The Boston Celtics were heavily favored to lift the Larry O’Brien Championship trophy and have duly been crowned the record 18-time champions of the NBA. Following their success, all eyes in Beantown now turn toward the gridiron.
Unlike Jayson Tatum and Co., however, the New England Patriots head into the new NFL season as anything but favorites. They are the rank outsiders. 

The 2024 campaign will be the first in which the Pats take to the field without Bll Bellichk calling the shots.


The long-time head coach made the Patriots the greatest dynasty in football history. However, after a dismal 2023 campaign that resulted in just four victories, he has since stepped back from his role. Jerod Mayo is the new man in charge, and he has a new franchise quarterback in Drake Maye, who was selected with the third overall pick of the recent draft. 

However, despite the new horizons, there can be no denying that the Gillette Stadium side has arguably the toughest schedule of anybody in 2024. They are in the uber-competitive AFC East alongside the heavyweight Buffalo Bills, improving Miami Dolphins, and a New York Jets side with a fully fit Aaron Rodgers.

The Pats will have to face all three of those heavy hitters twice, as well as plenty of other competition around the league.

Here are their toughest tests – outside of their divisional rivals – in 2024. 

vs Cincinnati Bengals

The Patriots’ season opener couldn’t come against a more difficult set of opponents in the form of the Cincinnati Bengals, which will be a true test of just how far the Foxborough side has come in the close season. Cincy has developed into one of the strongest sides in the AAFC since selecting Joe Burrow with the first overall pick of the 2020 draft. The former Heisman winner led his side to its first Super Bowl appearance 33 years back in early 2022 before taking it back to the conference championships the following year. 

Last term was perhaps the worst of his four years at Paycor Stadium due to him being unfit and finally ending up with a season-ending injury. This year, he is back, fully fit, and his eyes set firmly on the Lobardi. 

Defensively, the Patriots will need to contain Jackpot Joey, a task that will fall on the shoulders of highly rated Christian Barmore and Deatrich Wise Jr. New England’s secondary, anchored by cornerback J.C. Jackson, will also have its hands full with wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, who are perhaps the strongest receiving corps in the entire league. 

One thing that the Pats can take some optimism from is that the Bengals are notoriously slow starters. They have lost their first two games in each of the last two seasons, and the hosts will be hoping to continue that trend in week one. 

@ San Francisco 49ers

Things don’t get any easier for the Patriots as they face the New York Jets on week three in their first clash against a divisional rival. While the NFL betting odds for week 3 haven’t yet been published, with bookies instead opting to see how the first two weeks of the campaign play out, the Lombardi odds certainly have. They make for damning reading for the Pats, who are whopping +18000 outsiders, the fourth longest odds of anyone in the entire league, and on week four, a cross-country trip to face the San Francisco 49ers presents another formidable challenge. 

The NorCal outfit has been made +650 second favorites for the Lombard this season, and after last term, ts clear to see why. In 2023, they topped their conference throughout the regular season last term before heading to the Super Bowl as NFC Champions. Unfortunately, despite being the narrow favorites, they were downed by the Kansas City Chefs, who went on to become back-to-back champions. Next term, the Niners are out for redemption. 

Head Coach Kyle Shanahan has built a well-rounded squad at Levi’s Stadium that is certainly capable of beating anybody. Their offense is equally dangerous both in the air and on the ground, with former Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy developing into one of the league’s finest men under center while running back Christian McCaffrey is arguably already the finest in his position. 

On the other side of the ball, the 49ers’ defensive front, led by Nick Bosa, will pose a significant threat to Drake Maye. The Patriots’ offensive line must protect the former North Carolina Tar Heel and create lanes for the running game to keep the pressure off their young quarterback. 

vs Houston Texans

The Houston Texans came to Foxborough in Week 6 off the back of a stunning campaign in 2023. Second overall draft pick C.J. Sttroud had a stellar campaign which saw him end up with Rookie of the Year honors, and he has since received ample support in the form of wide receiver Stefon Diggs and running back Joe Mixon, brought in from fellow AFC heavyweights the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals respectively. 

For the Patriots, this game is about maintaining focus and executing their game plan. Defensively, keeping Stroud uncomfortable in the pocket and forcing turnovers will be key. Offensively, exploiting the Texans’ inexperienced defense will be crucial. Maye must spread the ball around and utilize tight ends Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper in the passing game


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