Those who doubted the New England Patriots could win Super Bowl LI after rattling off a 14-2 record in 2016 usually pointed to the lousy collection of quarterbacks their defense faced all regular season.
The Patriots’ defense ranked first in points allowed, but it was fair to question their standing considering the best quarterbacks they faced were Russell Wilson and uh, Joe Flacco? Andy Dalton? Ryan Tannehill?
Radio hosts can feel free to delete that topic from their future rundowns.
The Patriots are set to face many of the NFL’s best quarterbacks during the 2017 season. Though the AFC East quarterbacks haven’t improved much, they will play Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in Week 2, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Week 4, Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7, Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 8, Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders in Week 11 and Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 17.
They don’t belong on that list, but Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t too shabby either. There’s also a more than zero percent chance the Patriots will face Tony Romo this season if he comes out of retirement to suit up for the Houston Texans or Denver Broncos.
The Patriots currently have perhaps the best secondary in the NFL with Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe at cornerback and Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon at safety. And if Butler gets traded, the Patriots could sign Jason McCourty or draft a player with the pick they receive for him.
That secondary will be tested not only by the quarterbacks they play but the top wide receivers, as well. They face the Saints’ Michael Thomas in Week 2, the Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins in Week 3, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson in Week 5, the Falcons’ Julio Jones in Week 6, Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in Week 10, Oakland’s Amari Cooper in Week 11, Miami’s Jarvis Landry in Week 12, Landry again in Week 14 and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in Week 15.
Depending on health, they’ve also got Keenan Allen of the Chargers and Sammy Watkins of the Buffalo Bills on there. Considering Michael Thomas, Hopkins, Evans, Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Cooper, Allen and Watkins are of the taller variety, it’s a smart move that the Patriots added Gilmore this offseason.
The Patriots’ toughest stretch from an opponent perspective looks like it comes to start the season when they face the Chiefs, Saints, Texans, Panthers and Buccaneers. The toughest from a travel standpoint comes from Week 10 to 15, when they travel to play the Broncos and Raiders, stay home to play the Dolphins, then travel to Buffalo, Miami and Pittsburgh.
The Patriots have an ideal bye in Week 9, and they’ll likely ease their travel woes by staying out west between their road games against the Broncos on “Sunday Night Football” and the Raiders in Mexico City.
And quite frankly, tough stretches on the schedule don’t really matter. The Patriots are so talented they’ll go at least 12-4, win their division, clinch a bye week in the playoffs and have a good shot of making their third Super Bowl in four years.
Thumbnail photo via Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports Images