Patriots Set To Win The East, Again

The Patriots are in a good position to make another run at the division. They also have a rematch with Peyton Manning on the schedule.

Patriots positioned to win another division title

   You can't say the schedule-makers haven't been kind to the Patriots in recent years, and this season is no different.

   While predicting records based on the schedule in April is often an exercise in futility, it would appear, based on what is set in stone right now, the Patriots will have a great chance of repeating as division champions based on the teams they'll play in 2012.

   The schedule includes four prime-time games - two on the road at New York and Baltimore - a slew of 1 p.m. games, which had diminished in recent years. Last year, they only had four on the schedule when it was released; this year, there are nine. They can be flexed out at any time, but it's certainly a change from the recent trend.

   The most noteworthy game on the schedule is the Thanksgiving Day showdown at New York against the Jets, which is New England's second Thanksgiving game in three years. They're also playing overseas in London against the St. Louis Rams, one of the easier (theoretically) NFC crossover games on the schedule, and hosting the Denver Broncos, who are now led by old foe Peyton Manning.

   The biggest boost is the fact they close out the season with three out of four games at home, where they've been near-unbeatable since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002. That's a stark contrast to the stretch of three road games in four weeks they open the season with. Without question, it benefits the Patriots to play the bulk of their home games toward the end of the year, particularly if the playoff race is close by then.

   On a related note, most of the Patriots' toughest games are at home, including two against San Francisco and Houston during that aforementioned stretch in December. Plus, when the Texas come to town Dec. 10, they'll be playing their third consecutive road game. There's also a home game against the Indianapolis Colts, who were the league's worst team last season and probably won't improve much, even if they draft quarterback Andrew Luck, as expected.

   The other boost is the placement of the bye week, which comes right in the middle of the season on Nov. 4 following their trip to London. This gives the Patriots an even split of eight games before the bye and eight games afterward.

   Again, it's impossible to tell how the rest of the league will shape up. Some of the games that appear easy now could be difficult once they actually become a reality on the schedule, but it's worth noting, for now, that the Patriots appear to be set up for another strong year in which they're catching all their opponents at the right time.

Still no official announcement on Light

   --Left tackle Matt Light still hasn't decided what he wants to do regarding his future. He's been linked to retirement rumors, but his future is still up in the air.

   "No, I'm just rocking and rolling," Light said. "I've been in Ohio, working on some stuff for the (Matt Light) Foundation. We have a youth turkey hunt coming up. Other than that it's been pretty quiet."

   No timetable either - except, perhaps, at home with his family.

   "My wife has a pretty good idea on what is going to happen with me," he said. "She keeps me pretty busy."

   --Wide receiver Wes Welker, who was franchised during the offseason, did not show up recently at the team's voluntary workouts. According to various reports, not only hasn't Welker hasn't signed the tender yet but he doesn't plan to in the near future. Welker still wants a long-term deal, so there's a chance he won't sign anything unless it's a multi-year extension.

   There's not too much cause for concern yet since the workouts are voluntary, so it's unlikely the Patriots are stressing out over Welker's absence in Foxboro.

   --Linebacker Jerod Mayo recently appeared in the Farrelly Brothers' remake of the Three Stooges, but is now focusing primarily on football as he prepares for the upcoming season.

   "Just happy to be back," Mayo said. "I really didn't go anywhere. I've just been working out by myself, but it's good to get the strength coaches back working with us."

   Unlike some of his teammates, such as Tom Brady, Mayo actually re-watched the Super Bowl loss to the Giants, perhaps as both a learning tool and a source of motivation.

   "I have watched it a couple times, just to break down film like you do every other game," he said, "and just to see where we went wrong, but at the same time I'm past that, and just working to get back to that point next year."

   QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's a curse. You think I wanted that?" -- TE Rob Gronkowski on no longer being in the running to be on the cover of next year's installment of the Madden NFL video game, which has long been considered a "curse" for whichever athlete makes it on the cover.

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