Sunday Night Football in Week 1 between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots was supposed to be a competitive matchup between Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady. Instead, the game was completely dominated by the Patriots from start to finish, resulting in a 33-3 blowout win for the defending Super Bowl Champions.
All of this without Antonio Brown, who joined the Patriots last week shortly after being released by the Oakland Raiders. If New England can beat a team of Pittsburgh’s caliber by 30 points without Brown, what’s stopping them from going undefeated with him?
The Patriots have a crystal-clear path to 8-0
Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens made mincemeat out of the Miami Dolphins in a 59-10 blowout on Sunday. New England will face the Dolphins in Week 2, going off as staggering 17.5-point road favorites in what will be an easy path to 2-0.
The rest of the first half won’t be quite as easy as a game against the tanking Dolphins, but it won’t be too difficult either. Over the following five weeks, the Patriots get the New York Jets and New York Giants at home and the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, and Jets on the road. All five of these teams aren’t projected to make the playoffs in 2019, and it’s hard to see any of them having a real shot at defeating this Patriots group.
From a talent perspective, Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns could provide a challenge. But that game comes in Foxborough where the Patriots have won 17 straight; even if the Browns have bounced back from their ugly performance in Week 1 by then, they probably aren’t beating New England on the road.
Then the real test begins from Week 9 to Week 14
So New England has a really good chance of entering their Week 9 road game against the Baltimore Ravens with an 8-0 record. That game will be tough, but there are a few promising trends for New England; the Patriots are 9-1 in their last 10 games before a bye week (as this game will be) and 3-0 in their last three games against Baltimore. Getting into the bye week at 9-0 will be a strong motivator.
The Patriots come out of the bye week to face the Philadelphia Eagles on the road in Week 11. Philadelphia also has a bye in Week 10, so both of these teams will be fresh for this showdown. This is arguably the biggest roadblock in New England’s quest for perfection.
New England won’t have any time to relax after that Philadelphia test as the team’s next three games come at home against the Dallas Cowboys, on the road against the Houston Texans, and at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots are almost unbeatable at home, but they’ll enter their game against the Chiefs coming off of three straight games against potential playoff teams; the Chiefs meanwhile have a bye in Week 12 and a home game against the Oakland Raiders in Week 13 before facing New England.
If the Patriots can survive all that, they should be home free. They face the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati Week 15, and then return home to host the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins in Week’s 16 and 17. New England could win those games even while resting some starters.
Will the Patriots pull it off?
The Antonio Brown acquisition feels a lot like the Randy Moss trade that propelled New England to an 18-0 run in 2007. The Patriots have an outstanding defense to go along with a loaded offense that now includes Brown, Tom Brady, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, and Sony Michel. And the door is still open for a Rob Gronkowski return, too.
The Patriots are talented enough to go undefeated and will be favored in every game that they play in this season, but that late-season stretch against Baltimore, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, and Kansas City is going to be too difficult to overcome. New England is bound to have an off-night at some point during the regular season.
Still, a seventh Super Bowl ring for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady appears to be well within reach. They’ll be far more interested in that goal than the goal of achieving a 19-0 season.