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Catching up with … the Browns 08.02.13 at 10:22 am ET
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As we count down to the start of training camp, we’ll take a look at all 13 opponents on the Patriots’ regular-season schedule and break down each one of them. We’ve already featured the Bills, Jets and Dolphins, as well as the Buccaneers, Falcons, Bengals, Saints, Steelers, Panther, Broncos and Texans. Now, it’s the Browns.

Prospects are not great for Brandon Weeden and the Browns heading into the season. (AP)

Prospects are not great for Brandon Weeden and the Browns heading into the season. (AP)

Specifics: In Gillette Stadium’s penultimate game of the regular season, the Patriots will host the Browns at 1 p.m. on Dec. 8.

Say goodbye to … wide receiver Josh Cribbs, quarterback Josh Johnson, linebacker Kaluka Maiava, wide receiver Mohamed Massaguoi, defensive end Frostee Rucker, tight end Alex Smith.

Welcome … quarterback Jason Campbell, wide receiver Davone Bess, defensive end Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Desmond Bryant, defensive back Kevin Barnes, tight end Gary Barnidge, kicker Shayne Graham, linebacker Quentin Groves.

Recent history: Well, there isn’t much of it. The last time these teams faced off was November 2010, back when Colt McCoy (174 yards, zero touchdowns) was Cleveland’s quarterback and Aaron Hernandez caught a pair of Tom Brady passes for the only Patriots scores of the day in New England’s 34-14 loss.

The last time the Pats came out on top was in October 2007 (for perspective, that was the month the Red Sox last won the World Series). Brady threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns as his team doubled up the Browns, 34-17, in Foxboro.

The Patriots should be worried because … the new Cleveland brass likely won’t be afraid to shake things up. Joe Banner is the new CEO, Mike Lombardi is the new general manager, Rob Chudzinski is the new coach, and depending on how the Browns start, the team could look very different come December. And for as bad as Cleveland’s offense was in 2012 (314.2 yards per game), you never know what new offensive coordinator Norv Turner might be able to do with second-year starter Brandon Weeden, who will have Bess, who averages 64 catches per season, as one of his new weapons.

The Patriots shouldn’t be worried because … the Browns were terrible last year — and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that — and they aren’t exactly poised to be that much better this time around. Weeden still quarterbacking doesn’t inspire much confidence. They didn’t bolster a rushing corps that averaged fewer than 100 yards per game in 2012. Additionally, Cleveland owns a .250 road winning percentage in the last decade, and it’s been five years since the Browns last won a road game against a team with a winning record.

The skinny: It should come as no surprise that this is one of the 1 p.m. games in Week 14. The Patriots surely have their fair share of question marks on offense, but they are miles ahead of where the Browns appear to be right now. Plenty can change between now and then, of course, but don’t expect this one to be much of a battle.

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Catching up with … the Texans 07.29.13 at 10:18 am ET
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As we count down to the start of training camp, we’ll take a look at all 13 opponents on the Patriots’ regular-season schedule and break down each one of them. We’ve already featured the Bills, Jets and Dolphins, as well as the Buccaneers, Falcons, Bengals, Saints, Steelers, Panther and Broncos. Now, it’s the Texans.

Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots will try to shut down Matt Schaub and the Texans again on Dec. 1. (AP)

Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots will again try to shut down Matt Schaub and the Texans on Dec. 1. (AP)

Specifics: In the first of five games in the final month of the regular season, the Patriots will visit the Texans at Reliant Stadium in Houston at 4:25 p.m. on Dec. 1.

Say goodbye to … running back Justin Forsett, safety Glover Quin, safety Quintin Demps, safety Alan Ball, defensive end Connor Barwin, tight end James Casey, kicker Shayne Graham, wide receiver Kevin Walter.

Welcome … safety Ed Reed, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, offensive tackle Brennan Williams, running back Deji Karim, running back Greg Jones.

Recent history: The teams have not matched up a ton the last few years, but the Patriots have emerged victorious in two out of the last three games, with both of those wins coming last season. First, Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns as the Pats cruised to a 42-14 win on Dec. 10. The score was closer but result the same during a rematch in the AFC divisional round in January, when Houston scored 15 fourth-quarter points but ultimately saw the Patriots end its season, 41-28.

The Texans last came out on top in 2009, a 34-27 win in Week 17.

The Patriots should be worried because … after injuries shortened his 2011 season, Matt Schaub was really, really good again in 2012. He threw for 4,008  yards — the third time he reached that mark in nine NFL seasons — to go with his 64.3 completion percentage, good for sixth amongst regulars. He also finished with a 90.7 passer rating, better than Joe Flacco, Eli Manning and Cam Newton, among others.

The Patriots shouldn’t be worried because … Houston is replacing the trio of Quin, Demps and Ball — who, granted, weren’t all necessarily big-time playmakers — at safety with the 34-year-old Reed after signing the 11-year NFL veteran to a three-year, $15 million contract in March. The previous threesome, all aged 28 or less, were led by Quin’s team-high 84 tackles. Reed had 58 in 2012.

Houston had one of the best defenses around last year, allowing 20.7 points and 323.2 yards per game.

The skinny: The game already has an, um, odd tone to it. After wearing letterman jackets to Gillette Stadium last December, the Texans, who assigned themes to each of its 2013 home games, labeled their date with the Patriots simply as “Homecoming” without offering detail. But if 2012 is any indication, the night won’t include a slow dance for anyone — the Pats didn’t waste any time against the Texans in the two wins, netting a combined 38 first-half points. The Texans are generally expected to be one of the top teams in the league again this season, so this ranks among the more significant non-division games for New England, particularly given the time of year.

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Catching up with … the Broncos 07.25.13 at 4:22 pm ET
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As we count down to the start of training camp, we’ll take a look at all 13 opponents on the Patriots’ regular-season schedule and break down each one of them. We’ve already featured the Bills, Jets and Dolphins, as well as the Buccaneers, Falcons, Bengals, Saints, Steelers and Panthers. Now, it’s the Broncos.

Peyton Manning quieted the doubters with a solid first season in Denver, and now he has former Patriot Wes Welker as part of his arsenal. (AP)

Peyton Manning quieted the doubters with a solid first season in Denver, and now he has former Patriot Wes Welker as part of his arsenal. (AP)

Specifics: The Patriots will play their second prime-time game in a row when they host the Broncos at 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 24, the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Say goodbye to … running back Willis McGahee, defensive end Elvis Dumervil, defensive back Tracy Porter, linebacker D.J. Williams, wide receiver Matt Willis, running back Chris Gronkowski, defensive back Jim Leonhard.

Welcome … wide receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, linebacker Shaun Phillips, defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, running back Montee Ball, defensive back Quentin Jammer, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, defensive tackle Louis Vasquez.

Recent history: The Patriots are 3-0 against Denver, including the 45-10 romp in the divisional-round playoff game in January 2012, since the Broncos last came out on top in 2009. Most recently, the Patriots beat the Broncos, 31-21, last October in the teams’ only meeting since Peyton Manning moved to Denver. They withstood a three-touchdown, 337-yard barrage from Manning with third-quarter rushing scores from Tom Brady and Steven Ridley.

The Patriots should be worried because … Manning and Welker are on the same team. Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker had a combined 2,498 receiving yards last season, Manning’s first in the Mile High City, and with the addition of Welker — not to mention Welker’s subtraction from the Patriots — Denver boasts quote the triple threat. Fresh off neck surgery, Manning proved any doubters wrong with a 68.6 completion percentage (tied for first in the NFL), 37 touchdowns (third) and 291 yards per game (sixth). Even at 37, Manning isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

The Patriots shouldn’t be worried because … the Broncos have their fair share of question marks all over the depth chart. They released Willis McGahee last month, leaving second-year running back Ronnie Hillman and 2013 second-round draft pick Montee Ball as the top options out of an already shallow backfield.

On the other side of the ball, the Broncos will have to replace Dumervil, a three-time Pro Bowler who signed with the Ravens. Linebacker Von Miller, who posted a gaudy 18.5 sacks last season but is facing a four-game suspension to start 2013, should be in midseason form by then, but questions remain, as training camp opens, at safety and on the offensive line.

The skinny: Brady-Manning is always fun, right? This November matchup should be no exception, particularly with the added storylines of Welker joining Manning, and Tebow potentially playing against the team that drafted him — assuming he’s still with the Patriots by then. The Patriots will be faced with the challenge of a shortened week, taking on the Panthers on Monday Night Football the week prior, in what is arguably their biggest and most difficult non-division game of the season. The Broncos may have the edge on paper right now, especially given the drastic differences in the quarterbacks’ respective receiving options, but a lot will happen in the next four months.

Read More: catching up with, Demaryius Thomas, Peyton Manning, Von Miller Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Catching up with … the Panthers 07.24.13 at 7:30 am ET
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Cam Newton enters his third season in the NFL. (AP)

Cam Newton enters his third season in the NFL. (AP)

As we count down to the start of training camp, we’ll take a look at all 13 opponents on the Patriots’ regular-season schedule and break down each one of them. We’ve already featured the Bills, Jets and Dolphins, as well as the Buccaneers, Falcons, Bengals, Saints and Steelers. Now, it’s the Panthers.

Specifics: The Patriots will put the wraps on the NFC South portion of their schedule when they travel to Carolina on Nov. 18 for a Monday night game against the Panthers. (Unless something strange scheduling quirk takes place down the stretch, it’ll be the only “MNF” appearance all season.)

Say goodbye to … cornerback Chris Gamble, wide receiver Louis Murphy, defensive tackle Ron Edwards, tight end Gary Barnidge, linebacker Jason Phillips, guard Mike Pollak.

Welcome … wide receiver Domenik Hixon, cornerback D.J. Moore, wide receiver Ted Ginn, safety Mike Mitchell, cornerback Drayton Florence, linebacker Chase Blackburn, defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short.

Recent history: With the exception of Super Bowl XXXVIII, it’s been a fairly nondescript series of games between the two, with New England holding a 3-2 series lead, with wins in three of their last four games. The game that really stands out was the Super Bowl contest, one of the highest-scoring contests in the history of the big game, as Tom Brady and Jake Delhomme (Jake Delhomme!) engaged in a memorable shootout. The last time they squared off was on Dec. 13, 2009, in Foxboro, and that game was won by the Patriots, 20-10.

The Patriots should be worried because … Carolina quarterback Cam Newton really played well down the stretch last season, so much so that it could have been the start of his coming-out party. Newton led the Panthers to wins in five of their last six games, throwing 11 touchdown passes and just two picks in that stretch. (The Panthers finished 7-9, but seven of the losses were by seven points or less.) Even without the possibility of the read option, Newton established himself as threat to run the ball — he has 1,447 rushing yards, 5.7 yards per carry and 22 rushing touchdowns in two years in the league. Now, if he can add some consistency in the passing game, he could emerge as a real force in the NFC South.

The Patriots shouldn’t be worried because … not to sound like a broken record when it comes to talk about the NFC South, but New England should be able to put up points on the Panthers. Despite the fact that Carolina was involved in a bunch of close games, most of those were shootouts. The Panthers have former BC linebacker Luke Kuechly in the middle, as well as highly-touted draftees Lotulelei and Short. But it remains to be seen if this defense can help improve a defense that was statistically in the middle of the pack in 2012.

The skinny: This isn’t one of the marquee games on the schedule, but it could ultimately end up being one of the more underrated games of the season based on Newton’s progression as well as the evolution of the Carolina defense. The feeling right now is that the Patriots have an edge on the Panthers on paper, but if Carolina can get its relatively young team to jell on both sides of the ball, New England could be in for an interesting night. In the context of this conversation, it’s also important to note that the Patriots will be coming into this game after their bye — they’ll have 15 days between their Nov. 3 game against the Steelers and the Nov. 18 contest with the Panthers, which should help New England.

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Catching up with … the Steelers 07.23.13 at 11:31 am ET
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As we count down to the start of training camp, we’ll take a look at all 13 opponents on the Patriots’ regular-season schedule and break down each one of them. We’ve already featured the Bills, Jets and Dolphins, as well as the Buccaneers, Falcons, Bengals and Saints. Now, it’s the Steelers.

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger

Specifics: The Patriots will host the Steelers at Gillette Stadium on Nov. 3 at 4:25 p.m.

Say goodbye to … wide receiver Mike Wallace, outside linebacker James Harrison, guard Willie Colon, running back Rashard Mendenhall, defensive tackle Casey Hampton, quarterback Charlie Batch, center Doug Legursky, offensive tackle Max Starks.

Welcome … running back Le’Veon Bell, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, wide receiver Markus Wheaton, cornerback William Gay, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, tight end Matt Spaeth, punter Brian Moorman, running back/returner LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Recent history: The Steelers have had the edge over the course of the series, holding a 15-11 advantage over New England since the two teams first met in 1972. The Patriots won six of the seven games between the two teams that were played from 1998 through 2007, but Pittsburgh has won two of the last three games, including a 25-17 win over New England at Heinz Field on Oct. 30, 2011.

The Patriots should be worried because … the Steelers do what they do — play tough, physical defense and try to wear you down on offense with a steady, consistent ground attack (with a little passing mixed in for good measure). Even in a relatively down year in 2012, Pittsburgh was plenty stingy on defense — the Steelers were 8-8, but were first in the league in team defense and passing defense, second in rush defense and sixth in overall scoring defense (19.6 points per game).

The Patriots shouldn’t be worried because … Pittsburgh has some questions on the offensive side of the ball, including a troublesome offensive line situation and new faces at wide receiver in Wheaton and running back in Bell, both of whom were taken with high draft picks. (In fact, setting aside the offensive line, there are some comparisons to the New England offense in that both teams have a proven veteran at quarterback who has won on the big stage but now have offenses in a state of flux that could go through some growing pains early in the season before they start to come together.)

The skinny: While it lacks some of the rivalry juice of a Patriots-Ravens game, Patriots-Steelers is always compelling theater. (Even though Pittsburgh is coming off an 8-8 season, the networks had the good sense to move this one to a 4:25 p.m. start.) This year should be no exception, as a Brady-Ben Roethlisberger matchup is always good fun. This Week 9 contest will be the final game for New England before its bye, and by this point on the schedule we should know what sort of team the 2013 Patriots really are before they start a key five-game stretch that will have them facing the Broncos, Texans and Ravens.

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Catching up with … the Dolphins 07.22.13 at 11:53 am ET
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Ryan Tannehill enters his second season in Miami. (AP)

Ryan Tannehill enters his second season in Miami. (AP)

As we count down to the start of training camp, we’ll take a look at all 13 opponents on the Patriots’ regular-season schedule and break down each one of them. We’ve already featured the Bills, Jets, Buccaneers, Falcons and Bengals and Saints. Now, we’re back in the division with a look at the Dolphins.

Specifics: The Patriots host Miami in Foxboro on Oct. 27 at 1 p.m. and travel to South Florida on Dec. 15 for another 1 o’clock start.

Say goodbye to … linebacker Karlos Dansby, offensive tackle Jake Long, running back Reggie Bush, tight end Anthony Fasano, wide receiver Davone Bess, cornerback Sean Smith.

Welcome … defensive end Dion Jordan, wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Brent Grimes, tight end Dustin Keller, wide receiver Brandon Gibson, linebacker Philip Wheeler, defensive end Vaughn Martin, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, offensive lineman Tyson Clabo.

Recent history: The Patriots have won the last six meetings between the two teams, with wins of 27, 28 and 31 points in that stretch. Last year, New England won both games against Miami — of the two victories, the most interesting was the one in South Florida when the Patriots delivered what might have been the drive of the season. Tom Brady and the offense put together a 16-play, 77-yard drive that consumed 7:18 and effectively ended the game. (For  more on the drive, click here.)

The Patriots should be worried because … the youthful Dolphins were certainly trending in the right direction at the end of the 2012 season, surprising some around the league with a three-game winning streak early in the year and posting two wins in their last three games to finish 7-9 on the season. They aren’t going to win the Super Bowl this season, but this is a big year in Miami, as the Dolphins feel pretty good about themselves and where they are in the reconstruction process. (So much so that Ellerbe has already been making noise about how New England is vulnerable this year. Don’t think THAT hasn’t already found its way to a bulletin board in Foxboro yet.) With the additions on both sides of the ball and the recent struggles of the Bills and Jets, if there’s another AFC East team that’s going to mount some sort of challenge to the Patriots, it should be Miami.

The Patriots shouldn’t be worried because … while Miami was competitive for most of last season in many areas, they didn’t do any one thing particularly well. They were middle of the road or worse in all statistical categories on both sides of the ball, including scoring offense, where they were 27th overall at 18 points per game. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed flashes of talent as a rookie, but still had a penchant for making questionable decisions (12 touchdown passes, 13 picks).

The skinny: There’s good, young nucleus of talent on both sides of the ball, and Joe Philbin has proven to be a quality presence as a head coach in leading the Dolphins back to (almost) .500. But there are some questions here as Miami attempts to make the leap to the next level: Do the Dolphins have enough to make the transition from 7-9 to postseason contender this season? And if not, does ownership have the patience to let GM Jeff Ireland and Philbin continue with a rebuilding plan? While Miami-New England won’t be a marquee game in 2013, it could be in another season or two if the Dolphins continue to head in the right direction.

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Catching up with … the Saints 07.21.13 at 3:11 pm ET
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Drew Brees and Tom Brady will renew acquaintances in October. (AP)

Drew Brees and Tom Brady will renew acquaintances in October. (AP)

As we count down to the start of training camp, we’ll take a look at all 13 opponents on the Patriots’ regular-season schedule and break down each one of them. We’ve already featured the Bills, Jets, Buccaneers, Falcons and Bengals. Now, it’s the Saints.

Specifics: The Patriots will host the Saints in Foxboro on Oct. 13 at 4:25 p.m.

Say goodbye to … tackle Jermon Bushrod, running back Chris Ivory, quarterback Chase Daniel.

Welcome … cornerback Keenan Lewis, linebacker Victor Butler, tight end Benjamin Watson, safety Kenny Vaccaro, tackle Terron Armstead, quarterback Seneca Wallace. (The Saints also welcome head coach Sean Payton after a year in exile for Bountygate.)

Recent history: Not a whole lot of recent history here, but the Patriots can boast of an 8-4 lead in their series with the Saints, with three wins in their last four games. However, New Orleans got the better of New England the last time around. That came on Nov. 30, 2009, when the Patriots traveled to the Superdome and got waxed, 38-17, serving as a speed bump on the Saints’ Super Bowl. During the game, the NFL Films cameras caught Bill Belichick on the sidelines bemoaning the fact that he can’t get the 2009 team to play the way he wanted them to play — that team was perhaps the most mentally weak squad of the Belichick Era. Less than three weeks later, “LateGate” occurred, and Adalius Thomas had a surreal Q&A with the media, invoking flying cars and the Jetsons. A fitting way to end a relatively rough season for New England.

The Patriots should be worried because … Drew Brees will be one of the three best quarterbacks the Patriots will face this season, and if the New England pass defense enters the game unprepared, he’ll have no problem scorching the Patriots. Brees has three receivers who are capable of going for 1,000 receiving yards this year in Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Jimmy Graham (Colston and Moore surpassed 1,000 yards receiving last season), while Darren Sproles remains one of the best third down options in the league. While there are some questions about the consistency of the running game, the passing game is one of the finest in the league.

The Patriots shouldn’t be worried because … like almost all of the NFC South teams they will face, New England should be able to move the ball on the Saints. New Orleans was at or near the bottom of almost every major defensive category last year, including average yardage allowed (440.1 yards per game, 32nd), average passing yards per game allowed (292.6, 31st), average rushing yards allowed (147.6, 32nd) and points allowed per game (28.4, 31st). It remains to be seen if that was because the Saints were without Payton last year or if it was part of a larger, personnel/scheme issue, but you have to believe that New England should be able to put up some points on New Orleans.

The skinny: There’s a reason the network’s gave this one a coveted Sunday at 4:25 — if the weather is good, this should be a fun, wide-open shootout between two of the best quarterbacks in the league. It’s not a traditional rivalry game — the coaches and quarterbacks are pretty tight — but it should be compelling theater.

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