For the New England Patriots, the first four weeks of the 2016 NFL season will be quite a bit different from what they’re used to. The obvious reason why: Quarterback Tom Brady is set to miss the first quarter of the season, after simply giving in to the many court hearings surrounding the infamous “Deflategate.” Brady decided to take his four-game suspension prepare for a Week 5 return against the Cleveland Browns. With Brady out for four games, the team’s task to finish atop the AFC is a bit tougher, but the question is, who are the teams the Patriots need to fear the most as they head through the upcoming season? Let’s check out the five biggest teams that should concern the New England Patriots.
1. Arizona Cardinals
For the New England Patriots, the biggest test of the 2016 NFL season was likely to be the Arizona Cardinals. Not only was it the inaugural game of Jimmy Garoppolo’s NFL career, but he began it by facing Arizona on the road. In one of the toughest places to compete in the NFL. That’s brutal, especially as the Cardinals also opened the season as one of the Super Bowl favorites this year, but the Patriots were able to pull out the W with a close 23-21 victory. Could the Pats see the Cards again in the postseason? It’s not impossible.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
The good news? Brady will be back in action to take on the Steelers on Sunday, October 23. The bad news? The game will take place in Pittsburgh, and it’s against a team who may push the New England Patriots for one of the top spots in the AFC this season. The Steelers will not only have Antonio Brown to run wild against New England, but they’ll also have Le’Veon Bell back from his own four-game suspension. There may not be a more anticipated game for Steelers fans than the one against the Patriots in Week 7 this year, so you can bet the fans will be all-in here.
3. New York Jets
Then there are the pesky Jets… Ryan Fitzpatrick is back, so the Jets offense is hoping to pick right where they left off, with talented options like Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, just for starters. To go along with that, the Jets added Matt Forte to their run game, who should be a pass-catching threat as well. If there was ever a season that the Jets could really give the New England Patriots a run, it may be this year. Not to mention that the AFC East is even more interesting when you consider the fact that the Patriots have to face the Jets twice over the final six weeks, one of which is a prime-time game in New York. The Jets won’t be scared of Brady and company, which makes them a dangerous team.
4. Denver Broncos
Trevor Siemian isn’t exactly the scariest potential starting quarterback in the NFL, but with the Broncos’ stellar defense, they are still serious playoff contenders. Barring some type of post-Peyton Manning meltdown by this offense, the Broncos will be interesting this year. Best of all, these two teams don’t square off until Week 15; the game is in Denver, and we know how much the Broncos fans all dislike the New England Patriots. Expect Brady and company to experience plenty of pressure, while hearing it early and often from a crowd that will do anything to see their team take down the hated Patriots.
5. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks finished off their 2015–16 season by winning six of seven games, defeating both the Steelers and Cardinals during that stretch. Their offense was clicking on all cylinders and is one of the most interesting units heading into this season. While the Seahawks are a team that could really push the Cardinals in the AFC West, they’ll also be heading to Foxborough in Week 10, just after New England’s bye week.
Obviously, the New England Patriots getting the week off before this game is nice, but this primetime game should see both the Seahawks and Patriots pull out all the stops. Don’t expect Seattle to roll over just because it’s a tough road game in New England; the Seahawks defense will likely give Brady plenty of trouble.