2022 NFL season preview: Preview, prediction for every Patriots game

It’s easy from where we sit, isn’t it? We can generate predictions of all types on a weekly (daily? hourly?) basis if we want to. The internet space is there. Who are we not to try to fill it?

We’ve done what feel like dozens of versions of 53-man roster predictions. We’ve assembled seven-round mock drafts like they’re journal entries. Now — to steal a line — we’re on to the regular season.

I predicted for much of the offseason that the Patriots should be a 10-win team in 2022. Even without Josh McDaniels. Even without JC Jackson. They had enough talent, I argued, to at least repeat their 2021 results. They had the head coach and quarterback to do it.

Double-digit wins. Playoff appearance. Why not?

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Well … There is new information available to us: a messy training camp and preseason, the understanding that the Patriots are running a new offense, that they’re utilizing a new language as well, that Matt Patricia is the apparent play-caller. Shouldn’t that 10-win prediction change?

Maybe. But will it if we go through the schedule and predict the outcomes, game by game? We’ve got the internet space to find out. It’d be rude not to.

 

Week 1: Patriots at Dolphins

Ultimately, Mike McDaniel won’t be the coach Brian Flores was. But he’ll have the Dolphins looking fast and playing free to start this season. While Bill Belichick’s defense has gotten quicker, they’ll have their issues trying to run with Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill in man or zone coverages. Offensively, the Patriots will at times look better with Mac Jones calling the shots at the line. But he’s not the problem. Jones’ protection will struggle with Miami defensive coordinator Josh Boyer’s many blitz looks, and their ability to sustain drives will be tested early. — Dolphins 24, Patriots 17

Week 2: Patriots at Steelers

This is one week on the schedule where the Patriots will be able to win with their defense. They may not have the man-for-man talent in the secondary to match up with receivers Dionte Johnson, George Pickens or Chase Claypool. But they have the versatile pieces — particularly at safety — to deceive Mitch Trubisky into looking like a career backup. The Patriots offense will experience its fair share of bumps in the road against TJ Watt and Co., but Steelers fans may be clamoring for rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett soon after this one. — Patriots 16, Steelers 14

Week 3: Ravens at Patriots

Baltimore is a good candidate to enter the season as an underrated AFC contender, but odds are they’ll leave 2022 considered one of the better teams in the conference. Their defense, decimated by injury last season, has a new coordinator in Mike Macdonald who should breathe new life into what became a blitz-blitz-and-blitz-some-more scheme under Wink Martindale. Their offense features an improved line — led by newly healthy All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley — that should help make Lamar Jackson and his running backs even more potent than they have been in previous years. With Jackson healthy to start the season, this is a tough matchup for New England’s home opener. — Ravens 27, Patriots 20

Week 4: Patriots at Packers

Leading into this one, with the Patriots averaging under 20 points per game through three weeks, questions could be getting louder as to who should be calling plays for the Patriots offense. But the Patriots began the 2021 campaign slowly, and so Belichick and his staff will continue to preach patience. Still, patience in and out of the locker room could be hard to come by after a rough showing against one of the best defenses in the league. Sitting at 1-3 with an offense that ranks in the bottom third of the NFL, the Patriots will have to turn things around quickly to stay afloat. — Packers 24, Patriots 13

Week 5: Lions at Patriots

Even with the Patriots scuffling, all the Dan Campbell “GRIT” hats in the world couldn’t get Detroit fired up enough to barge into Gillette Stadium and dip into the win column with Jared Goff at the helm. Might this be the spot — if Belichick ever were to do it — when the head coach would also start to double as offensive play-caller? We assume Matt Patricia will be calling plays Week 1, as he has for almost the entirety of the summer. But Belichick has said in the past that because he’s the head coach the buck stops with him. Would be fascinating to see if he’d ever take on the in-game role of relaying plays into Jones’ helmet. Patricia has enough on his plate with his offensive line coaching duties alone. — Patriots 30, Lions 20

 

Week 6: Patriots at Browns

On the back of four field goals from old reliable Nick Folk, and thanks in large part to a late interception from old pal Jacoby Brissett, the Patriots march into Cleveland to snatch a fourth-quarter, come-from-behind victory from the jaws of defeat. This was one game many predicted would be a Patriots loss prior to the Deshaun Watson suspension. But with the “W,” Belichick’s club is suddenly back to .500 in mid-October. He said earlier this week that it may take six or seven weeks to truly find out what his team is all about. Is this the game that sways him (and their fan base) one way or the other? — Patriots 26, Browns 24

Week 7: Bears at Patriots

This defensive scheme — organized by Bears head coach and former Indy defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus — was one that flummoxed the Patriots late last season. Chicago doesn’t have the personnel the Colts did, though, and Jones’ wideouts should have no trouble against this rebuilding secondary. Justin Fields could pose the Patriots problems if Matt Judon and Deatrich Wise don’t keep him “in the well” behind center and allow him to scramble. But with a disciplined approach on that side of the ball, this could quickly turn into a bore. The Patriots have a talent-laden schedule this year. But the Bears are a bit of a respite in that regard. — Patriots 34, Bears 13

Week 8: Patriots at Jets

The Patriots are rolling at this point, and as they are, they may do so with a scheme that looks unlike the one they hammered through training camp. This is something I’m personally still torn on: Will Belichick stick with the wide-zone running game — and all that he could build off of it in terms of play-action passes — or won’t he? There’s a reason he’s gone in this direction. It’s worked at a variety of locales around the league. It struggled through the summer in Foxboro, however, both in practices and preseason games. Yet the Patriots haven’t always given those plays the best chance at success since Jones’ ability to audible at the line has been limited.

Now that the reins will be off their quarterback, now that he’ll have more freedom to adjust pre-snap, will wide zone suddenly look better? I’m not sure. But if I had to guess, Belichick will have moved on by this point in the year. His personnel up front isn’t perfectly suited for the Shanahan-style concepts that he and others around the league so roundly respect. If that leads to negative runs, which I’ve been told he has no patience for, then he’ll move on. If the Patriots can gash the Jets — who favor the Shanahan scheme themselves — with runs the day before Halloween, those runs will be of the gap variety. That’s my guess. — Patriots 28, Jets 21

 

Week 9: Colts at Patriots

This was the matchup that started to nudge the wheels off the Patriots’ axles a year ago. And while quarterback Matt Ryan represents an upgrade over what Indy dealt with at the position in 2021, there is reason to believe this year things will go differently. First, this one is at home for Belichick’s club. Second, with Eberflus out, Gus Bradley is now in as Colts defensive coordinator. The Patriots have had the answers to his defenses for years. Those tests, of course, were aced by Tom Brady. But Bradley is a do-what-I-do kind of coach, and Jones should be able to dissect it. Combine that with what looks like an underwhelming Colts offense at critical positions — tackle and receiver, in particular — and this should go down as win No. 6. — Patriots 27, Colts 24

Week 11: Jets at Patriots

Things are starting to sour on Robert Saleh in Jersey by this point in this season. Zach Wilson has been banged up and hasn’t progressed as the Jets would like. Saleh’s defense — which caught fire in San Francisco thanks to a dominant line and single-high safety looks — has tried to adapt with a less-talented front. The results aren’t there. First-round Jets corner Sauce Gardner may rip away a 50-50 ball from DeVante Parker in this one, but Wilson remains prone to back-breaking picks, and in the fourth quarter Devin McCourty camps under a Wilson offering like an outfielder to easily seal a 7-3 record for the fresh-off-a-bye Patriots. — Patriots 33, Jets 20

Week 12: Patriots at Vikings

This feels like a swing game for the Patriots. Even with them riding high on a six-game winning streak, because the final stretch of their season is such a challenge, if they don’t get this one in Minneapolis on Thanksgiving, it could be the difference between making the postseason and not. The Patriots have the edge at head coach, with Belichick going up against former third-round pick and Brady backup Kevin O’Connell — taken in the same 2008 draft class as Jerod Mayo and Matthew Slater — but there’s a mismatch in the secondary that does them in. Without a real answer for do-it-all wideout Justin Jefferson, the Patriots can’t get the fourth-quarter stop they need and head home for a brief post-holiday break with a bad taste in their mouths. — Vikings 28, Patriots 27

Week 13: Bills at Patriots

Even with a few extra days to prepare, Josh Allen is still Josh Allen. Stefon Diggs is still Stefon Diggs. And Diggs’ running mate Gabriel Davis, by this point in the season, may have Buffalo looking like they have a 1 and 1a at wideout. It’s too much offensive firepower for the Patriots to keep up with, and they head out to the West Coast for back-to-back games with a record of 7-5. They’re in the middle of a two-game slide, but “The Path” to the postseason is still very much alive. — Bills 30, Patriots 23

 

Week 14: Patriots at Cardinals

In the second matchup of the season between Belichick and one of his former backup quarterbacks, the Patriots put together one of their better offensive performances of the year against a defense coached by Vance Joseph that ranked 11th in the NFL in points allowed in 2021. Kendrick Bourne has had a rocky summer, but against a team that is searching for corner help — they just traded for Trayvon Mullen, a disappointing 2019 second-rounder of the Raiders — he goes off and the Patriots are back in the win column. — Patriots 30, Cardinals 28

Week 15: Patriots at Raiders

This is an interesting one to try to project after these two teams practiced against one another to finish off training camp. The Patriots felt good about joint session No. 2 but then acknowledged their dud in the preseason finale. The Raiders and Patriots both took a fairly “vanilla” approach to the week of work, knowing that they’d see one another in a few months. While Vegas has offensive line issues that McDaniels will have to work around for what looks like the duration of the season, his talent at the skill positions will be enough to take the win in this coaching-staff reunion. — Raiders 30, Patriots 24

Week 16: Bengals at Patriots

Here’s your headline: Joe Burrow spoils Christmas Eve in Foxboro. Playing behind former Patriots utility lineman and current Bengals center Ted Karras, Belichick’s defense won’t be able to bother Cincy’s quarterback the way they’d like. And with enough time to operate behind center, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins give the New England secondary fits. Can’t double ’em all. — Bengals 31, Patriots 28

Week 17: Dolphins at Patriots

In the elements at Gillette Stadium, and under a coach who may show signs of slowing down by season’s end, the Dolphins offense will be stuck in this New Year’s Day divisional showdown. It looks like a get-back-on-track game for the Patriots defense — whose leader Jerod Mayo will be getting head-coaching buzz yet again around this time — but they face a season-finale against an offensive juggernaut that will determine whether or not their season will continue deeper into January. — Patriots 17, Dolphins 13

Week 18: Patriots at Bills

Though the time on this one hasn’t yet been set, count on it being in prime time. With the Patriots sitting on nine wins, they need to go into the place where their season ended one year earlier and win in order to make the postseason. Jones has kept a picture of his team’s Wild Card round loss in his locker as a reminder, and he’ll play well. But this one will come down to the defense that couldn’t get a stop in either of their final two meetings with Buffalo last season. The Patriots could catch a break if the Bills already have the No. 1 seed locked up by this time. But if they have something to play for, this could be the end of the road for the 2022 Patriots. — Bills 34, Patriots 27

 

Final record: 9-8

The Patriots are set up to spend big for the second time in three years during the 2023 offseason. They have 40 players under contract, according to Over the Cap, and about $60 million in available cap space. They also have no guarantees due to contracted players like Matt Judon, Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne, Jalen Mills, DeVante Parker, Devin McCourty, Trent Brown, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise and David Andrews.

While they’ll want to keep plenty of those players around, they’ll have flexibility to make another offseason free-agency push. They’ll want to surround Jones with as much talent as possible if they want to get a jump on his evaluation before giving him an extension. After year No. 3 is typically when the league’s best passers get locked up. Year No. 3 for Jones will also be the year when Robert Kraft ratchets up the urgency to not only make the postseason but win a playoff game.

He expressed some frustration earlier this offseason that it’s been too long since his team has marched deep into January. That certainly won’t go away if the Patriots miss the postseason entirely in 2022.

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