The Three Toughest Opponents for the New England Patriots in 2012

Will Randy Moss come back to haunt the Patriots?
The main talk going into the 2012 season seems to be surrounding if the New England Patriots can go 16-0 for the second time in 5 years. This is a real possibility, with Tom Brady back to his best after his 2008 injury, a scary offence even scarier with the addition of Brandon Lloyd, and a stockpile of talent on D through the draft, and a seemingly simple schedule. However, there are some tough encounters that the Patriots need to overcome to reach this pinnacle, here are the three toughest in my view:

Baltimore – The Pats first prime time game of 2012 is a big one. Seriously big. The first time for the Ravens to get revenge for “wide left”. Joe Flacco trying to prove his worth as an elite quarterback, Ray Rice trying to prove he’s worth his mega-deal.  Torrey Smith trying to avoid a sophomore slump as the Ravens deep threat. Sure there’s no Terrell Suggs, but there’s still superstars like Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on defense. This is arguably the toughest game on the slate this year, especially with the background story of the AFC Championship game. The Ravens will be as pumped up for this as they would be for a Steelers game, the Patriots must be able to rise to the occasion to come out on top in Baltimore.

Denver – Sure we beat them twice last year, pretty comfortably. But that was with Tim Tebow. This time, it’s Peyton Manning calling the shots. Once again, the hype surrounding this game will be massive. As good as Bill Belichick and Brady are at deflecting the attention, it might get to this young defense. We don’t know at this stage how Manning’s health will be at week 5. Hell, it might be Brock Osweiler at QB. But if Manning is well and truly back, I can see this game being a tough one for the Patriots, especially with a Bronco’s defense which can generate pressure on the QB with players like Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, and the experienced Champ Bailey in the secondary.

San Francisco - The second return of Randy Moss to Foxboro. This time, unlike 2010, he looks like a good option for the 49ers, according to most sources. Along with Mario Manningham (the less said about him the better), A.J.  Jenkins and Vernon Davis as receiving options for a rejuvenated Alex Smith, this could potentially be a dangerous offense. I can’t think of any superlative which hasn’t been used to describe the 49ers defense, and the battle between Patrick Willis and Brady will be fascinating. Bear in mind also, that this game is week 15. So the Patriots could be 13-0 going into this game, and the 49ers should be looking at wrapping up the NFC West or pushing for home field advantage at this late stage. What a Sunday Night Football encounter this could be, and it will be a very tricky game at Gillette.

If you think there's tougher on the schedule, comment below or drop me a line on twitter @brendan_annely!