It was so much easier a year ago trying to predict the New England Patriots’ season. Their defense was the best it had been in a decade. They had a healthy Rob Gronkowski. They were motivated.

And I actually did pretty good.

I wrote last year that the Patriots would play in the Super Bowl. They did (though I admit I lose points by picking Seattle to win). I went 13-3 in my predictions (I had the Miami games wrong, along with the last meaningless game against Buffalo). The Patriots went 12-4, so I actually had a better year than Bill and Tom. (Probably had a better offseason too.)

This year? Lot harder to predict.

I mean, they’re going to win the AFC East for a seventh consecutive year. Anyone can predict that.

Beyond that? I think they’ve got a great shot at playing in a fifth consecutive AFC championship game, but it will be on the road.

This much is certain: With all the Deflategate stuff hanging over their heads all summer and pulling Tom Brady down, this team is going to be supremely motivated. And that could spell trouble for a lot of opponents.

Still this is a team with holes. The secondary is being rebuilt at cornerback. Injuries have thinned the wide receivers. No one is sure who’s starting in the middle of the offensive line yet.

So you’ve got to be crazy to try to predict how this team will do over 16 regular-season games, right?

Oh well, here goes:

 Sept. 10: New England 47, Pittsburgh 28: After all that has happened, there is no way the Patriots lose. They will raise the championship banner, Brady will high-five every single fan wearing his jersey and they will unveil a new touchdown celebration: Instead of spiking the ball, they will pound it into the ground until it’s flat – in other words, deflated – and then ask the officials to “measure this.”

Sept. 20: Buffalo 21, New England 17: Tough, tough one to pick. It could easily go either way, but the Bills’ defense gets the edge. Buffalo’s quarterbacks might be undraftable for fantasy football purposes, but its defense is among the best. Coach Rex Ryan will be excited after this one. He might even say something quotable.

Sept. 27: New England 37, Jacksonville 14: There was a time when the Jaguars were one of the better teams in the NFL. Honest. They even played in a couple of AFC championship games. But that was then, this is now. The Jags are in the middle of a rebuilding plan and the Patriots keep pushing and pushing, as if they’re trying to prove something.

Oct. 4: Bye week. They rest. Good day to go apple picking with the grandkids, Lucas and Livie.

Oct. 11: Dallas 28, New England 23: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones backed Roger Goodell in the Deflategate saga, so the Patriots have that little extra motivation. Pats backup QB Jimmy G. gets into the game after a Dallas defender sacks Brady, rips off his shoe and tosses it atop the ginormous videoboard handing over midfield. Fans in Charleston, Illinois, rejoice as this is the first time two Eastern Illinois grads have played quarterback in the same NFL game.

Oct. 18: New England 55, Indianapolis 13: A Sunday Night Football showcase. Considering it was the Colts that prompted the Deflategate investigation, do you think it will be a topic of discussion before, during and after the game? Gronk might be so mad he throws the entire Colts defense out of the club in this one. Brady is going to, well, let’s just say he’ll be focused for this one.

Oct. 25: New England 32, N.Y. Jets 17: Doesn’t matter who the Jets have at quarterback, the Patriots are going to smack him around. Ninkovich, Jones, Sheard, Easley, Brown, Hightower. All of them. Big hits everywhere. Darrelle Revis might be rethinking that move to the Jets from the Patriots. Or maybe not. He got a lot of money.

Oct. 29: New England 24, Miami 17: Thursday Night Football. Have I ever told you how much I don’t like Thursday Night Football? Well I don’t. At all. Big game for the AFC East race. The Dolphins are supposed to be the team best suited to topple the Pats. But it’s Trick or Treat Night at Gillette as well. The Patriots pull out all their trick plays in the fourth quarter to treat their fans to a big comeback win.

Nov. 8: New England 41, Washington 13: Washington is a mess. And you better get ready because I’m bringing a broom to clean it up. Oops, sorry. Got mixed up and was thinking about Marty Huggins’ promise to voters in the Will Ferrell movie “The Campaign.” Another easy win for the Pats.

Nov. 15: New England 38, N.Y. Giants 24: The last four games between these teams have come down to the final seconds, involved spectacular individual plays and exhausting action. Yeah, that’s not going to happen this time. Giants have no one who can cover Gronk, or Edelman, or Chandler, or anyone else Brady throws to for that matter.

Nov. 23: New England 25, Buffalo 14: A Monday Night Football game from Gillette. Lots of absences from work on Tuesday. Heck, I might just sleep in the press box. The Bills’ lack of offense catches up with them in this one. Malcolm Butler and Co. have a big day in the secondary, returning at least one pick six. Brady solves the Buffalo defense with quick passes and a steady diet of LeGarrette Blount up the middle.

Nov. 29: Denver 37, New England 35: Another Sunday Night Football extravaganza. Could this be the last Brady-Peyton Manning showdown? Every one of these games has been special and this one is no different. Thin air means the properly measured football goes farther when thrown, right? Both quarterbacks lead their teams to touchdowns in the final two minutes. Peyton’s is the last one. Nice game to watch as you finish the last of your Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches.

Dec. 6: New England 45, Philadelphia 37: It’s OK if some Mainers are rooting for Chip Kelly’s Eagles in this one, really. He has ties to the state. We like him. But the Patriots know it’s time to get rolling and this is the start. This will be a track meet with both teams going fast and hard. I’m already shuddering thinking about how many tweets I’m going to have to produce. My fingers are going to be tired.

Dec. 13: Houston 27, New England 21: Learned to like the Texans while watching HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this year. Vince Wilfork is a rock star. Why didn’t we see all that when he was with the Patriots? Oh yeah, he was with the Patriots. Anyway, former Pats backup Brian Hoyer (or Ryan Mallett for that matter) pull out a last-minute win. This could be a playoff preview.

Dec. 20: New England 42, Tennessee 0: Remember the last time the Titans came to Gillette Stadium? It was Oct. 18, 2009, and we were greeted by a freak Nor’easter that dumped a lot of snow during the game, won by the Patriots 55-0 as Brady threw for six touchdowns. This time? More snow, guaranteeing a white Christmas and giving rookie QB Marcus Mariotta fits. He can’t find his white-jerseyed receivers in the swirling snowstorm. Other teams complain the Patriots rigged the weather conditions.

Dec. 27: New England 37, N.Y. Jets 14: The Patriots clinch another AFC East title with this win. They sign Randy Moss to a one-game contract so he can come back and recreate his sick one-handed touchdown catch against Revis. After the game the tall Moss says, “I can still do this.” Then the small Randy Moss walks in and can’t reach his helmet in his locker.

Jan. 3: Miami 24, New England 16: I’m not going to be tricked again and pick the Patriots to win a game that has no meaning in the final standings. Patriots starters play a couple of series, then settle into beach chairs on the sidelines, working on their tans.


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