It's an annual exercise I don't necessarily mind. Stretching, bending and even reaching are often included, but when it comes to being predictive about the New England Patriots' chances over the past several seasons, one thing is certain:
They're consistent. Like the certainty of death and taxes in life, the Patriots will be competitive.
Really competitive. But is that all? Probably not, but in this annual "win one, lose one" game we play with the regular season schedule, the opponents' competitiveness isn't considered - except for when they face New England. I mean, it's conceivable the Patriots could sweep the J-E-T-S and the Jets could finish 14-2, right?
Stop laughing. It could happen. Mathematically, at least.
Pushing aside unlikely math probabilities and equations, here is one look at the upcoming season schedule and the Patriots' chances for winning each game. For the past four seasons, this stretching exercise has turned out to be as pliable as a TB12 hammy - with the team either matching or exceeding the predicted number of wins.
Last year, it said here the record would be 13-3. The record was 13-3. So, play along if you like. Agree to disagree, too, if you must. One thing is certain, however.
The J-E-T-S won't go 14-2. That's a stretch and a reach that might pop a hammy.
WEEK 1 - vs. Houston 9/9 (W)
Honestly, this might be the toughest week to predict of the entire season. Why? Plenty of question marks surround the depth in key areas for the Patriots. And, Deshaun Watson. He should scare the living daylights out of the NE linebackers, and if you thought the Eagles' RPO's in the Super Bowl were harmful, just wait. He had his coming-out party a year ago against the Patriots before TB12 led a comeback. Watson is capable of pulling it off the "W" this time.
WEEK 2 - at Jacksonville 9/16 (L)
This one just doesn't feel right. Even with Jalen Ramsey's expected mouthing-off prior to kick-off, the Jaguars had a 20-10 4th quarter lead last January - in Foxboro - during the AFC title game and could not finish it. The difference between home and road for the Jags could be the difference this time, even though they've never beaten Tom Brady before this season.
WEEK 3 - at Detroit 9/23 (W)
Think Matt Patricia will have his team sky-high for this one? Actually, he'll undoubtedly low-key it all week long, leading up to the kick-off. It isn't a match-up of "teacher vs. pupil" he'll say, even though it is. "I've got nothing to prove" he'll add, even though he has plenty to prove. This is why it's a Sunday Night game. There's interest. But the Lions will also be coming off a short week from the West Coast. It might make the difference here.
WEEK 4 - vs. Miami 9/30 (W)
It's never easy against the Dolphins, even though the outcome has been predictable in recent years. Here, the Patriots are coming off the shorter week, but at least they're coming home. And the trouble with the Dolphins has frequently come when facing these guys in South Florida, not in Foxboro, where they've lost three of four. Not this time, either.
WEEK 5 - vs. Indianapolis Thursday, 10/4 (W)
There must be a reason for the Colts to be "the program that Josh McDaniels jilted," right? Not only does Indy have four of their first six games on the road (this being one of those), major question marks remain over the health and ability of Andrew Luck at QB. Until that one is answered, it's hard to see the Colts as a true competitor, even though this is a short work week for New England. Oh, and JE11 returns to the lineup, too.
WEEK 6 - vs. Kansas City 10/14 (W)
The Patriots go from a Thursday night game to a Sunday night game this week, and coupled with the fact that the Chiefs came into Gillette Stadium in last season's opener and throttled them this should be an instance of payback. But basically, because KC will be recovering from playing Jacksonville - that alone should help New England's focus here.
WEEK 7 - at Chicago 10/21 (W)
Chicago has Khalil Mack. So, they've got that going for them. What else? A new head coach (Matt Nagy) in his first head coaching job usually isn't a recipe for success, but sometimes enthusiasm can pay off in the short run. Does QB Mitchell Trubisky have reliable-enough targets to throw to? It says here the Bears' defensive makeover (also adding D coordinator Vic Fangio) isn't enough - yet.
WEEK 8 - at Buffalo Monday, 10/29 (W)
The run of success over the Bills must end sometime, right? There will be a ton of hype surrounding this one, even if Buffalo falls on its face in their opening seven weeks, because this is the first Monday Night game the Bills have hosted in 10 years. Just guessing here, but the Nathan Peterman era at QB might be morphing into Josh Allen-time by about this juncture.
WEEK 9 - vs. Green Bay 11/4 (W)
This is THE game on the 2018 NFL schedule everyone wants to see. TB12 vs. Discount Double-check. Coming off a short work week, Aaron Rodgers will give the Patriots' defense plenty of reason to worry, but the Packers' prowess may depend on how reliable Jimmy Graham can become as a receiving target. Defensively, the Packers haven't had much on their back end in recent seasons. Can the Patriots, by this time and with Julian Edelman now fully-engaged, make the Pack pay?
WEEK 10 - at Tennessee 11/11 (L)
Eight-and-one just before the bye? Seems almost silly to think that the Titans can pull off a win here, when the Patriots have had success against Tennessee - 8-1 against the franchise since their move from Houston in the mid-'90's. That includes seven straight New England wins heading into this one. So why now for the Titans? Mike Vrabel is another ex-Belichick apprentice as head coach, they're coming off a short week (at Dallas the previous Monday), Marcus Mariota has had more time to mature and two ex-Pats should figure prominently in the "show 'em what they're missing' department" - Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler.
WEEK 11 - BYE 11/18
WEEK 12 - at New York Jets 11/25 (W)
This is one of the most-documented numbers surrounding Bill Belichick's tenure in New England - the team is 13-5 coming off bye weeks. Does that mean the extra time to game plan works? Or does it mean simply having the extra rest to heal up helps? Probably a little of both. And guessing here, if the Sam Darnold-era has been up-and-down to this point for the J-E-T-S, a little of both is all it will take for a "W."
WEEK 13 - vs. Minnesota 12/2 (L)
This is one of those games to look forward to the matchup, if only because the two teams don't face each other often. Also, because the Vikings are expected to be a contender in the NFC, which means it could be a preview of potential Super Bowl squads. And, because Kirk Cousins might just be the best QB in the NFL not named Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. Minnesota is in the midst of a tough schedule stretch here, so they play with more desperation.
WEEK 14 - at Miami 12/9 (L)
'Nuff said. At Miami. In December. Injuries starting to mount. New England has lost three of four in South Florida to the Dolphins. Miami will be in a fight to stay relevant in the postseason discussion.
WEEK 15 - at Pittsburgh 12/16 (L)
Adversity, thy name is now New England. The Patriots will have plenty of chances to not arrive at this moment in time with such a fate as we're hanging on them here, and this one against the Steelers is another one of those. Is Pittsburgh motivated over their previous short-comings against the Patriots? Is Le'Veon Bell healthy - and even suited up? Is Ben Roethlisberger still on his feet? And on defense, if the curtain doesn't open for big plays as it often did last season, Pitt might finally "steel" one against the Pats.
WEEK 16 - vs. Buffalo 12/23 (W)
At this point, New England's streak of 263 consecutive games played without a three-game losing streak, second only in NFL history to the 1980-99 San Francisco 49ers (292 games), could be over. A four-game losing streak would be monumental, and the first since 2002 when the Patriots last lost four in a row. That year, the team responded by winning five of their next six, but missed out on the playoffs. If they won five of six here, they'd most likely be Super Bowl champs again.
WEEK 17 - vs. New York Jets 12/30 (W)
At 10-5 going into the final week, the Patriots may very well need this one to secure either a) the AFC East and a home playoff game, or b) to snag a bye in the opening round. So that means everyone available to play, should probably play. The "play 'em or sit 'em" discussion goes on hiatus for a year, at least.
Final record 11-5, 5-1 vs. AFC East Division (champs)
John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is in his 26th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.