By: Bob George/
September 08, 2002

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Too bad the Patriots didn't begin this season in Cincinnati instead of last year.

The Week 4 opponents of the Super Bowl Champion Patriots, the San Diego Chargers, made the Bengals look like the Bengals on Kickoff Weekend 2002. Just one short year ago the Patriots made the Bengals look like they were the champs. It's just another one of those qualities about the NFL. Sometimes, you simply never know.

Like Houston winning its debut against Dallas. Like the Bills rallying behind Drew Bledsoe, only to lose in OT on a second returned kickoff for a touchdown. Like Dwayne Rudd committing the biggest bonehead play of the last ten years in costing his Cleveland Browns team a win.

For the Patriots, life as defending champions begins Monday night. Finally, beginning with the strange concept of a Thursday night opener, the Patriots get their chance to begin their season. On a stage in which they traditionally fail, they get the team they conquered in January to reach Super Bowl XXXVI in the regular season christening of Gillette Stadium.

Everyone out there in Patriot Nation has weighed in on their predictions for the Patriots this year, and most of them are not quite in line with Las Vegas' over/under of 8 ½ wins. Most of them are with the over, and not because of parochial pride and spirit.

That said, here's how we see this season turning out:

Week 1, Pittsburgh -- Both teams want to kill each other, which should prevent a Steeler blowout of any kind given how poorly the Patriots play on Monday night. Bill Belichick talked the other day about how teams are different from season to season, and he is right. The Patriots will have a few more offensive weapons from Pittsburgh to contend with, but Kordell Stewart is still their pitcher. If Belichick can confuse Stewart, shut down Jerome Bettis and provide just enough offense, the Patriots should win. Record: 1-0

Week 2, at Jets -- Strange game today at Buffalo. Curtis Martin suffered an ankle injury, but don't count him out for this game. His backup, Lamont Jordan, is formidable. Sam Cowart makes the Jet defense look more ferocious. The Patriots might play the Jets with more confidence than in the past in light of their last meeting, a 17-16 come-from-behind win last December. In the five years since Bill Parcells left, the Patriots are 3-7 against the Jets, with two of the three wins coming at Exit 16-W. This year, that trend should reverse and the home teams win this year. Record: 1-1

Week 3, Kansas City -- Their crazy win today in Cleveland revealed an emerging offensive juggernaut. Priest Holmes looks like he is on target for a career year. The last two times the Chiefs came to Foxborough, the Patriots made them look totally inept. Not that this means a whole lot, but look for the Patriots to win thanks to this homefield advantage. Record: 2-1

Week 4, at San Diego -- Nice debut for Drew Brees today. This bunch came into Foxborough last year and played 50 minutes of terrific football. The last ten minutes cost them the game (add on the overtime, also). Where the Chargers are involved, history is really with the Patriots. The Chargers have not beaten the Patriots since 1970, and have not beaten the Patriots at home since 1969. The Patriots have won ten in a row in this series. A rally job won't do at the Big Q, but if the Patriots contain Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson and hang close, they can prevail here. Record: 3-1

Week 5, at Miami -- Belichick will tell his men to "get your 'attaboys' over with Robert Edwards quick". He's back, and he and Ricky Williams want to get at the Patriots. Williams was stuffed last year by the Patriots as a Saint, and Edwards will have the motivation to beat the team that simply refused to wait any longer for him. The rest of the Dolphin team will want to stick it to the Patriots for wresting the division title from them last Christmas at Foxborough. Humidity and a healthy defense help cut down the Patriots. Record: 3-2

Week 6, Green Bay -- Remember how roughly Ralph Sampson was treated in the Boston Garden after his fight with Jerry Sichting in the 1986 NBA Finals? This will pale greatly in comparison to the booing Terry Glenn will get. If she shows up, she will be pumped and jacked, but so will her defenders. What this game will come down to is if the Patriots can stop Brett Favre. He riddled them in Super Bowl XXXI and the regular season game the year after. Tough call, but if Glenn either blows the game off or is reduced to crushed buckeye nuts, the Patriots will have the edge. Record: 4-2

Week 7, Open Date

Week 8, Denver -- This team did pretty much the same thing to the Rams on Sunday what the Patriots did to them in February. This game swings on home field, and the Patriots should prevail at home. Tom Brady threw four picks against these guys last year; look for that scenario to not repeat. On the other hand, the smart thinking is that Belichick will come up with a plan that Brian Griese cannot deal with. And you cannot discount the fact that the Broncos are a heckuva lot more beatable minus the great Terrell Davis. Record: 5-2

Week 9, at Buffalo -- Drew Bowl I. Let the hype begin. Bledsoe looked good for the most part in his Buffalo debut today against the Jets. His game-tying touchdown rally was sweet. But he still does the same bad things that he had been doing here. Against Belichick, that will be fatal. The Patriots lose this game if they have a hard time scoring like last year. Smart money says that Bledsoe gets befuddled and the Patriots prevail. Record: 6-2

Week 10, at Chicago -- They'll bring out the Illini band, who'll yell "Orange and Blue!" Well, there's some orange in the Bears' uniforms. Talk about your surprise team from 2001, and most people should say Da Bears and not Da Pats. Being away from Soldier Field is viewed as a big negative for the Champaign Bears. Brian Urlacher and UNH's Jerry Azumah are formidable on defense, but the Patriots should be pouring champaign after a close win. Record: 7-2

Week 11, at Oakland -- No matter how up the Patriots will be for this game, the Raiders will be obscene this Sunday night. Key stat for the game: how few Patriots get carried off the field. The Raiders will try and punish the Patriots more than beat them. This may be the one game all year long where the Patriots simply cannot exceed the emotion of their opponent. At the Black Hole, advantage Raiders. Record: 7-3

Week 12, Minnesota -- The Patriots will get a much different team than the one they saw in 2000. But they will still have to deal with Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss. If they can punish Moss like they did Isaac Bruce, and keep containment on the lumbering quarterback, the Patriots should be okay in this one. Record: 8-3

Week 13, at Detroit -- Turkeys for second time in three years. This time the real turkeys will be the Detroiters. Not only will the Patriots win the battle of football teams, they will win the battle of new football stadiums. Patriots lose only if the Vikings wear them out so bad that they come into Ford Field totally exhausted. Record: 9-3

Week 14, Buffalo -- Bledsoe comes home to Foxborough, receives one huge standing ovation, then the fans quickly forget his nine years of service here. Bledsoe may play better in this game than the first one. It's his team that should worry him, and not his personal confidence in his ability. Belichick will be ready, and Bledsoe will be in trouble if his offensive line is overmatched. Record: 10-3

Week 15, at Tennessee -- First regular season trip to Al Gore country for the Patriots. Hard to predict this one, as Steve McNair will pose a great challenge. Maybe you noticed what happened to Jevon Kearse today, but that should not be a problem when this game comes around. Adelphia Coliseum is a hard place to win for a road team. Titans get the edge here unless they are riddled with injuries or if Eddie George still cannot find himself. Monday night also hurts the Pats, who perhaps may be looking ahead to the Jets. Record: 10-4

Week 16, Jets -- With the playoffs on the line, the Patriots will be facing two tough division opponents at home to finish the season. This is the game which will make or break a return to the postseason for the Patriots. Play smart, they win this game. We're again banking on the fact that they turned a corner against the Jets last December, and that the Jets won the first game because they were at home. Someone tell Belichick that if Marshall Faulk can be stopped, Martin can. Record: 11-4

Week 17, Miami -- And the Patriots finish off the season with a fish fry if they beat the Jets the previous week. The Patriots will have all the momentum, and Miami hates cold weather. Edwards will get a bigger hand than Bledsoe will, but his knee will be severely tested in the presumptive cold weather. Gillette Stadium will be pulsating with an expected whambang finish, and the Patriots shan't disappoint. Record: 12-4

That's Bob G's take. 12-4. Tomorrow night at 9 eastern, it's up to the Patriots to begin to make Yours Truly a prophet.