Road to the playoffs shouldn’t prove too bumpy for Pats

By David Wedge  |   Tuesday, May 02, 2006  |  Comments( 0 )

New England Patriots
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The New England Patriots will kick off their 2006 regular season by hosting the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on September 11th.

As for the full season schedule, head coach Bill Belichick will be quietly content with the hand his side has been dealt.

The NFL differs from most sporting leagues around the world, as the majority of teams are relatively evenly matched and very few contests can be considered foregone conclusions. Sure, there will nearly always be one or two flagship teams who lead the way each year and the inevitable underachieving few who do battle to avoid the wooden spoon, but generally most matchups prove too tight to confidently call.

Often, the most frequently used and obvious barometer for measuring an opposition’s potency is to analyze their form over the past one or two seasons. However, relying solely on previous seasons’ performances to predict future production is by no means perfect, as this doesn’t allow for offseason changes in teams rosters that can completely alter a team's appearance and capabilities. Allowing for both historic performances and offseason movement of players and coaches, the New England Patriots will be highly optimistic about their chances of reaching yet another postseason under the guidance of Bill Belichick.

The contests that immediately jump out of the schedule as the difficult games for the Patriots are those against the Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts. Fortunately, however, the Broncos and Colts games are both home fixtures, which leaves the only major thorn in the schedule a road trip to the Bengals. The visit of the conference-rival (and former division-rival) Colts will raise particular interest this year as it will herald the return to Foxborough of kicker Adam Vinatieri, who visits New England for the first time since his highly-publicized departure to Indianapolis during the offseason.

The two matchups between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets are also sure to attract widespread interest this season, with former Patriots defensive coordinator and now Jets head coach, Eric Mangini, set to face his former colleagues for the first time since his exit from Foxborough in January. The first meeting between the two sides will take place in Week Two with the Patriots travelling to New York and the two sides will then meet again in Week Ten, with Mangini set to make his first return to Gillette Stadium with the Jets.

Later in the season, New England will travel to Miami in Week 14 to face Nick Saban’s suddenly-resurgent franchise at Dolphin Stadium, the venue for Super Bowl XLI. Obviously, the Patriots will hope that this will be just the first of two trips to South Florida.

The visit to Miami is the first of three away fixtures within the last four games of the regular season. The Week 15 visit to New England by the Houston Texans is followed by journeys to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Christmas Eve and then the Tennessee Titans in Week 17. The Patriots will be looking to clinch their playoff spot as early as possible to avoid the need to get results on the road against a very tough Jags unit and a youthfully-exuberant Titans squad.

Other than a potentially tricky road run to end the season as well as the difficult contests versus the Colts, Bengals, Jaguars, and Broncos; Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots team will be generally very pleased with the schedule facing them for the forthcoming season and should be confident about their chances of progressing to the playoffs.
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