New England Patriots

Bill Belichick watches as Mac Jones and the Patriots warm up before a game. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

If the 2023 New England Patriots want to return to real contention in the AFC, they’re going to have to pull off some upset wins.

Bill Belichick is, of course, no stranger to surprising people. But he doesn’t have Tom Brady to engineer the upsets anymore. It’s no longer the days of the Patriots upending favored teams with a mix of Brady’s undying competitiveness and Belichick’s masterminding. But it’s still possible that Belichick made just enough off-season improvements in key areas, especially on offense, that he can close the gap on his counterparts and possibly ruin some parlays.

Here are the Patriots’ toughest games on their 2023 schedule, and what it might look like if New England pulled the upset…

  • Chiefs: Pats’ offense matches the defense

    Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Believe it or not, the Patriots have had somewhat of an answer for Patrick Mahomes in their last two matchups with the Chiefs. Offensively, K.C. has averaged just 20.5 points in its last two contests against Belichick’s defense, with Mahomes posting a meh 96.2 passer rating. The problems for the Pats in these games have been anemic offense and poor ball security.

    If Bill O’Brien has turned things around and Mac Jones has taken a big step forward – and we should know by the time these teams meet in Week 15 – and the defense can continue to slow things down for the Chiefs, maybe they can get it to a last-possession, game-ending field goal type of situation. Game can go either way at that point.

  • Eagles: Super Bowl hangover

    Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles

    Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

    The Philadelphia Eagles may have arguably the most complete roster of talent in the NFL, and SHOULD again be a top contender in the NFC while they have Jalen Hurts cheap. But there’s always the possibility of a slow start for any Super Bowl team. They’re coming to Foxboro in what should be a good test for Hurts and Nick Sirianni against Belichick and the defense.

    I wouldn’t exactly bet on a Patriots win in this season opener. But it WILL be Tom Brady night, and the Eagles could be dealing with the dreaded hangover. Don’t be shocked if the game is closer than expected.

  • At Bills: Another weather phenomenon

    Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen fights off a sack by New England Patriots Deatrich Wise Jr. during a Dec. 26 game. (Syndication The Providence Journal)

    Providence Journal

    It’s unfortunate that the Patriots’ best hope of beating Josh Allen in recent years has been weather as the great equalizer. But if they head to Buffalo and the snow and the wind and the things are out of control, the game could come down to things other than “We have Josh Allen and you don’t.”

    Plus, it feels like 2022 was the year for the Bills. The window is tighter. I’m predicting that the AFC East is a closer race between all the teams in 2023.

  • At Dolphins: Maybe they’re just better?

    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - NOVEMBER 06: Head coach Mike McDaniel of the Miami Dolphins talks with Tua Tagovailoa #1 during the fourth quarter in the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on November 06, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – NOVEMBER 06: Head coach Mike McDaniel of the Miami Dolphins talks with Tua Tagovailoa #1 during the fourth quarter in the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on November 06, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    The Dolphins are overrated. There’s no reason to chalk them up as someone the Patriots simply can’t beat. Tua’s undefeated record against them is overrated. Mike McDaniel is overrated. And that may all come to light as soon as 2023. This is the NFL. There are no sure things and the general treatment of the Dolphins over the Patriots as a sure thing is simply silly.

    Miami may be a house of horrors for New England in recent years, but we only remember the losses because they’ve been so outrageous. The Patriots have won there before, too, and won big. And they shouldn’t be ruled out in 2023.

  • At Broncos: Russell Wilson might be cooked

    DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 11: Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos walks off the field after sustaining a concussion in the fourth quarter of a game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Empower Field At Mile High on December 11, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    It’s easy to just blame the coach when things go wrong, and Nathaniel Hackett was most certainly deserving of a lot of blame for the Broncos’ shockingly bad 2022 campaign. But it’s time to wonder how much Russell Wilson really has left at 34 going on 35, coming off a season in which he posted an 84.4 passer rating and was sacked more than anyone (55) in the league.

    Wilson has lost some elusiveness, and chucking up jump-balls to Jerry Jeudy may not be enough to make up for that. Sean Payton should also be considered a wild card in his return season. Denver is a tough place to play for anyone, but it might continue to be tough for the Broncos.

  • Bills: The window is closing

    ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 08: Daniel Ekuale #95 of the New England Patriots sacks Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills during the third quarter at Highmark Stadium on January 08, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

    Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

    See previous Bills section. Now put the game in Foxboro. It obviously didn’t go well for the Patriots last December, but again, it was more to do with the offense. Assuming they have a more representative NFL operation on that side of the ball, could the defense possibly hold the Bills to 24 points again? Maybe make this one closer than anyone predicts?

    It’ll be considered a long shot on paper. But I suspect that the Bills won’t look as dominant against the Patriots or anyone else than they have in the past three years. It’s possible they missed the most wide-open portion of the Josh Allen window.

  • At Cowboys: Mike McCarthy screws it up

    FOXBOROUGH, MA - NOVEMBER 04: Head coach Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers shakes hands with head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots after the Patriots defeated the Packers 31-17 at Gillette Stadium on November 4, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    As will be the case for much of the 2023 season, the Patriots will be facing a team with a more talented roster when they head to Dallas to face the Cowboys. But Belichick vs. Mike McCarthy remains a coaching mismatch. If the Patriots can hang around and force McCarthy to out-manage Belichick at the end of the game, that could give the Patriots an unseen edge.

  • At Jets: It’s still the Jets

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 20: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on during the second half against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    If there’s one thing Belichick can probably still do, it’s motivate an unheralded group of players to prove the doubters wrong. And get up for a game against the bleepin’ Jets.

    Aaron Rodgers may arrive in New York with a pedigree unlike any Jets quarterback ever, but he’s also 39 years old with a major adjustment period coming in a whole new environment. He’s not a lock to stay healthy, either. The Jets aren’t a lock to be better than the Patriots.

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    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.