The New England Patriots entered the 2023 NFL season with the hardest schedule of any team, based on their opponents' 2022 win percentage and ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) model.
Thus far, the schedule actually has been pretty tough as the Patriots lost their first two games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins, while barely escaping Sunday's Week 3 matchup against the New York Jets to improve to 1-2.
Now that we have three weeks of data on all of the Patriots' remaining opponents, let's take a fresh look at the strength of their schedule.
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We'll sort the remaining matchups into "winnable games", "toss-ups" and "likely losses". How will we do that? By using ESPN Analytics' win probability.
Any game that has the Patriots above a 55 percent chance to win will be considered a winnable game. Any game that has the Patriots with a 45-55 percent chance to win will be a toss-up, and games where the opponent has above a 55 percent chance to win will be designated a likely loss.
Using this methodology, there are six "winnable games", three "toss-ups" and five "likely losses" left on New England's schedule. The Patriots probably need 10 wins to make the playoffs in the AFC, so if they take care of the winnable games and sweep the toss-ups, they'd have 10 victories.
So there's definitely a path to the playoffs for the Patriots, even if it's hard to see that now.
Here's a breakdown of the remaining games sorted by category.
- Week 5 vs. New Orleans Saints
- Week 6 at Las Vegas Raiders
- Week 9 vs. Washington Commanders
- Week 10 vs. Indianapolis Colts
- Week 12 vs. New York Giants
- Week 16 at Denver Broncos
The Saints have concerns at quarterback after Derek Carr suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder in Week 3. He's currently considered week-to-week. New Orleans' defense has played great, but its offense has yet to take off. That was expected based on the fact that Carr is in his first season with the Saints, but if he doesn't play in Week 4, it could take even longer for him to build chemistry with his teammates.
The Raiders also have injury concerns at quarterback with Jimmy Garoppolo in the concussion protocol. Las Vegas' defense made the Steelers offense look competent in Week 3, which isn't a good sign. The Patriots suffered a horrific loss in Las Vegas last season, so they should have plenty of motivation in Week 6.
The Commanders aren't a bad team, but there are question marks on offense. Starting quarterback Sam Howell has turned the ball over five times in three games, and his offensive line has allowed a league-high 19 sacks. Luckily for Washington, there's plenty of time to fix these issues before it comes to Foxboro in early November.
The Colts game could be interesting if rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson is healthy and plays. The Patriots have struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks and Richardson has that kind of skill set. The game will be played in Germany, which adds some extra variance. The Giants have been one of the league's most disappointing teams so far. They might also be one of the few teams with a weaker wide receiver depth chart than the Patriots.
It's always tough to win in Denver, but the Broncos look awful, especially after losing 70-20 to the Dolphins in Week 3. Russell Wilson hasn't improved from last season and the defense isn't anything special.
One reason why these games are winnable is the Patriots will either have the better quarterback or the matchup at that position will be pretty even. In that scenario, you have to like the Patriots defense's chances to keep these games competitive.
- Week 13 vs. Los Angeles Chargers
- Week 14 at Pittsburgh Steelers
- Week 18 vs. New York Jets
The Chargers have an explosive offense, but their defense has allowed the fifth-most points per game (29). They also have one of the league's worst head coaches in Brandon Staley. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has struggled against Bill Belichick's defense in his short career. He is 0-2 while completing just 50 percent of his passes for 432 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Steelers have a good defense, but their offense has entered the red zone just three times in three games. Kenny Pickett struggled mightily against the Patriots defense as a rookie last season, and it wouldn't be shocking if Belichick came up with an elaborate scheme to fool the young QB again.
The Jets aren't likely to make the playoffs, but as we saw in Week 3, their defense is legit and made the Patriots offense look bad throughout the game. You can also bet the Jets would love to spoil the Patriots' playoff chances if New England is still in the postseason mix on the final day of the regular season.
- Week 4 vs. Dallas Cowboys
- Week 7 vs. Buffalo Bills
- Week 8 at Miami Dolphins
- Week 15 at Kansas City Chiefs
- Week 17 at Buffalo Bills
There aren't many surprises in this group. The Bills have beaten the Patriots four consecutive times and in six of the last seven meetings. Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is 5-0 in his career versus the Patriots after helping Miami earn a 24-17 victory at Gillette Stadium in Week 2. The Dolphins are arguably the league's top team right now with a 3-0 record following a 70-20 win over the Broncos.
The Dallas Cowboys won their first two games by a combined score of 70-10 but lost 28-16 on the road in Week 3 to a bad Arizona Cardinals team. The Cowboys committed 13 penalties and lost the turnover battle. So, the Cowboys do look a little more beatable, especially without star cornerback Trevon Diggs, but they still have more talent than the Pats and homefield advantage Sunday.
The Kansas City Chiefs game is the Patriots' lone "Monday Night Football" matchup. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has won his last two games versus the Patriots. This year's game is late in the schedule, so the Chiefs could have the added motivation of playing for the AFC's No. 1 seed.
Winning even one of these games would be huge for the Patriots' playoff chances and allow them one slip up against the teams in the "winnable games" and "toss-ups" category above.