The Patriots’ 2017 season has been revealed/leaked early in all its glory, setting up the campaign that stands between them and winning three of four Super Bowls, twice.
The Pats will play their usual slate of divisional games, while facing the NFC South and AFC West, while also matching up with the first-place teams from the AFC North and the AFC South. I know there’s always plenty of huffing and puffing about how easy the Patriots schedule can be, but it’s all set up on a rotating basis and really engineered to give the best teams the hardest competition.
The 2017 slate has a light start and a light finish, but there’s a tough road stretch in the middle, all against AFC contenders.
First things that jump out:
— Patriots have five national TV games, including the Thursday kickoff opener, their Thursday Night Football game in early October, Sunday Night Football matchups against the Falcons and Broncos, and a Monday Night Football one against the Dolphins.
— They have five-out-of-six on the road in late November/early December — at Denver, at Oakland, vs. Miami, at Buffalo, at Miami (MNF), then at Pittsburgh. That stretch will be the defining one of the regular season, especially the game in Pittsburgh. They ease in and out of the season, but those six games are the heart of the schedule against their toughest opponents in the conference.
— Three of the first five opponents are in the NFC. That will really allow them some flexibility at the start of the season. A loss in one of those wouldn’t hurt that much in the standings. Flip side is that it’s all AFC opponents from Week 7 on, making the stretch run even more vital. Still, closing with home games against the Bills and Jets isn’t exactly daunting.
— Their first AFC East game doesn’t come until Week 6, which seems incredibly late. Five of the last six are in the division. The NFL seems like they want to keep the door open on the division title as long as possible here.
— The Bye Week comes in Week 9 which is ideal, right in the middle of the season.
— There are 10 games that start at 1pm.
Let’s dive into the game-by-game analysis!
Week 1 – Thursday, September 7: vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Season Kickoff)
The Patriots will raise banner number five (assuming they can find a spot for it) against the Chiefs, in a matchup that almost was in last year’s playoffs. The Chiefs’ 2014 dismantling of the Patriots was well-documented, and the Chiefs kept things close in the 2015 Divisional Round before the Pats snuffed them out. Kansas City couldn’t get by the Steelers in the Divisional Round last year, but they’re still a talented team that matches up well with New England. Superstar return man Tyreek Hill is entering his second year and is a four-down threat. Given how early-season games are often sloppy and unpredictable this could be a tight one, with special teams making the difference.
Week 2 – Sunday, September 17th at New Orleans Saints
This is a good Week 2 matchup and takes a little pressure off the Pats early in the season when they’re still figuring things out. Often in the past Week 2 has seen a Patriots stinker, so it’s good to know they’ll see an NFC team. Also it’s good to have a road trip early in the season like this. It gives the team a chance to bond, gets some of the travel out of the way before everyone needs immediate treatment after the game. Of course there’s potential intrigue if a Malcolm Butler trade happens, but I’m still betting it doesn’t. Getting a look at a good QB like Drew Brees will be a solid early-season test.
Week 3 – Sunday, September 24th vs. Houston Texans
Just like last season, the Texans come to Foxborough in Week 3. This time they won’t get rookie Jacoby Brissett in his first start, they’ll get the guy that buried them in the playoffs, Thomas Brady. Say what you will about Houston, but this will be the second AFC playoff team the Patriots see in the first three weeks, so we’ll have a pretty good feeling for how the Pats stack up around the conference. Maybe the third time is the charm for Bill O’Brien et al and they’ll catch the Pats on an off day.
Week 4 – Sunday, October 1st vs. Carolina Panthers
This was my predicted Super Bowl 51 prior to last season, but the Panthers fell apart after making it to Super Bowl 50. The Panthers do present a number of different challenges, starting with Cam Newton. The Patriots defense was so versatile and athletic last season, they were seemingly designed with a mobile modern QB like Newton in mind. Things have evolved in 2016 though, and without their veteran pass rushers and no athletic linebacker (yet) like Jamie Collins, it will be interesting to see how the Pats maximize their athletes on the field.
Week 5 – Thursday, October 5th at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Thursday Night Football)
It’s a quick turnaround before traveling down to Tampa Bay to take on Jameis Winston and the Bucs. The Bucs were a surprising 9-7 last season, finishing second in the NFC South and winning six of their last eight games. It’s always nice when the Thursday Night game isn’t against a rival, especially in the division. These games are often ugly, so it’s ideal for the Pats to draw an NFC team here, especially with the travel involved.
Week 6 – Sunday, October 15th at New York Jets
The Patriots finally open their AFC schedule in the middle of October!! Right now all signs point to the Jets being in full re-build mode this season. While the Pats have sputtered at times at MetLife Stadium, there’s little reason to think the 2017 Jets will give the Pats much problem. But with Atlanta waiting on the horizon, this could be a trap game. Hoodie knows less talented Jets teams have pushed the Pats to the edge in the past.
Week 7 – Sunday, October 22nd vs. Atlanta Falcons (Sunday Night Football)
The Super Bowl 51 re-match comes on Sunday Night Football in mid-October. Love the timing of this game. By Week 7 teams are coming into their own and should be clicking. We have a sense of who they are and what their strengths/weaknesses are. Obviously the hype will be incredible. That’s what you wouldn’t get in Week 1. If the Patriots can avoid the slow start that killed them in the early going of the Super Bowl game, they should be able to more than keep pace with the Falcons. With Brandin Cooks in the mix they should be setting the pace. Ryan and the Falcons offense will be a great test for the Patriots defense, because if history holds up, they’ll be the side of the ball everyone loves to hate on, per usual. Most interesting will be how the teams adjust from their Super Bowl gameplans and how much Kyle Shanahan’s absence changes the Falcons approach. Get your Comeback Tees ready for this one!
Week 8 – Sunday, October 29th vs. Los Angeles Chargers
The newly-located Chargers travel to New England just before Halloween and while the Pats have almost always had their way with Philip Rivers, the talent on Los Angeles is hard to ignore. Health has really been their biggest issue in recent years and had it not been for catastrophic injuries, especially to their offensive line, the Chargers might’ve made more noise in the AFC recently. You can’t deny that Rivers is a good quarterback and he has plenty of weapons around him. Still, they haven’t beat Brady since 2005 and there’s little reason to think this is the Chargers team to change the narrative.
Week 9 – BYE WEEK
Week 10 – Sunday, November 12th at Denver Broncos (Sunday Night Football)
In the past I might’ve gloated a bit that the Pats get an extra week off to prepare for the Broncos, but as we saw last year against the Seahawks that extra week doesn’t always translate into great football. Still, given the grind that is playing in Denver it will be good for the team to have some wiggle room in their preparations and cross-country travel, especially since they’re embarking on a five-out-of-six road game adventure by kicking the first two off well above sea level. With Gary Kubiak and Peyton Manning gone, Pats-Broncos doesn’t have the same buzz it had up until 2015. Still, this is Tom Brady‘s house of horrors and despite a workman-like win in Denver last season, for some reason that place still scares me. The Broncos have some questions at quarterback and have had some turnover on defense this offseason, but somehow they always seem to play the Patriots tough, even when they’re outmatched on paper. As always, this is one to get excited about.
Week 11 – Sunday, November 19th at Oakland Raiders (Mexico City)
It’s a good bet the Patriots stay out west after Denver, heading into this game in Mexico. This might be one of the highlight games of the season as the young Raiders lost a chance to knock the Pats off last season after David Carr went down. Unfortunately for them they’ll have to “host” the Patriots in Mexico City. The Raiders had a good offseason so far, adding Cordarrelle Patterson and Jared Cook to their already lethal passing attack which includes Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. They also might add Marshawn Lynch out of retirement if they can figure out a deal with the Seahawks. Khalil Mack is one of the best young defenders in the league, but the Patriots have plenty of firepower to contend with. This should be a fantastic game and a possible AFC Championship preview. It might even determine where the rematch is played. The Patriots defense will face a good test in the heart of the season.
Week 12 – Sunday, November 26th vs. Miami Dolphins
The Patriots will play the Dolphins twice in three weeks, late in the season, setting up a really interesting stretch. Prior to this the Pats’ schedule was pretty balanced between tough opponents and less tough ones, but now after Thanksgiving, the time when Belichick says his teams must play their best football, things get real. This game will be a brief home stand before three-straight on the road, including a rematch on Monday Night Football with the Dolphins. If anyone has a hope of wrestling the AFC East away from the Patriots it will have to be the Dolphins winning this game and setting up even more hype for the rematch in Miami.
Week 13 – Sunday, December 3rd at Buffalo Bills
The Pats travel to Buffalo in between their two-game set with the Dolphins. This could be a weather/trap game, but really, that’s probably Buffalo’s only hope. In recent years I was far more concerned with games against the Bills and Jets, but this year neither seem anywhere close to being able to take on the Brady Bunch, even at their home stadiums. Sorry Bills Mafia, you’ll wish your offseason could start early after this one and they certainly won’t be looking forward to the rematch in three weeks in New England.
Week 14 – Monday, December 11th at Miami Dolphins (Monday Night Football)
The NFL seems to be counting on this being a majorly meaningful game. Adam Gase had the Dolphins playing really well last season and if he can build on that success, the Dolphins could be playoff bound. However the Week 12 game goes, it should only add to the narratives that will be swirling. I wish the NFL did more divisional scheduling like this, it really sets up some intrigue.
Week 15 – Sunday, December 17th at Pittsburgh Steelers
A rematch of the 2016 AFC Championship, this time the Patriots must travel to Pittsburgh, a place they beat the Roethlisberger-less Steelers in Week 7 last season. We’re still waiting for the fully operational Steelers to give the Pats a serious test. Looked like it might happen in the playoffs last year until LeVeon Bell was lost and the Pats took over the game. This could be a game counts a lot in the AFC standings and really, it’s likely to be the last meaningful game of the Patriots 2017 regular season. That makes it a great last test, playing a tough rival on the road just before the playoffs. Like with the Raiders, this game could determine where the playoff rematch is played so it will be huge.
Week 16 – Sunday, December 24th vs. Buffalo Bills
Is there a better way to spend Christmas Eve than thrashing the Bills in Foxborough? The good news for the Pats is that they end their season with two of their easiest games. That bodes well for managing injuries and locking up homefield advantage. #PatsProblems
Week 17 – Sunday, December 31st vs. New York Jets
The Patriots will wrap up their regular season against a Jets squad that will undoubtedly have one eye on the offseason already. This is a welcome change from the last two seasons of traveling down to Miami to play a Dolphins team that actually still put up a fight. This has “pull the starters” at half time written all over it. Or who knows, maybe this is another one of those 16-0 games. I wouldn’t write that off as impossible just yet.