2018 New England Patriots game-by-game predictions

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Let’s have some fun.

Going game-by-game through the 2018 New England Patriots schedule, and predicting results, is a near-impossible exercise. But by looking closer at the road the Patriots’ opponents travel before those games sometimes provides some neat insight that could come in handy down the line.

So, without further ado, let’s let it rip with the annual “laugh at me now, and then laugh at me more later” game-by-game predictions (last year’s prediction was a 13-3 record, and while the Patriots ended up 13-3, the picks for losses were off the mark).

Week 1: Sunday Sept. 9, vs. Houston Texans, 1 p.m. ET

Before everyone truly knew how good Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was as a rookie last season, he provided a glimpse of it in a Week 3 game at Gillette Stadium against the Patriots. Watson finished 22-of-33 for 301 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions, while adding 41 yards on eight carries. This should be his first regular-season game since tearing his ACL last November, and it’s a big test for the Patriots. Record: 0-1.

Week 2: Sunday Sept. 16, at Jacksonville Jaguars, 4:25 p.m. ET

This will be the Jaguars’ home opener, as they will be at the Giants in Week 1, so EverBank Field might be buzzing like it’s 1996 for this rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game. The reference to ’96, of course, refers to the prior time the Patriots and Jaguars met in the conference title game. It might not be a stretch to call this the biggest regular-season home for the Jaguars since the turn of the century. Record: 0-2.

Week 3: Sunday Sept. 23, at Detroit Lions, 8:20 p.m. ET

A trip to Detroit meant the Patriots were a candidate to play in the annual Thanksgiving game hosted by the Lions (as they did in 2002 and 2010), but the schedule-makers were kind to them this year to keep them off the holiday slate. Here’s a fun nugget: Former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, now in his first year as Lions head coach, will be prepping his team for a Week 2 game against the 49ers and former Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo before returning home to do the same against Tom Brady & Co. Tough challenge for the first-year coach. Record: 1-2.

Week 4: Sunday Sept. 30, vs. Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET

There will be big cheers for Danny Amendola as he makes his return to Gillette Stadium, where he delivered some of the most clutch playoff performances in franchise history. Miami opens the season with a home game against the Titans (former Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan was already previewing the matchup against Amendola), before a road game against the Jets and a home date vs. Raiders. Record: 2-2.

Week 5: Thursday Oct. 4, vs. Indianapolis Colts, 8:20 p.m. ET

The Colts have four of their first six games on the road, and this figures to be one of their toughest. As Colts general manager Chris Ballard said after Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels backed out of the head coaching job in Indianapolis, “The rivalry is back on.” This is the Colts’ first trip back to Gillette since they helped start Deflategate (Jan. 18, 2015) and it will be on national TV. They shouldn't expect a warm reception. Record: 3-2.

Week 6: Sunday Oct. 14, vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 8:20 p.m. ET

Brady has mentioned how coming off Thursday night games – as the Patriots will be in this case – can almost be like a mini bye week. That’s timely against a Chiefs team that showed its mettle in coming to Gillette Stadium in last year’s opener and posting an impressive victory. But instead of having a full offseason to prepare as they did last season, the Chiefs will be coming off a home game against the Jaguars this time around. Advantage to the Patriots. Record: 4-2.

Week 7: Sunday Oct. 21, at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. ET

The Bears will have already had their bye (Week 5) and this game falls in the middle of an unusual stretch in which they play all four AFC East teams in succession (at Miami, vs. New England, vs. New York Jets, at Buffalo). It’s the Patriots’ first trip to Chicago since Dec. 12, 2010, when Brady cut through the stuff wind and wintry conditions with one of the most underrated performances of his career in a 36-7 win. Record: 5-2.

Week 8: Monday Oct. 29, at Buffalo Bills, 8:15 p.m. ET

The last time the Bills hosted a Monday night game was in 2008, so New Era Field could be one of the most rabid, pure football environments on the NFL schedule this year. Adding to that vibe is that this will only be the Bills’ third home game of the season despite the late date on the calendar. The Patriots have traditionally dominated in Western New York, but this year might be a different story. Record: 5-3.

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, vs. Green Bay Packers, 8:20 p.m. ET

While the Patriots will be coming off a short week of preparation following a Monday road game against the Bills, the Packers will have crisscrossed the country after a road game against the Rams (the Packers’ bye is Week 7). Their last regular-season visit to Gillette Stadium was 2010, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t play due to injury. This looks like the signature game on the Patriots’ home schedule, the type of matchup Ed Hochuli might consider coming out of retirement to referee. Record: 6-3.

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. ET

The Titans, under first-year coach Mike Vrabel, will be on a short week after having played at Dallas the prior Monday. The last time the Patriots played in Nashville, it was Sept. 9, 2012 and first-round draft picks Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower had an impressive NFL debut. That was the last year the Patriots made two first-round picks, and they enter 2018 with two first-rounders. Maybe lightning strikes twice. Record: 7-3.

Week 11: Bye

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, at New York Jets, 1 p.m. ET

The Patriots are 13-5 coming off the bye under Bill Belichick, which might not be as solid of a mark as some would have expected based on the team’s remarkable run of success. One thing to consider in this situation is that the Jets will also be coming off their bye. Could this be a Brady vs. Baker Mayfield duel? This game always seems to tougher for the Patriots than it might initially appear to be. Record: 8-3.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, vs. Minnesota Vikings, 4:25 p.m. ET

When this game showed up on the schedule, my first thought was, “You like that!” Welcome, Kirk Cousins. The Vikings will be in the middle of arguably the toughest stretch of their schedule, coming off a prime-time home game against the Packers, and then with a prime-time road game against the Seahawks to look forward to. Edge to New England there. Record: 9-3.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET

This game falls in the same spot on the schedule as last year when the Patriots struggled in a 27-20 loss. The Dolphins will be coming off a home game against the Bills, and they have a tough stretch of games after this one -- vs. the Jaguars, at the Vikings, at the Bills -- so they could be fighting to keep their season alive. Record: 9-4.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:25 p.m. ET

Last year’s game in Pittsburgh was on Dec. 17, so again, this is a déjà vu. The Steelers will be coming off a Sunday night road game at Oakland. Last year’s game could have easily gone the other way. Record: 9-5.

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, vs. Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. ET

Fast fact: The Patriots own the best divisional record in regular-season play with an 81-23 mark since the beginning of 2001 and have gone 17 straight seasons without being swept by a division opponent, extending the longest such streak since 1970. Record: 10-5.

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, vs. New York Jets, 1 p.m. ET

Capping off a four-game stretch that is identical to last year’s – both in opponents and where the games are played – predicting a 26-6 New England victory seems apropos. Record: 11-5.