By Brent Schwartz, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With five Super Bowl wins and and seven AFC titles in 16 seasons, extra motivation may be harder to find for a Patriots team that has dominated in the Belichick/Brady era. Still, the head coach does a good job keeping the Patriots on their toes.
Although the Patriots, a professional football team, don’t really need any extra motivation to win professional football games, the team has used some added fuel at times in the past. Whether it’s Belichick’s mention of the Eagles’ parade plans prior to Super Bowl XXXIX, or Mike Vrabel addressing Marty Schottenheimer’s trash talk after a 2005 Patriots-Chargers game, the Patriots have found reasons to deliver more of a crushing blow to their opponents.
So it must be asked, which games during the 2017 NFL season might the Patriots have extra motivation to win? The 2017 season will have no shortage of them.
Week 1: Kansas City Chiefs
In October of 2014, the sky was falling in New England thanks to a 41-14 loss to the Chiefs on Monday Night Football in Kansas City. The loss, in which Brady threw two interceptions (one of which was a pick-six) and lost a fumble before being benched in the fourth quarter, sparked questions nationwide about whether Brady’s time in New England was close to the end. It made Trent Dilfer say out loud that the Patriots are not good anymore.
The Patriots have played the Chiefs since that game, beating them 27-20 in an afternoon divisional playoff game in 2015. But this will be the first regular season meeting between those teams since that day – and it’s the 2017 season opener, so the entire football world will be watching. Expect the Patriots to show everyone, Dilfer included, how good they still are.
Week 4: Carolina Panthers
The Patriots will meet the Panthers for the first time since the questionable end to a 2013 Monday Night Football game in North Carolina. As the Panthers’ Robert Lester intercepted Brady’s end zone dart on the game’s final play, the officials threw a flag for what appeared to be an obvious holding call on Luke Kuechly for bear-hugging Rob Gronkowski. After a brief meeting, the officials decided to pick up the flag and the game was over.
Also, Brady has lost two of his last three to Carolina during the regular season (both at Carolina) and has yet to beat fellow Under Armour endorser Cam Newton. Looking at the schedule, this game could possibly stand out as a big, early-season matchup that may feature one, or even two 3-0 teams.
Week 10: Denver Broncos
After their bye, the Patriots will return to the site of their last two postseason losses – and possibly Brady’s least favorite place to play. Brady sports a career 3-7 record in Denver (0-3 in the postseason) against a team that has long had the defensive talent to make things difficult for him and played in a thin-air climate that is always hard to adjust to in a game. Even during last season’s 16-3 Patriots win in Denver, Brady had a subpar day statistically (16-for-32, 188 yards).
This may be a matchup that the Patriots will use to measure the strength of their offense heading down the stretch of the regular season. This could shape up to be one of the AFC’s marquee matchups of the 2017 season, especially if Denver gets more consistent quarterback play.
Week 11: Oakland Raiders
For some of the media, much of this offseason has been spent gushing over the Raiders heading into 2017. Most are including them (and the Steelers) as the Patriots’ most formidable foe in the AFC. Some are even going as far to say that this Raiders team will end the Patriots dynasty entirely. Led by young stars Derek Carr and Khalil Mack, the Raiders also added the un-retired Marshawn Lynch. If any Raider is extra-motivated, it’s Lynch, who may be holding Super Bowl-sized grudge against the Patriots after what transpired a little over two years ago on the goal line in Arizona.
But still, it’s the Patriots who have had to hear talk of the latest “up-and-coming” team that is ready to stake their claim against them practically every season of Brady’s career. As soon as the Raiders win a few games, they will be the newest one. Still, this may be an AFC Championship game preview – expect the Patriots to be extra-amped for this one.
Weeks 12 & 14: Miami Dolphins
The Patriots’ biggest test within the AFC East should once again come from Adam Gase’s Dolphins. Miami is already talking the talk, as Jarvis Landry said in April that the Dolphins would sweep the Patriots this season. Sure, the Patriots won’t admit that talk like that motivates them. But when you see Tom Brady get in the face of former Steelers corner Anthony Smith, who famously guaranteed a victory before a 2007 game, it’s clear the players at least remember that sort of thing come game day.
But for Brady, playing in Miami has been another thorn in his side. He’s 7-8 in Miami, and before last season’s week 17 victory over the Dolphins he had lost his last three against them on the road. The Patriots may also have a chance at clinching the AFC East in Miami on Week 14.
Week 15: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Patriots get a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game when they travel to Pittsburgh in Week 15. Besides the fact that this game should have massive playoff implications, the Patriots will look to put to rest any doubt that the Steelers would have kept things interesting had Le’Veon Bell remained healthy. In March, Bell told ESPN’s First Take “I think if I go into that game healthy, it would be a different game. I think we beat them.”
Besides Bell, the Steelers have Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger to form one of the league’s best trios. But many have been riding high on the Steelers for the past few seasons, yet they’ve continued to come up short at the end. With Martavis Bryant possibly coming back from a year-long suspension last season, talk of the Steelers taking over the AFC will surely arise from some again. And the Patriots will probably gain plenty more bulletin board material from it.