The New England Patriots finally learned WHEN they play their 2017 opponents this past Thursday night as the NFL turned “Schedule Reveal Night” into yet another NFL “event”. The Patriots 2017 schedule already revealed the who and the where, but the “when” was still the big question.
Going into the offseason there were a few established events:
1. Six games against the AFC East with two each against the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Miami Dolphins;
2. Opening the season on the NFL’s Thursday Night Kickoff game as defending Super Bowl champions;
3. A trip to Mexico City in the NFL’s International Series to face the AFC West leading Oakland Raiders;
4. Rematches with all three teams they faced in the NFL Playoffs: Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Atlanta Falcons;
5. Speaking of their Super Bowl 51 opponents, the Patriots drew match-ups with the NFC South (Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in addition to the Falcons) and the AFC West (Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, and Los Angeles Chargers).
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Now that the schedule has been released, here are some initial thoughts on the match-ups as we break it down week-by-week:
Kansas City makes for an intriguing week one match-up: Andy Reid vs Bill Belichick; great tight ends with Rob Gronkowski likely returning and Travis Kelce; the pomp and circumstances of raising the banner in Foxboro; 2014 brought up over-and-over again; and what should be a competitive game to open the season.
The Patriots traveling to face the New Orleans Saints in week two is interesting with the teams having made deals and practiced together. Brandin Cooks facing his old squad in week two of the season makes for a great story line. The big question is whether New Orleans works a deal for cornerback Malcolm Butler this week or if they get another look at him in coverage in a New England uniform.
Playoffs rematch one-of-three kicks-off in week three as the Patriots host the Houston Texans. The Texans should have J.J. Watt back and it makes for an early test for the Patriots’ offensive line. With Tony Romo in the broadcast booth rather than under center, the question again will be if Tom Savage or Brandon Weeden (or someone else altogether) are capable of hanging with the Patriots’ offense.
Week four is the third home game out of four games to open the season for the Patriots as they host the Carolina Panthers. Carolina–who struggled mightily in pass-defense last season without Josh Norman–get an early test with Tom Brady and company. Carolina is looking to bounce-back to their 2015 form and facing the Patriots early in the season could make for a difficult hole to dig out of in 2017.
The Patriots get their second Thursday night game of the season as they have a short week facing the up-and-coming Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay–like the Tennessee Titans in the AFC–have done a great job building around their young franchise quarterback and are turning into a dangerous team. The Patriots have a short week, have to go on the road, and for the second straight game have to face an opponent they do not play very often. This could be the toughest game of the young season for the Patriots.
Week six has the Patriots back on the road but this is a short trip to New York to face the lowly Jets. This is a potential trap game because the Super Bowl 51 rematch looms the following weekend. The Jets will lack a lot of star power with no Darrelle Revis, no Brandon Marshall, no Ryan Fitzpatrick, and nothing but question marks at quarterback. The Jets do
have the advantage of being at home and it being early in the season.
This is the game the NFL has been waiting for: week seven, in Foxboro, Sunday Night Football and Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons hungry for payback after blowing a 28-3 second half lead in Super Bowl 51. It will be interesting to see where these two teams are at this point of the season as the Falcons have to avoid the post-Super Bowl hangover. With Matt Ryan and such a young roster, Atlanta should be near the top of the NFC for the near future.
In the week before the bye–and after the most-hyped game of the 2017 NFL season–the Patriots have to be careful to avoid a letdown against the Los Angeles (which still seems strange to type) Chargers. The Chargers are improving on defense and still have Philip Rivers at quarterback. However, they do have to travel cross-country and the Patriots know they have a week off with the bye week.
The bye week at week nine is exactly what the Patriots probably hoped for this season. Eight games on and a break followed by eight games and hopefully the Patriots earn themselves another break in the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs. Splitting the season in two is about as good as it can be.
Week 10 is where things get real interesting for the Patriots: another Sunday Night Football game against the Denver Broncos in Denver. The altitude and the Broncos’ defense is never a good match-up for the Patriots. Denver–rumored to be in the Tony Romo sweepstakes earlier in the offseason–returns Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch at quarterback in 2017. As always, expect a close, tough game against the Broncos.
Week 11 sees the Patriots going even higher–in altitude. Facing the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders in Mexico City directly after playing in Denver is probably a favor to the Patriots. With Derek Carr healthy, this should be a fascinating game. Last season, Oakland seemed to be on track to face the Patriots in the AFC Championship game before Carr’s broken leg crushed their hopes heading into the playoffs.
The Patriots return home for Thanksgiving weekend after two-straight road games post-bye. They face the Miami Dolphins for the first time in 2017. The Dolphins snuck into the playoffs after winning 10 games for rookie head coach Adam Gase. Miami–who beat only one team with a winning record last season–face a tougher road with matchups against teams expected to be in the playoff hunt including Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Tennessee, Atlanta, Oakland, Carolina, Denver and Kansas City (in addition to two games against the defending Super Bowl champions).
After facing their division-rivals, the Dolphins, for the first time in late November, the Patriots travel to Western New York to face the Buffalo Bills for the first time on December 3rd. The Bills are heading into the NFL Draft with a severe shortage of impact players at wide receiver and cornerback–a dangerous combination in the AFC East. This will
be the first time that Mike Gillislee faces his former team as Buffalo declined to match his restricted free-agent contract offer earlier in the week.
The Patriots stay on the road as they head south to Miami for their second game in three weeks against the Dolphins. Teams rarely play each other twice in three weeks and this makes for an interesting run of games. The Patriots are also back in primetime again as the game in Miami will be nationally broadcast on Monday Night Football.
For the third-straight week in December the Patriots are on the road. With five of their last six games of the season played against the AFC East, the Patriots break it up by playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in their final rematch against their playoff opponents from last year. The game is scheduled for the 4:25pm national slot on CBS but this game could be
bumped to primetime as part of the flexible scheduling adjustment. It is very likely this game could have major playoff seeding implications.
The Patriots return home to face the Buffalo Bills on Christmas Eve. The Bills are expected to be out of the playoff picture by this point while the Patriots fine-tune for the playoffs.
The Patriots close out the regular season with their second game against the Jets. Gang Green will probably be thinking of 2018 by this point of the season and their 2018 NFL Draft positioning in their quest to find a quarterback. Like in years past, this New Year’s Eve showdown could be one of those games where New England is resting starters and getting another look at Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett under center.
All-in-all there are a few quirks, but this is hardly a terrible schedule for the Patriots. They start off with a big chunk of games at home, then have their bye perfectly aligned in the middle of the season, followed by both AFC West games in high altitude in back-to-back weeks, and finishing with the Bills and Jets at home.
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