Strength of schedule: New England Patriots

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
12:00
PM ET
When assessing the strength of the Patriots' 2014 opponents, the first question I asked is, "How many teams are under new leadership either with their head coach or an offensive/defensive coordinator?"

Change can ultimately be good, but I think it can often mean some early growing pains for those clubs, potentially making those matchups more favorable for the Patriots (especially if they come within the first quarter/half of the year).

Of the 13 teams on the Patriots' schedule, six have significant change:

Bengals: Offensive and defensive coordinator (Hue Jackson for Jay Gruden; Paul Guenther for Mike Zimmer)
Bills: Defensive coordinator (Jim Schwartz for Mike Pettine)
Chargers: Offensive coordinator (Frank Reich for Ken Whisenhunt)
Dolphins: Offensive coordinator (Bill Lazor for Mike Sherman)
Lions: Head coach (Jim Caldwell for Jim Schwartz)
Vikings: Head coach (Mike Zimmer for Leslie Frazier)

Furthermore, playing the NFC North over the NFC West (best division in football) looks like another benefit for the Patriots.

But overall, it is very difficult to assess strength of schedule at this time of year because it's truly such a moving target, and something Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said in his season-ending news conference reflected this.

Tomlin was asked about what could be viewed as a positive for his 2013 team; how it had only two losses against teams that finished the season with a better-than-.500 record.

"I really don't get into that," Tomlin responded. "Where people stand today might be different than where they stood when we played them. Teams evolve over the course of the season."

They do, and along those lines, it's very early in the 2014 season to be assessing strength of schedule.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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