by J. Mesa
When Tom Brady went down in a heap on opening day, many thought the Patriots season went along with him. Shouts of “S.O.S” rang up from around Foxborough, but those chants were mis-labeled. They were not “Save our Ship,” rather they were “Strength of Schedule!”
You see, after finishing the regular season last year at a perfect 16-0 the NFL rewarded the Patriots with the weakest ’08 schedule of any team. Makes sense to me, team “A” finishes the regular season perfect, goes to the Super Bowl and opens the following season as the defending conference champs, they should get the weakest schedule right?
The truth is that the NFL picks the schedule several years in advance and it just so happened that when the ’08 season schedule was put together it was the Pats’ turn to have a cake-walk NFL schedule. ’08 just happened to be extremely fortuitous for Hoodie and Co. as they still have a great chance to not only make it back to the playoffs, but win the division and make a run at the Super Bowl.
Most NFL teams’ seasons would have folded if they were to lose their starting QB, let alone a future Hall of Famer, record-setting, perennial Pro Bowler like Brady. But the Pats have a great system and despite not having started a football game since ’99 when he was in high school New England backup Matt Cassel looked solid in leading the Patriots to a win over a divisional rival and offseason distraction (B-B-B-Bretty and the Jets – sorry, couldn’t resist).
The Hoodie is a great football coach and he knows exactly how the get the most out of his team no matter his personnel and who is lining up in front of them. Playing the easiest ’08 schedule is only a bonus. We have already seen the changes in the Pats offense as Cassell will be called on to (NFL cliché du jour) “manage” the game instead of carrying the team on his shoulders like Brady.
The Pats still have one of the most lethal receivers in Randy Moss, a tremendous running attack and stout defense. There is no reason to think that although regular-season perfection might be out of reach, the playoffs however, are not.
From a betting standpoint, it is clear that they won’t be favored by as many points as last season and in some cases might even be a live dog like when they suit-up against likes of San Diego, Denver, Indy and Pittsburgh (dare we put Buffalo on the short list?). The Patriots and their cupcake schedule should have them right near the top of their division and now a nice value when it is time to make your NFL expert picks.