Images