The “dumbing down” of the Patriots now appears complete.
No Monday nights. One Sunday night. Bye week during Week 17. A much easier schedule than 2000, we think.
But when you look at the 2001 Patriot schedule, it doesn’t make your eyes bug out like in past years. You don’t sit down, inspect the schedule and think “Wow, you’re talking at least 12-4 here!”. Even with last year’s killer first eight weeks, 12-4 seemed doable with the still-not-far-removed-from-a-Super-Bowl 2000 Patriot squad.
Of course, the doomsayers who thought an 0-8 start last year was more likely were more correct. Going 2-6 in the first half of the schedule last year was hardly unexpected. Having one of those two wins in Denver was the high point of the whole year.
The 2001 Patriot schedule was released on Thursday this week, and Patriot Nation is immediately mulling over what hand has been dealt the team this fall. In some ways it looks much easier than the 2000 schedule-from-hell, but in some ways it is insulting, and an improved record is far from a given.
Not surprisingly, ABC has left the Patriots off their docket for this fall. This actually turns out to be a good thing, in that Patriot fans need not wait that extra, excruciating day for their game to be played. The Pats also are not exposed to a jinx-filled forum, and need not worry about Antonio Langham giving up two late touchdowns to lead his team to inglorious defeat on national prime time.
Best of all, with the exception of a Sunday night tilt against the Rams, all games end before the evening shadows envelop New England. There will be no staying up past midnight this year, and that will pretty much include January celebration parties also.
The Patriots will also not enjoy the Week 9 bye week this year. In each of the last two seasons, the Patriots have had their seasons bisected at midpoint with a week off. Not so in 2001.
Where they do get it is a bit disappointing, but it can turn out good for the team. The Pats got a bye on Week 17, which means that they have to go 16 weeks in a row before their break. The insult here is that the only team to have a Week 17 bye last year was the Cleveland Browns, who come to Foxborough on December 9th. If the NFL thinks the 2001 Patriots are akin to the 2000 Browns, that is anything but flattering.
Where this will help the Patriots, of course, is if the Pats make the playoffs. They get a week off as if they had a one or a two seed. In the incredible unlikely scenario that they get one of the top two seeds, they then get two weeks off. In that case, one might worry about the team getting rusty instead of rested.
Which brings us back to the schedule itself. The Patriots did indeed get a much easier schedule this year. But based upon the declining performance of the team in each of the post-Super Bowl years, one cannot sit down with this schedule and dream the 12-4 dreams of years past. Unless the Patriots are really improved with these free agents, draft just the right men later this month, and Bill Belichick brings it all together in a meteroric return to past expectancies, the Patriots really have little chance to improve much on last year’s record.
The Patriots went 2-6 last year to start. A 2-6 start this year is not out of the question.
There are only two “winnable” games on the first half docket: the opener at Cincinnati, and October 14 at home against San Diego. However, the Pats struggled at home last year against a putrid Bengal squad, and the Chargers have Doug Flutie to pitch until Michael Vick is ready. Anytime Flutie plays at Foxborough, crowd support for the home team is always imperiled.
The other first half games are at Carolina, home with the Jets and Colts, at Miami, at Indianapolis, and at Denver (again?!). The Pats have never beaten Carolina, and cannot be favored anywhere on the road until the team regains past winning ways. Denver’s new stadium, plus revenge for 2000 may give Denver an emotional edge. Never assume the Patriots will ever beat the Jets again. The Pats might sneak one over the Colts at home, but Belichick may have to carry Tony Simmons for one more year to pull this off.
The second half of the season has only one “winnable” game, and that would be the Browns at home. If Atlanta is still a shell of their Super Bowl form, the Pats could snitch one in the Georgia Dome. They then get the Bills, Saints and Rams at home, travel to Joisey, come home to Cleveland, go to Buffalo, and conclude on a Saturday at home with Miami.
You can’t help but look at New Orleans at home and think “easy win”. But this Saint team went to the playoffs last year and upset the defending champion Rams at home before losing a tough game at Minnesota. The Rams themselves had a subpar 2000 season, but if Kurt Warner is back to his 1999 form, he will have the Patriot secondary running silly all night.
So, if you add up the “winnable” games and the “steal” games, you come out with five wins. You also get a coach who will go on the “imperiled” list, and a legion of angry and depressed fans who will think very little about that new stadium that will open the following year.
Will 5-11 happen?
Odds are that the Patriots should improve in 2001. The division is rife with teams in transition, and there really is no clear front runner. Perhaps the Colts are further ahead of any other team in the AFC East and should be installed as the preseason favorite to win the division.
The 5-11 prediction here is less a prediction than it is a big assumption based upon the performance of the 2000 team. Belichick has brought in a bevy of free agents to fill some of the holes, and the draft is but a few days away. With the six pick in the draft, the Patriots can go a long way towards turning some of those assumed losses into wins.
The draft is huge this year for the Patriots. If you still have Super Bowl euphoria running through your system, you could look at this upcoming draft day and call it the most important day of the last five years of the Patriots. If the Patriots are “gunning up” with mid-range free agent signings, the balance can tip towards or away from the Patriots depending upon who they select in the first seventy picks of the draft, and how well they do.
If breaks go the Patriots’ way, if injuries are not a problem and if Robert Edwards shows 90-95% of his old form, the Pats might be looking at eight or nine wins. Realistically speaking, this would be borderline playoffs. It is not unreasonable to expect this many wins. The team should get at least five.
One nice thing about the schedule is that you’ll know right off the bat if the team has really progressed and/or upgraded itself. They begin in Cincinnati, a cupcake team with which they struggled against last year. If the Patriots can defeat them decisively, that will be a good sign. We say this only because it gives the viewer a comparison with 2000 to look at right off the bat.
The Patriots really shouldn’t breathe any easier this year. They still need to play very hard and show improvement. They need to blow out the easy opponents, and learn to do the necessary things to defeat the tougher teams. Week 3 against the Jets at home will show if the Patriots have taken giant steps or baby steps.
In any case, it is the final year of football at Foxborough Stadium. The Pats can do the noble thing and send the old concrete slab out in style.
As long as winning prevails over toilets flushing.
Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Offseason
Tags: 2001 Patriots Offseason 2001 Patriots Season New England Patriots