No team would be less likely to receive sympathy if the opposite were true, but after several months of unrest for the Patriots, they can sleep just a bit easier Thursday night with a schedule unlikely to stop them from their 17th division title — including 10 in a row — in 19 seasons under Bill Belichick. Seriously. Look it up.
Sure, opening vs. the Texans, who gave them all they could handle last year, and visiting a Jaguars club in Week Two that led New England by double digits in the fourth quarter of the AFC title game isn't a walk in the park. Neither are home games in Weeks Nine and 13, respectively, with the Packers and Vikings. And they'll again visit Heinz Field in Week 15, where Jesse James and the Steelers also appeared to have them beat last year and now have the updated catch rule on their side.
Still, with Belichick, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski all expected back regardless of what you've read, and their five-game prime-time slate including (at) Lions (Week Two), vs. Colts (Week Five), vs. Chiefs (Week Six), (at) Bills (Week Eight) and the aforementioned home game vs. the Packers one week later, what appears legitimately concerning here? Surely not hosting the Bills and Jets, perennial Patriots doormats, in the final two weeks of the season.