The New England Patriots kick off the second half of their regular-season schedule Sunday night with a Super Bowl XLIX rematch against the Seattle Seahawks at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots sit at an AFC-best 7-1 following their bye week and are clear favorites to represent the conference in Super Bowl LI.
With that in mind, here’s a rundown of New England’s eight remaining regular-season games, ranked by degree of difficulty from lowest to highest:
8. Week 11 at San Francisco 49ers (1-7)
This will be Tom Brady’s first time playing his hometown Niners on the road. (He was injured the last time the Patriots visited San Francisco, in 2008.) So that’s pretty cool. This also is a tremendously one-sided matchup, as the 49ers are riding a seven-game losing streak and haven’t won since blanking the Los Angeles Rams in their season opener.
7. Week 13 vs. Los Angeles Rams (3-5)
Speaking of the Rams, Jeff Fisher’s club comes to town in early December for one of the Patriots’ four remaining home games. It’s been over a month since L.A. last tasted victory, and its Case Keenum-led offense has been the NFL’s worst so far.
6. Week 16 vs. New York Jets (3-5)
No AFC East foe has played the Patriots closer in recent years than the Jets, with a touchdown or less deciding each of the last six games in the series. The Jets are a disaster this season, however, and who knows who will be playing quarterback for them by the time this Christmas Eve matchup rolls around.
5. Week 12 at Jets
The Pats and Jets first meet Thanksgiving weekend at MetLife Stadium, where New England has lost twice in the last three seasons.
4. Week 17 at Miami Dolphins (4-4)
The Patriots didn’t take this same game seriously last season, and it cost them home-field advantage — and, many have argued, a second consecutive Super Bowl berth. Miami currently is on a roll, too, having won three straight after beginning the season 1-4.
3. Week 14 vs. Baltimore Ravens (4-4)
Are the Ravens any good? Well, they lost four games in a row last month, but after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, they sit in first place in the AFC North. So, the answer to that question apparently is “good enough to make the playoffs if the season ended today.” This will be Baltimore’s first meeting with the Patriots since the 2014 divisional round and the teams’ first regular-season matchup since 2013.
2. Week 10 vs. Seattle Seahawks (4-2-1)
The Seahawks, who still have to play the Buffalo Bills on Monday night before traveling to Foxboro this weekend, are seeking their first win since Oct. 16. They’ve played close games all season — six of their seven have been decided by 10 points or fewer — and while their two losses were to the Rams and New Orleans Saints, they came by a total of just 11 points.
Seattle’s defense has been its usual dominant self (NFL-best 15.6 points allowed per game), but it likely will be without star pass rusher Michael Bennett on Sunday. Bennett, who hit Brady four times in Super Bowl XLIX and whose brother, Martellus, now plays for the Patriots, underwent minor knee surgery last week.
1. Week 15 at Denver Broncos (6-3)
The Broncos have stumbled following a 4-0 start, and their vaunted defense looked surprisingly pedestrian in Sunday night’s loss to the Oakland Raiders, who racked up 218 yards on the ground in the game. Denver might not be New England’s stiffest competition in the AFC anymore, but the fact that this game is at Mile High pushes it to the top of this list. The Pats have lost in each of their last three visits to Denver, including twice in the AFC Championship Game and once in ex-Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler’s first NFL start.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images