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The New England Patriots didn't live up to the standards they set for themselves for the previous two decades in 2020. During the first season of the post-Tom Brady era, Bill Belichick's club went 7-9 and was on the outside looking in on the playoffs for the first time since 2008. In an attempt to avoid a similar for in 2021, the Patriots dove hard into free agency inked a number of high-profile players to deal, including linebacker Matt Judon along with tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry

On top of that, New England also utilized the No. 15 overall pick at the draft by taking Alabama signal-caller Mac Jones. With the preseason now concluded, it's clear that Cam Newton will likely begin the year as QB1, but it does feel like only a matter of time before there's a changing of the guard at that critical position. While the timing of that change is still up in the air, the general goal for Belichick is clear as day: win more games than you lose. 

Will they be able to do that in 2021? Let's roll through the entire 17-game slate and predict how this coming season may unfold. 

(Over/Under win totals for every opponent courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook) 

Need a quick betting primer on your favorite NFL team for the 2021 season? Here are links to schedule breakdowns for all 32 clubs.

Week 1 vs. Miami Dolphins

Line: Patriots -3
Opponent win total: O/U 9.5

For the second consecutive year, New England will begin its season at home against Miami. Similar to what occurred then, I expect the Patriots to be able to find success on the ground with a combination of running back Damien Harris and Newton, who'll likely begin the year as the starter. While Brian Flores does match up with his former mentor in Belichick well, New England's defense should do enough to slow down second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as he's still working to build up some chemistry with his new pass-catchers. 

Prediction: New England wins 21-14
Projected record: 1-0

Week 2 at New York Jets

Opponent win total: O/U 6

This game could prove to be a bit tricky for the Patriots, especially if Newton's struggles as a passer bleed into the early portions of the regular season. If their game plan is to continue to utilize a strong O-line and the running prowess of Newton along with the rest of the backfield, they could be in for an uphill climb against New York's front seven. Ultimately, the Jets offense is likely still working itself out with rookie quarterback Zach Wilson at the helm, which should open the door for New England to pull out the win, but it's more competitive than folks will anticipate heading into it.  

Prediction: New England wins 20-10
Projected record: 2-0

Week 3 vs. New Orleans Saints

Opponent win total: O/U 9

New Orleans may not have Drew Brees under center anymore, but the Saints still have an offense led by Sean Payton that should give New England some problems, with Jameis Winston now at quarterback. While Belichick runs a finely tuned ship, the elephant in the room during the early portions of their regular season is their opponent in Week 4. Could that force some to take their eye off the ball in Week 3 and look ahead? Feels like a possible trap game in the early goings. 

Prediction: New England loses 27-14
Projected record: 2-1

Week 4 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Opponent win total: O/U 12

Welcome back, Tom Brady! This is the game that we've all been waiting for since the official schedule has been released. For the first time as a visitor, Brady will be taking his Buccaneers into Gillette Stadium to face the team he called his own for two decades and helped win six Super Bowl titles. Tampa Bay comes into this matchup as the defending Super Bowl champions and boasts a loaded roster of essentially the same cast that hoisted a Lombardi a season ago. If there was ever a regular-season game where Brady was super laser-focused, it's this one. I don't expect this game to be particularly close and could be one of the early periods where Newton's status as the starter is seriously in jeopardy. 

Prediction: New England loses 33-20
Projected record: 2-2

Week 5 at Houston Texans

Opponent win total: O/U 4

I've previously listed this as one of the dates to circle where you could see Belichick make the change over to Jones at quarterback. Under this prediction, however, Belichick keeps Newton as his starter, which is a similar type of loyalty he held for the quarterback last year. This presents a nice opportunity to roll the same unit out there against a Texans squad that could very well find itself at the bottom of the NFL standings once the year is done. A solid bounce-back opportunity here. 

Prediction: New England wins 27-13
Projected record: 3-2

Week 6 vs. Dallas Cowboys

Opponent win total: O/U 9

The Cowboys were not only able to help Dak Prescott return to full health following his season-ending ankle injury a year ago, but they also inked him to a massive contract extension this offseason. The strength of Dallas will remain on the arm of Prescott and the Cowboys passing attack, but that should play into New England's hand in this matchup. The Patriots' strength this season is their defense, particularly in the secondary with Stephon Gilmore and newbie Jalen Mills. I expect that unit to be able to fend off Prescott enough for the offense to control the ball on the ground and grind out a win. 

Prediction: New England wins 24-20
Projected record: 4-2

Week 7 vs. New York Jets

Opponent win total: O/U 6

This game is one of three instances this season where the Patriots will be facing an opponent who is coming off their bye. Luckily for them, the Jets are still not at the level in their rebuild where they can take full advantage of this. New England takes the season series in a relatively uneventful matchup. 

Prediction: New England wins 23-17
Projected record: 5-2

Week 8 at Los Angeles Chargers

Opponent win total: O/U 9

Another opponent who was resting up prior to this head to head. Not only that, but the Patriots need to fly across the country for this matchup with Los Angeles. Unlike the New England's Week 7 matchup with the Jets, however, the Chargers give the Patriots a rough go of it at SoFi Stadium. A year ago, Belichick and Co. were able to demoralize L.A. to the tune of a 45-0 blowout. This time, it's the Chargers who have their way with the Pats as Justin Herbert continues to impress under center during his second season in the league. 

Prediction: New England loses 33-21
Projected record: 5-3

Week 9 at Carolina Panthers

Opponent win total: O/U 7.5

Sam Darnold was 0-3 in his games against the Patriots during his days with the New York Jets in the AFC East. Despite making the change to Carolina, the young quarterback still can't get into the win column against New England, who leans on its defense to carry the team to a bounce-back victory after a rough showing out in Los Angeles the week prior. This could also prove to be a strong day for the Patriots on the ground after the Panthers surrendered 121 yards rushing per game last year. 

Prediction: New England wins 23-17
Projected record: 6-3

Week 10 vs. Cleveland Browns

Opponent win total: O/U 10.5

Cleveland enters this season after taking positive strides in 2020 that included reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Baker Mayfield should only improve as he rolls through his second season under head coach Kevin Stefanski and the Browns will likely be a significant player in the AFC. With their combination of a strong passing game with Mayfield and a lethal running game starring Nick Chubb, the Browns have a well-balanced offense that should give the Patriots problems. Meanwhile, New England's offense could be under siege by star pass-rushers Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney

Prediction: New England loses 28-20
Projected record: 6-4

Week 11 at Atlanta Falcons

Opponent win total: O/U 7.5

Cue the 28-3 jokes! That said, you better get them in while you can as Matt Ryan and the Falcons are able to get the last laugh in this prime-time matchup on "Thursday Night Football." This is surprising because Ryan has yet to beat the Patriots in the regular season, going 0-3 in his career. New England's defense doesn't turn in the most inspiring outing and Newton's struggles in the passing game are ever apparent as he struggles against a lackluster Falcons secondary. 

Prediction: New England loses 27-17
Projected record: 6-5

Week 12 vs. Tennessee Titans

Opponent win total: O/U 9.5

QB change! After back-to-back losses that have them hovering around .500 at this point in the season, Belichick elects to make a change at quarterback, thrusting the first-round rookie Jones into the starting slot. This is an ideal time to make a change for Belichick as a Thursday night matchup against Atlanta in Week 11 allows for Jones to have a little extra time to prepare for this showdown with the Titans in Foxborough. Meanwhile, the matchup may also be favorable for the rookie as Tennessee has struggled in recent years getting after the quarterback. While Jones will be fine in his debut, New England breaking its two-game losing skid is thanks to the running game led by Damien Harris and the defense keeping Derrick Henry at bay. 

Prediction: New England wins 20-13
Projected record: 7-5

Week 13 at Buffalo Bills

Opponent win total: O/U 11

Belichick decides to roll with Jones for the rest of the season and now faces the toughest test of his early career: a head-to-head game with Buffalo on "Monday Night Football." While he does have some time to further prepare thanks to this game being the final matchup on the Week 13 slate, the Bills are too talented for Jones and the Pats to pull off an upset. Josh Allen continues to play at an MVP level and this win makes is it clear that Buffalo is en route to another division crown. 

Prediction: New England lose 34-24
Projected record: 7-6

Week 15 at Indianapolis Colts

Opponent win total: N/A

The Patriots reach the long-awaited bye in Week 14, but it doesn't do them any favors against a Colts team that is spearheaded by one of the best front sevens in football. While it remains to be seen how the Carson Wentz experiment will truly play out, if he can reach the levels he did when Frank Reich was his OC in Philadelphia, Indy will be that much tougher of an out. Just on the defense alone, however, this will be a tall task for New England. 

Prediction: New England loses 24-13
Projected record: 7-7

Week 16 vs. Buffalo Bills

Opponent win total: O/U 11

Buffalo will likely be fighting for playoff positioning at this point in the year, so the Bills won't be taking this game lightly. Again, the Bills are in a different tier to the Patriots at this point in each franchise's history and the talents of Josh Allen should allow them to complete the season sweep. 

Prediction: New England loses 31-21
Projected record: 7-8

Week 17 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

Opponent win total: O/U 6

The Patriots get their first look at 2021 No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence. While he may be one of the most polished quarterbacks to come of the college ranks in quite some time, Belichick historically feasts on rookie signal-callers. That should continue against Lawrence as the Jaguars don't have a clear-cut contender built around their new franchise QB just yet. 

Prediction: New England wins 28-23
Projected record: 8-8

Week 18 at Miami Dolphins

Opponent win total: O/U 9.5

New England ends the 2021 regular season on a high note. Jones gets to go head to head with his former college teammate in Tua Tagovailoa and this matchup could possibly have a playoff trip on the line for the Patriots as a wild card. In any event, Jones has his best game as a pro in Week 18 and the Patriots defense does enough to bottle up Tagovailoa and the Miami offense to cruise to a victory. 

Prediction: New England wins 24-17
Projected record: 9-8

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