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.
Oct. 18 vs. Tennessee, 1 p.m.— We all felt warm and fuzzy watching Kerry Collins overachieve a year ago. The bubble bursts. Now, the focus is on Vince Young and his sudden aversion to the spotlight. By Week 6, Jeff Fisher's football Ferris wheel is locked with Titans fans marooned in mid-air. Patriots feast, 5-1.
Oct. 25 vs. Tampa in London, 1 p.m. — Pip-pip. Doodly-do. The only thing that tumbles faster in England than the Bucs is Stonehenge when Clark Griswold backs into it early in the flick, "European Vacation." Pats roll to 6-1, but Longo needs the bye week to recover from some rancid fish-and-chips wrapped in newspaper.
Nov. 8 vs. Miami, 1 p.m. — Ahhh!!! It's the attack of the "Wildcat" offense. Run for your lives. Or not. Pats welcome the fish to a chilly Gillette and unceremoniously thump Chad Pennington repeatedly. He has no time to find receivers as the newly youth-infused Pats linebacking corps has old noodle-arm running for his life. Brady hits the halfway point with 30 TD passes, and nobody notices the lack of a running game with New England now 7-1.
Nov. 15 at Indianapolis, 8:20 p.m. — The nation awakes to what is happening here in New England. Brady finds the fresh indoor turf in Indy to his liking and torches the Colts, who will again be without fragile but spectacular Bob Sanders. This is the beginning of the end for Peyton Manning. And New England gets its first 100-yard rushing game, from Fred Taylor of all people, to move to 8-1.
Nov. 22 vs. New York Jets, 4:15 p.m. — By this time, Rex Ryan's quarterback woes have festered into an absolute comedy of raging on-field sores. There is pandemonium in New Jersey and a savage beating ensues as the Pats clinch a playoff berth and send the Jets back into a state of embarrassment where they belong.
Nov. 30 at New Orleans, 8:30 p.m. — Bill Belichick just doesn't lose in December, so the Pats pick Monday night of all times for their second and final stumble of the campaign. New England's secondary has no answer for Drew Brees, and Brady is merely human, subject to all that wild Crescent City noise. New England is 9-2 and ready for the stretch run.
Dec. 6 at Miami, 8:20 p.m. — Don't be surprised if this one is moved by the NFL's flex scheduling to 1 p.m. due to the nation's lack of interest. There is no Miami magic in '09, just a trip back to the land of double-digit losses. New England helps pave the way and locks up the AFC East in the process at 10-2.
Dec. 13 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m. — Time to see if the Pats can run it when they need to. John Fox's defense is the only decent test remaining on the slate. It's December, the Pats don't have a ton to play for as the bye is now a mere formality. New England gets physical and shows the rest of the league a little smash-mouth offense. It's tight, but the Pats prove a point, 11-2.
Dec. 20 at Buffalo, 1 p.m. — All the underachieving Bills need is two more wins and six other scenarios to happen and Jauron can lead his crew to the promised land of the playoffs. Ain't hap'nin. Bye, bye Buffalo, 12-2.
Dec. 27 vs. Jacksonville, 1 p.m. — The NFL makes the switch here and flexes this one into the prime Sunday night spot. The Jags promise a physical bloodbath. Instead, Taylor punches his old team right in the kisser. New England passes the cold weather test brilliantly. Jack Del Rio makes even more excuses as to why eight-year QB David Garrard again fails miserably when it matters, 13-2.
Jan. 3 at Houston, 1 p.m. — Now at quarterback for your New England Patriots, Kevin O'Connell. On the 17th week, Brady rests. Somehow, the bottom half of Belichick's 53-man roster gets it done vs. the forever stuck-in-the-red-clay Texans, 14-2.
So there you have it. One part intellect, one part clairvoyance and hopefully in your eyes, one part humor.
Just one man's humble opinion on your 2009 New England Patriots.
Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.