FOXBORO — Record-wise, the New England Patriots 2009 schedule, released last night, stands to be the third-toughest in the National Football League.
Add in a draining late-October trip to London, and the Pats stand to be taxed physically like no other team in the game.
Hurdles everywhere loom large, especially over the first half of the slate.
Panic should set in. Batten down the hatches, right? Forget it.
With Tom Brady's knee back healthy, a giant pre-qualifier if there ever was one, this franchise, 11-5 in Matt Cassel's unproven hands a year ago, seems destined for a bounce back to 2007 standards.
Another perfect 16-0 most likely is out of the question, but I'll stake my reputation on this team going at least 14-2 in '09. Here's how they'll get there:
Sept. 14 vs. Buffalo, 7 p.m. — Brady returns and gets a layup, facing Dick "JV" Jauron's Buffalo Bills before a national TV audience. Blowout city, 1-0.
Sept. 20 at New York Jets, 1 p.m. — Short week on the road after the Monday nighter in a hostile environment. Brett Favre isn't around to mess things up for the New Yorkers. More likely, the Pats simply come out empty and drop a head-shaker, 1-1.
Sept. 27 vs. Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. — Brady's first 400-yard throwing game since '07 has New Englanders - and fantasy football owners invested in Randy Moss - absolutely giddy. "Matty Ice" (Falcon QB Matt Ryan) torches a suspect Patriot secondary relentlessly, but nobody notices with Brady pinballing the Pats to victory, 2-1.
Oct. 4 vs. Baltimore, 1 p.m. — The reeling Ravens, already 0-3, hit Gillette with Joe Flacco in the throes of a sophomore swoon. Ray Lewis is older than my mother-in-law. And she's got better knees. Another ballistic Brady eruption, 3-1.
Oct. 11 at Denver, 4:15 p.m. — No quarterback, no win. Sorry, Josh McDaniels. Now, you see why Lovie Smith got so gray, so fast. Two words, Kyle Orton. Two more, Chris Simms. Pats take care of business as the old man crunches the upstart, 4-1.