2019 NFL schedule: Five potholes on Patriots' road to repeat
The New England Patriots' path to the playoffs in 2019 does not look too difficult.
New England, based on the 2018 records of their opponents, have the easiest strength of schedule in the NFL alongside the Washington Redskins.
That seems very unfair given the Patriots' continuing dominance, but a big part of that is down to having three division rivals who continue to provide very little in the way of competition.
So, who provide the biggest roadblocks for the Patriots in the regular season as they seek an unprecedented seventh Super Bowl title?
The list is short, but includes some familiar suspects who have caused them problems in years gone by.
v Cleveland Browns
Games against his old team may be tougher now for Bill Belichick than they were in the past, and you can file the Browns' offense under the same category as that of the Kansa City Chiefs – one blessed with young talent, a superstar receiver and a fearless quarterback playing for an offensive-minded head coach who maximises his skill set. Throw in the depth on Cleveland's defense and this is a home game that figures to be a very tricky proposition for New England.
@ Baltimore Ravens
It has long been thought that no team scares the Patriots and their fans more than Baltimore. This is a very different Baltimore team – Joe Flacco has been replaced by Lamar Jackson and the defense has been gutted of a lot of talent – but the prospect of a road game against a team led by a coach in John Harbaugh who has had success against New England is not likely to be an enticing one for the Patriots.
@ Philadelphia Eagles
They may be reigning Super Bowl champions, but you can be sure the Philly fans will be keen to remind the Patriots of the one that got away a year earlier. Nick Foles may have taken his magic touch to Jacksonville, but if Carson Wentz is fully healthy this an Eagles team still good enough to contend with any in the league and revenge for their Super Bowl LII defeat is unlikely to come easy for New England.
@ Houston Texans
The Texans have beaten the Patriots just once in their history, but each of the two games in which Deshaun Watson has been under center have been decided by one score. There remain questions over Houston's offensive line and the back end of the defense but, with Watson's dual-threat ability and J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney pursuing Brady, the Texans have enough at their disposal to pull off an upset.
v Kansas City Chiefs
Had the Chiefs won a flip of a coin, we may be talking about them defending the title in 2019. In two games against the Patriots last season, Patrick Mahomes hung points on New England's defense almost at will and there is little to suggest he should not do so once more against a unit now without pass rusher Trey Flowers. The big question, however, surrounds the Chiefs' ability to stop Tom Brady. They failed to do so last season and the task may be even more difficult following the departures of pass rushers Dee Ford and Justin Houston.