EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 18, 2012

Thanks to a mediocre defense, this is a 9-7 team

On Pro Football
Hector Longo

Like the right front bumper on my wife's Honda, Bill Belichick's defense needed repair.

I opted for the least expensive option, a roll of duct tape. Last year, Belichick did the same and got decent but not championship level help in the bargain basement. Andre Carter and Mark Anderson were nice little parts. Neither made a difference against the Giants.

More defensive duct tape is on the way this year, too, but don't tell me Jon Fanene is all the rage.

You're talking more of the same, cheap options to hopefully boster a defense that still can't stop the pass.

Until, Bill Belichick does something big in the draft or makes a mega-splash in free agency, don't hand the Pats the AFC East.

With the schedule officially announced yesterday, I see the Pats a 9-7 bunch, sneaking their way into the playoffs as a wild card.

Here's how:

Sept. 9, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.

Right out of the chute, the tone is set. Jake Locker throws for 400 and four TDs. All that promise of the preseason gets wiped away as the Pats fall on the road,

Sept. 16, host Arizona, 1 p.m.

Gronk and Co. make up for a less than stellar opener. The offense makes Arizona quit early as the Cards traditionally never travel east well. This one has Pats fans making their playoff plans. I'm just not sold.

Sept. 23, at Baltimore, 8:20 p.m.

If those fakers in Baltimore, those gag artists who handed away the AFC title game, don't embarrass your Patriots on national TV, I'll eat the newspaper you're reading right now. Talk about lock city. Ray Lewis and Co., frauds to the nth degree, take care of business when it matters not. Big deal.

Sept. 30, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.

Third road game in the opening month, and this isn't a gimme anymore. It should be, but we all know what Ryan Fitzpatrick, Stevie Johnson and Co. can do to this secondary. Mario Williams has the heat on him. I expect him to deliver here. Look out, Tom. You're 1-3 and banged up, too.

Oct. 7, host Denver, 4:15 p.m.

Peyton Manning walks into a nightmare, a Bill Belichick team in a desperate spot. Too often, this has ended in a familiar fashion, with Manning flummoxed. Sorry, a different uniform can't change this movie. Broncos busted, and Pats move to 2-3.

Oct. 14, at Seattle, 4:05 p.m.

The "4:05" Sunday game is usually one to forget, and this one fits the bill. The only question is has Seattle tuned Pete Carroll out by this one. Probably. Pete's done, so are the Seahawks. The Tavaris Jackson-Matt Flynn QB battle has about as much luster as the Frank Selke Trophy. Snoozer win has Pete pouting, and Pats level at 3-3.

Oct. 21, host New York Jets, 4:15 p.m.

If the slumbering September was an early warning sign, this dreadful return home, dominated by Tim Tebow and the Jets, foreshadows things to come. A brutal home loss has New York's "other team" thinking championship.

Oct. 28, vs. St. Louis, at London, 1 p.m.

More than anything, the travel takes its toll here. The NFL gets what it wants, a Sam Bradford-Tom Brady shootout. The Pats are simply better and move to .500 ... again. They head to the bye a tepid 4-4.

Nov. 11, host Buffalo, 1 p.m.

Revenge comes swiftly and is served promptly. Ryan Fitzpatrick pouts and Stevie Johnson checks his talent at the door.

Nov. 18, host Indianapolis, 1 p.m.

Please. Make it 6-4 with a ringing 40-point win.

Nov. 22, at New York Jets, 8:20 p.m.

Looks like the Longos will spend the holidays in NYC. Open the day at the Macy's Parade, and finish it with my boy, Timmy T., completing the season sweep and clamping down the AFC East title.

Dec. 2, at Miami, 1 p.m.

All of you who believe that David Garrard is the answer, say "aye." Sorry, I missed that answer while I was listening to a pin drop. Pats set the stage for a double-December Fish fry.

Dec. 10, host Houston, 8:30 p.m.

A healthy Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson deliver an option the Pats are ill-equipped to handle.

Dec. 16, host San Francisco, 8:20

A physical opponent on a short week, with an explosive offense and a defense that hurts you. Wrong time for the Niners and Pat Willis to be here. Pats get exposed for their lack of physicality on Sunday night football.

Dec. 23, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.

The heat is the only true foe, here. If the Jags had any heart (or brains) they would trade Maurice Jones-Drew to a franchise that could utilize his tools. Instead, the diminutive bulldozer toils for a non-contender yet again. Pats roll.

Dec. 30, host Miami, 1 p.m.

One of those games that could be swung to prime time if it still has some playoff implications. Is this a wild card play-in game? I say yes. New England completes the Super Bowl hangover season at 9-7, a winning performance but nothing like we've come to expect in the Brady Era.