Patriots Open Season at Jets
Sched features 5 prime time games, 7 playoff teams
The New England Patriots are back in vogue, apparently, after the NFL saw fit to schedule the AFC Championship runner-up in five nationally televised games and only eight 1 p.m. games all season -- and there remains the possibility of having one of those bumped as a "flex" game.
Prime time broadcasts are the league's way of showing respect to a team whose popularity is high. It also makes that team's job tougher. Great for the fans, awful for the coaches and players.
First, we present the schedule. Then, we discuss.
|Aug. 10||Fri||8:00 pm||@||Tampa Bay||WCVB Ch. 5|
|Aug. 17||Fri||8:00 pm||vs.||Tennessee||WCVB Ch. 5|
|Aug. 24||Fri||7:30 pm||@||Carolina||WCVB Ch. 5|
|Aug. 30||Thu||7:30 pm||vs.||N.Y. Giants||WCVB Ch. 5|
|Sept. 9||Sun||1:00 pm||@||N.Y. Jets||CBS / WBZ Ch. 4|
|Sept. 16||Sun||8:15 pm||vs.||San Diego||NBC / WHDH Ch. 7|
|Sept. 23||Sun||1:00 pm||vs.||Buffalo||CBS / WBZ Ch. 4|
|Oct. 1||Mon||8:30 pm||@||Cincinnati||ESPN|
|Oct. 7||Sun||1:00 pm||vs.||Cleveland||CBS / WBZ Ch. 4|
|Oct. 14||Sun||4:15 pm||@||Dallas||CBS / WBZ Ch. 4|
|Oct. 21||Sun||1:00 pm||@||Miami||CBS / WBZ Ch. 4|
|Oct. 28||Sun||4:15 pm||vs.||Washington||FOX / WFXT Ch. 25|
|Nov. 4||Sun||4:15 pm||@||Indianapolis||CBS / WBZ Ch. 4|
|Nov. 18||Sun||1:00 pm||@||Buffalo||CBS / WBZ Ch. 4|
|Nov. 25||Sun||8:15 pm||vs.||Philadelphia||NBC / WHDH Ch. 7|
|Dec. 3||Mon||8:30 pm||@||Baltimore||ESPN|
|Dec. 9||Sun||1:00 pm||vs.||Pittsburgh||CBS / WBZ Ch. 4|
|Dec. 16||Sun||1:00 pm||vs.||N.Y. Jets||CBS / WBZ Ch. 4|
|Dec. 23||Sun||1:00 pm||vs.||Miami||CBS / WBZ Ch. 4|
|Dec. 29||Sat||8:15 pm||@||N.Y. Giants||NFL Network|
Last year, the Patriots did not play any of their regular season opponents in the preseason. This year, they play the New York Giants in their last preseason game and in the last game of the regular season. Most teams don't do anything spectacular in the last preseason game, so don't expect either coach will be able to glean anything from Preseason Week 4 that they'll be able to use in Week 17.
Another preseason note: Tell me Bill Belichick isn't ecstatic (as ecstatic as you ever see him) that the China Bowl was cancelled. Last thing he needs is five preseason games, one of which includes a trip halfway around the world. No, four nice preseason games -- with the two road games both on the East coast -- that's just fine with him.
OK, now the "real" schedule.
Last season, New England played in just three nationally televised games, and until the Chicago game was bumped to 4:15, the Patriots had 11 games scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m., including the last eight. This year, the longest streak of "Sunday at 1" games is three (the three consecutive home games in the last four games of the season), and those could be "flexed."
So, there are two Monday Night Football games on ESPN, both on the road: Week 4, Oct. 10 at Cincinnati and Week 13, Dec. 3 at Baltimore. There are two Sunday night games on NBC, both at home: Week 2 against San Diego and Week 12 against Philadelphia. There is a Saturday night game on NFL Network: Week 17 at New Jer .. um, the Giants.
For the most part, there are no long strings of road games. Nothing like that 4 out of 5 stretch at the start of 2004. Of course, New England had 4 of 5 at home and lost the first two, and that after winning two on the road immediately following the bye week.
This year, there's nothing more than a couple back-to-back road trips .. kinda. Actually, there is a stretch with four of five games on the road from mid-October to mid-November, but there's also the bye week stuck in there. It's like this: New England travels to Dallas in Week 6 and to Miami in Week 7. Then, they're home against Washington and then off to the RCA Dome to visit Indy. Week 10 is the bye, and then it's back on the road for a short trip to Buffalo.
There is also that three-straight at home, and during the most wonderful time of the year: December. What better time for teams to visit Foxboro? The Patriots host Pittsburgh in Week 14, followed by the N.Y. Jets and Miami. Ah, Miami in Foxboro in December.
The bye, as I mentioned, is in Week 10. That's perfect (discounting the timing of injuries). That's the last week of byes, and it gives the team a break going into the final stretch.
Remember 2005 when the Patriots didn't face a division opponent until the Return of Tedy Bruschi in Week 8? And then last year when they played five of the six division game by Week 10 (Dolphins in Foxboro in October and Patriots in Miami on December).
This year, New England opens at the Jets (Sept. 9), hosts the Bills in Week 3 (Sept. 23), travels to Miami in Week 7 (Oct. 21), travel to Buffalo after the bye (Buffalo after the bye again?) in Week 11 (Nov. 18), and then host the Jets and Dolphins back to back in Weeks 15 and 16 (Dec. 16 and 23). Again, almost perfect. They're all spread out, and you have the teams you want in Foxboro when you want them there.
The first teams have byes starting in Week 4. The only team that has a bye the week immediately before or after playing New England is Cincinnati, whom the Patriots play on Monday night in Week 4. That shouldn't have too great an impact. With all the good news, this is not an easy schedule. Eight of New England's games are against 2006 playoff teams, including the three teams they themselves faced in last years postseason. It starts with the first two games of the season: the season opener at the Jets and the home opener against San Diego. Tell me that's not a game circled on every NFL fan's calendar.
The next playoff team is Dallas, who entertains New England in Week 6. Three weeks later, it's on the road again for Indy. It's a really tough stretch after the Week 10 bye.
The Patriots have Philly at home in Week 12 and then travel to Baltimore in Week 14, and then it's the two New Jersey teams, home against the Jets in Week 15 and off to the Meadowlands to face the Giants in the regular season finale.
Among the worst facets of the schedule is the varying game times. Coaches and players (mostly coaches) want week-to-week consistency. They want to practice the same things the same days. They don't want to travel at all, but they certainly don't want a lot of travel games bunched together, because that throws off the schedule. This schedule is about as inconsistent as any we've seen in a long time, and it could be worse with those flex games.
Otherwise, there are no brutal stretches of opponents. There's a couple here, a couple there. There's the Jets and Chargers out of the gate, there's the back-to-back trips to Dallas and Miami, then there's probably the worst of it at the end: home with Philly in Week 12, at Baltimore in Week 13, home against Pittsburgh in Week 14, home against the Jets in Week 15, home with Miami in Week 16 (not so bad), and at the Giants in Week 17. If there weren't three straight home games there, that would be pretty brutal. But it's nothing like some of the seriously dreadful stretches in schedules of the last few years.
Overall, I think it's a pretty good slate. We will of course dissect it through the summer.