WILL NEW ENGLAND ACTUALLY LOSE FIVE GAMES? DOUBTFUL—THAT LAST HAPPENED IN 2009. BUT THERE ARE HURDLES IN '17. HERE ARE FIVE IMPEDIMENTS ON THE PATS' PATH TO PERFECTION (OR AT LEAST SUPER BOWL LII)
WEEK 2 at New Orleans
Besides having a quarterback capable of hanging 35 points on anyone, New Orleans has a defense built on aggressive coverage rotations and disguises. The one thing you can't do is allow Tom Brady to figure out your intentions before the snap. The Saints won't.
WEEK 3 versus Houston
If the Texans had a competent quarterback, they very well may have won that divisional-round game at Foxborough last January. Houston's defense outplayed New England's offense mainly by pressuring Brady out of five-man fronts (page 32) ... and those five-man fronts now have J.J. Watt back.
WEEK 7 versus Atlanta
Let's not forget: The Falcons blew out the Patriots for the first three quarters of Super Bowl LI with their collective speed. Things only changed when fatigue set in. If Atlanta's defense plays like it did in February and forces, say, even two more punts, they'll get revenge. (The Pats still keep their rings; sorry, Dan Quinn.)
WEEK 10 at Denver
The best way to defend New England's passing game is with man coverage. Problem is, the Pats are great at defeating that man coverage with pick and rub routes and with presnap motions. No cornerback group is better at working through picks and rubs and against motion concepts than Denver's Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and Bradley Roby (top).
WEEK 14 at Miami
Second-year Dolphins coach Adam Gase has a good feel for attacking New England's defense. His quarterbacks have had hot streaks against their man coverage, and some of Miami's play designs have given the Pats problems, particularly with outside zone concepts. Sustained success there is important because it keeps Brady off the field—and that's always a good thing.