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17 games, 17 subplots for Patriots' daunting 2024 schedule

17 games, 17 subplots for Patriots' daunting 2024 schedule originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

A side benefit of having a bad football team? The fanbase won’t be bleary-eyed on Monday morning from watching the local 53 play in prime-time on Sunday night. Or almost any night.

First impression of the Patriots' 2024 schedule: Sunday at 1. Sunday at 1. Sunday at 1. Sunday at 1. Holy crap.

It’s not surprising in the least that the Patriots have been practically exiled from prime-time television until further notice. The exception? The “everybody but the Panthers has to play one” Thursday night game against the Jets in Week 3.

But to actually see the team’s 2024 schedule and realize they are locked into the 1 p.m. ET time slot for 11 of the 15 announced games is still eye-opening. The only exceptions are the TNF game against the Jets in Week 3, the 9:30 a.m. start against the Jaguars in London in Week 7 and the two games out West. And those two – San Francisco in Week 4 and Arizona in Week 15 -- kick off in the 1 o’clock hour local time.

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With Bill Belichick off the sidelines, there’s nothing a national broadcast can hitch its wagon to. And even with him on the sidelines, the writing was on the wall as to where things were headed last December when they became the first team to be flexed out of Sunday Night Football in the midst of their 4-13 disaster.

The Patriots had four prime-time games last year when the schedule came out. Before the, ya know, flexing. In 2022, they also had four (including three in a row). They had three in 2021 coming off their 7-9 season in 2020. They had five in 2020.

They just don’t move the needle. Again, until further notice. Before we get into our 17 projected subplots for 17 games, two quick asides.

First, I liked this tweet from J.J. Watt.

For the Patriots, they visit Joe Burrow and the Bengals out of the chutes. Their bye week is kinda late (Week 14 coming off hosting the Colts and heading into Week 15 at Arizona), and their Thursday night game comes off their Week 2 game home against Seattle.

The London game is in Week 7 and they have home games before and after, so it’s not that arduous, even though they didn’t get a bye around that time. They don’t have to deal with the Florida sun until Week 12 in Miami.

I also liked this from Charles Robinson:

They’ll see Josh Allen in two of the final three games, including the finale at home. And the Week 3 to Week 8 stretch of Aaron Rodgers, Brock Purdy, Tua Tagovailoa, C.J. Stroud, Trevor Lawrence and Rodgers again is a test, but it’s not like we’re talking about a pack of perennial All-Pros there either (except Rodgers).

To the subplots!

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8 at Cincinnati Bengals (1 p.m. ET)

Cincy’s coming off a 9-8 season and, presuming Joe Burrow is good to go, will be looking to start hot in front of its home crowd. It’s a good test right out of the gates for rookie head coach Jerod Mayo and a defense that – with Christian Gonzalez back (again, presumably) – should have enough firepower to pose a problem for the Bengals.

Offensive firepower? We’ll see. The Patriots cracked 300 total yards of offense once – ONCE – in their final seven games (303 vs. the Steelers in a 21-18 win that helped kick them down to the third overall pick).

Also, Mike Gesicki revenge game.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15 vs. Seattle Seahawks (1 p.m. ET)

No Bill Belichick, no Pete Carroll. Instead it’s Mayo and (lemme Google real quick …) Mike Macdonald patrolling the sidelines. And it’s Jacoby Brissett (unless Drake Maye stuns the hell out of me) against Geno Smith. So yes, Sunday at 1 sounds good.

The last time the Patriots were home, it was an intimate gathering in horrible weather for a 17-3 turn-out-the-lights loss to the Jets when Bailey Zappe led them to six first downs to wrap the season.

At least the weather should be better.

Week 3: Thursday, Sept. 19 at New York Jets (8:15 p.m. ET)

Prime time. I’m going out on a limb and saying the Patriots are 1-1 going against Rodgers as a Jet for the first time. I’d also bet is this is still a Jacoby Brissett game.

If it’s a Maye unveiling, it will add some juice, but Rodgers at home in prime time is still the hook for the country. And a perfunctory look-in on how the Patriots are managing post-Bill.

Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29 at San Francisco 49ers (4:05 p.m. ET)

A nice 10-day layoff between games should give the coaching staff a good chance to tighten some bolts and reset some dials after gaining intel about what kind of team they are in the first three weeks. The Niners are going to be a problem for the New England defense.

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6 vs. Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET)

I wouldn’t be counting on wins at the Jets or Niners, so you’re looking at 1-4 or 0-5 going against Miami. This will be about when the Drake Maye clamoring starts to heat up if the team is already taking on water.

Another loss and it could be a good time to get out of the country for a week. Which is good, because that’s coming up. But not yet!

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13 vs. Houston Texans (1 p.m. ET)

The 2023 Texans are frequently referenced as the team the Patriots COULD be in 2024 if things break their way. A rookie head coach. A top-three quarterback. If DeMeco Ryans and C.J. Stroud could go from horrible to the playoffs in one year, why not the Patriots?

Personally, I don’t think the Texans’ rebuild was as drastic as the one the Patriots are confronted with right now, but I guess, why not!!

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20 at Jacksonville Jaguars (London, 9:30 a.m. ET)

The duel between the best rookie quarterback from the 2021 draft and the best quarterback in the 2021 draft ain’t gonna happen. Mac Jones, ironically, is now a backup to Trevor Lawrence. Life comes at you fast.

Would this be a spot to start Maye and make Jones have to watch him run around in the No. 10 jersey that will send chills down the spines of too many Patriots fans for years? I’d venture no. Having the kid in a position to prepare in Foxboro without the trappings and hoopla of an international game would be better for him.

But it is an international stage, and if you’re trying to sell a little hope and there are more eyeballs than normal on your team …?

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27 vs. New York Jets (1 p.m. ET)

Unless Brissett has the Patriots at three wins or more or Maye is completely befuddled, we can start talking in earnest about getting the kid out there.

Honestly, by this point, this will be the main topic of conversation if Maye hasn’t hit the field. “Is he ready yet? Is he ready yet? Why isn’t he ready????”

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3 at Tennessee Titans (1 p.m. ET)

For long-suffering Patriots fans (and I don’t say that sarcastically … it’s been a long haul since midseason, 2019), the opportunity to go to Nashville and act the fool is tremendously attractive.

The Titans also stink (6-11 last year), so it’s a good chance to get a W for a team that will no doubt be in desperate need of one.

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10 at Chicago Bears (1 p.m. ET)

This will be just the second time the Patriots are on the road back-to-back, and this time they’ll see a team that wasn't much worse than them in 2023. Of course, the Bears actually were worse than the Patriots in 2022 and they kicked New England’s ass all over the countryside in prime-time (the “We Want Zappe” game).

By now, Caleb Williams will either be lapping the field in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race or vainly trying to explain to the City of Chicago why the Bears still stink. If Maye isn’t on the field for a face-off of rookie quarterbacks and the Patriots are, like, 3-7, what are we doing?

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17 vs. Los Angeles Rams (1 p.m. ET)

This could be an ass-kicking. And the Patriots could be the kickee.

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24 at Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET)

A little pre-Thanksgiving golf trip in South Florida followed by a Sunday in Miami Gardens watching the Patriots chase Tyreek Hill around all afternoon? There are worse ways to spend a November weekend, friendo.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1 vs. Indianapolis Colts (1 p.m. ET)

Brady vs. Manning it ain’t. Still, the lure will be Maye vs. Anthony Richardson. Or “Why the hell is this not Maye vs. Anthony Richardson?!?!”

Mayo, by now, is doing a slow burn on the questions. Which one appreciates. But just like you can’t complain if you live on a golf course and you get a Titleist through your siding, if you take over a bad team with no quarterback and then draft one No. 3, you better strap in for monomaniacal coverage of the kid’s every breath.

Week 14: Bye

To do: Talk about whether or not it’s time for Maye to start. Or Joe Milton. Or … OR!!! Start ruminating on how you’ll approach December with an unexpected playoff berth still somehow still in play!!!

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15 at Arizona Cardinals (4:25 p.m. ET)

You and the fellas didn’t get to Tennessee or Miami? You were smart. You chose Arizona. I like it. Also, this is a W. I can feel it.

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22 vs. Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET)

The Bills need this one badly. The division’s out of reach. They are not the Bills of two years ago and they are now tapping on the glass of a window that seemed wide-open when the decade began. They will NOT want to lose to the Patriots and Drake Maye, who just got his first win in his first start against Arizona.

An incredible shootout unfolds and the Patriots fall 31-30 as Mayo goes for two after a game-tying touchdown from Maye to Javon Baker with four seconds left. The JuJu Jet Sweep call from Alex Van Pelt on the conversion ruins Christmas.

Week 17: TBD vs. Los Angeles Chargers (TBD)

Who’s kidding who? It’s Sunday at 1. And it’s a Chargers team that, under Jim Harbaugh, has the AFC West in its grasp.

Maye levels off after two pretty good games and throws two nut-crushing picks in the second half. But he does carry six times for 71 yards and Austin Hooper makes his first touchdown catch of the year in the second-to-last game.

Week 18: TBD vs. Buffalo Bills (TBD)

Two games at home to close the season? Good deal. The Bills – again – need this one since they’re 10-6 but are in a dogfight for a Wild Card.

The Patriots have nothing to lose and play that way, putting together their most complete game of the season. Jahlani Tavai’s pick-six late in the third and a Chad Ryland field goal from 49 with 3:21 left help the Patriots to a 34-24 win.

I know. Those turned into predictions at the end, not subplots. Sorry. Cancel your subscription.