Patriots positioned to win another division title
You can't say the schedule-makers haven't been
kind to the Patriots in recent years, and this season is no different.
While predicting records based on the schedule in
April is often an exercise in futility, it would appear, based on what
is set in stone right now, the Patriots will have a great chance of
repeating as division champions based on the teams they'll play in 2012.
The schedule includes four prime-time games - two
on the road at New York and Baltimore - a slew of 1 p.m. games, which
had diminished in recent years. Last year, they only had four on the
schedule when it was released; this year, there are nine. They can be
flexed out at any time, but it's certainly a change from the recent
The most noteworthy game on the schedule is the
Thanksgiving Day showdown at New York against the Jets, which is New
England's second Thanksgiving game in three years. They're also playing
overseas in London against the St. Louis Rams, one of the easier
(theoretically) NFC crossover games on the schedule, and hosting the
Denver Broncos, who are now led by old foe Peyton Manning.
The biggest boost is the fact they close out the
season with three out of four games at home, where they've been
near-unbeatable since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002. That's a stark
contrast to the stretch of three road games in four weeks they open the
season with. Without question, it benefits the Patriots to play the
bulk of their home games toward the end of the year, particularly if
the playoff race is close by then.
On a related note, most of the Patriots' toughest
games are at home, including two against San Francisco and Houston
during that aforementioned stretch in December. Plus, when the Texas
come to town Dec. 10, they'll be playing their third consecutive road
game. There's also a home game against the Indianapolis Colts, who were
the league's worst team last season and probably won't improve much,
even if they draft quarterback Andrew Luck, as expected.
The other boost is the placement of the bye week,
which comes right in the middle of the season on Nov. 4 following their
trip to London. This gives the Patriots an even split of eight games
before the bye and eight games afterward.
Again, it's impossible to tell how the rest of the
league will shape up. Some of the games that appear easy now could be
difficult once they actually become a reality on the schedule, but it's
worth noting, for now, that the Patriots appear to be set up for
another strong year in which they're catching all their opponents at
the right time.
Still no official announcement on Light
--Left tackle Matt Light still hasn't decided what
he wants to do regarding his future. He's been linked to retirement
rumors, but his future is still up in the air.
"No, I'm just rocking and rolling," Light said.
"I've been in Ohio, working on some stuff for the (Matt Light)
Foundation. We have a youth turkey hunt coming up. Other than that it's
been pretty quiet."
No timetable either - except, perhaps, at home
with his family.
"My wife has a pretty good idea on what is going
to happen with me," he said. "She keeps me pretty busy."
--Wide receiver Wes Welker, who was franchised
during the offseason, did not show up recently at the team's voluntary
workouts. According to various reports, not only hasn't Welker hasn't
signed the tender yet but he doesn't plan to in the near future. Welker
still wants a long-term deal, so there's a chance he won't sign
anything unless it's a multi-year extension.
There's not too much cause for concern yet since
the workouts are voluntary, so it's unlikely the Patriots are stressing
out over Welker's absence in Foxboro.
--Linebacker Jerod Mayo recently appeared in the
Farrelly Brothers' remake of the Three Stooges, but is now focusing
primarily on football as he prepares for the upcoming season.
"Just happy to be back," Mayo said. "I really
didn't go anywhere. I've just been working out by myself, but it's good
to get the strength coaches back working with us."
Unlike some of his teammates, such as Tom Brady,
Mayo actually re-watched the Super Bowl loss to the Giants, perhaps as
both a learning tool and a source of motivation.
"I have watched it a couple times, just to break
down film like you do every other game," he said, "and just to see
where we went wrong, but at the same time I'm past that, and just
working to get back to that point next year."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's a curse. You think I
wanted that?" -- TE Rob Gronkowski on no longer being in the running to
be on the cover of next year's installment of the Madden NFL video
game, which has long been considered a "curse" for whichever athlete
makes it on the cover.