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Breaking down rest of regular-season schedule for Patriots

11.07.12 at 12:22 am ET
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Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are preparing to get back to work following the bye week. (AP)

With the Patriots at the halfway point, here’s a quick thumbnail sketch of what their schedule looks like down the stretch, with a few pertinent thumbnails about where their opponents are at this stage of the season.

Home against the Bills, Nov. 11 – Despite the fact that the Bills looked impressive in the first half of their September meeting in Orchard Park, looking at both sides, there’s little reason to take the Bills seriously heading into this game. That’s especially the case in Foxboro, where they haven’t won in 12 years. (Doug Flutie was the quarterback when he led the Bills to an overtime win over the Patriots on Nov. 5, 2000.)

Home against the Colts, Nov. 18 – Maybe the most underrated matchup left on the Patriots’ schedule. Are the Colts for real? Or are they just a young team riding a wave of emotion and a talented quarterback? This will mark the first game new corner Aqib Talib will be eligible to play, and he’ll likely be needed as the New England secondary tries to slow down Andrew Luck, who certainly is playing beyond his years. One thing: The Colts will be a young dome team going outside in November. Bad weather could play a role in this one.

At the Jets, Nov. 22 – The coveted Thanksgiving night game, this contest held a lot more appeal at the start of the season when New York appeared to be positioned as one of the AFC’s elite. Now, the game stands as an opportunity for the Jets to play the role of spoiler. And will Tim Tebow be under center by the time the Patriots get to East Rutherford?

At the Dolphins, Dec. 2 – If there’s a trap game left on the schedule, this could be it, as a late-season trip to Miami occasionally has been a stumbling block for the Patriots. Miami is a frisky young team that cannot be discounted, with a stout defense against the run. Not saying the Dolphins are good enough to nudge their way into the playoff picture, but expect the game to be more competitive than they many people believed it would be when the schedule was first released last spring.

Home against the Texans, Dec. 10. If Houston stumbles over the next few weeks and New England keeps winning, this is a game that could go a long way toward determining who holds home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. The Texans will provide the Patriots with a stern test, but while Houston is an undeniable talent, this also is a young team that will be playing outside of its element late in the season.

Home against the 49ers, Dec. 16. While the Texans will provide a challenge, the most complete opponent to travel to Foxboro this season will be San Francisco. The 49ers have a young and aggressive defense and an offense that is capable of moving the ball on the ground and in the air. While the 49ers aren’t the pillowy-soft California opponent some might have you believe, the Patriots might want to root for inclement weather in this one — a December game in New England against a warm-weather team traditionally turns in favor of the Patriots. One more thing: While New England will be home for the Houston/San Francisco back-to-back, the Patriots will be prepping for the Niners on a short week.

At the Jaguars, Dec. 23. The least-intriguing game remaining on the schedule. The woeful Jags have struggled on both sides of the ball over the first half of the season and don’t appear to be capable of turning things around anytime soon. If there’s a slam-dunk win left on the schedule, this is it.

Home against the Dolphins, Dec. 30. Despite the fact that the Dolphins appear to be a feisty young bunch that could give the Patriots a game when the two teams meet in Miami, historically the Dolphins have struggled when they have been forced to make a late-season trek to Foxboro.

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