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Three Biggest Games: New England Patriots

It’s been a tumultuous offseason to say the least for the Patriots. After over a year of legal proceedings, quarterback Tom Brady has finally conceded he “will no longer fight the courts” on the Deflategate ruling. As such, the four-time champion will be sidelined for the season’s first four games in a stretch that could play a huge role in determining playoff seeding down the track. Things won’t get much easier with Brady in the lineup, as the Pats face one of the league’s toughest schedules top to bottom.

Week 1 at Arizona

Where else to start but week 1, where the entire football world will get its first real look at New England’s fill-in, Jimmy Garoppolo. It’s doubtful that even the Patriots coaching staff can say definitely what they expect from Jimmy G in his first ever start. Despite a crushing end to last season, the Cardinals remain one of the most complete teams in football. The team boasts an enviable combination of relentless pass rushers and ballhawking DBs on defense. At home on Sunday Night Football, the Cards will be monster favourites – and Bill Belichick wouldn’t have it any other way.

Week 7 at Pittsburgh

By week 5, the rest of the NFL’s luck will have run out. Brady is back, and he’s none too happy about his involuntary vacation. In the past, that has meant bad news for the Steelers. Even during the defense’s glory days in the mid- to late-2000s, Tom Terrific typically did his best work against Pittsburgh’s zone blitz scheme. With the unit undergoing a sizeable transition under Keith Butler, the Patriots took advantage of miscommunication and a lack of chemistry in a 2015 victory that was less competitive than the score indicated. The Steelers will need to learn from past mistakes or be doomed to repeat history in this anticipated AFC clash.

Week 16 vs. NY Jets

Any number of games could have filled the final slot on this list. How about a week 9 primetime clash with the Seahawks? The year’s first Pats-Jets meeting two weeks later? Monday night in Foxboro against the rebuilt Ravens? A trip to Denver the following week in front of a crowd baying for blood? Yeah, we weren’t kidding about the whole “tough schedule” thing. If the AFC East hasn’t already been decided by week 16, this will be the game to do it. Denver’s dominant D showed how to not only beat Brady, but pummel him to within an inch of his career in the AFC Championship game. Gang Green’s approach on defense is all too similar.

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