So the schedule is out, the discussions can begin, and Patriots fans everywhere can start figuring out which game they are unsuccessfully going to try to get tickets to before they just bite the bullet and overpay on StubHub. There's plenty to look at over the next few weeks, but here are some of my initial reactions to the 2014 New England Patriots Schedule. There's a whole lot there - some of it good, some of it bad, and some of it ugly.
Late bye week. Not only did New England luck out with a Week 10 bye, but it also comes at a great time from a schedule perspective. Week 9 sees the Patriots hosting the Broncos at 4:25 (a prime candidate for a primetime flex, although the Ravens at Steelers Sunday night game will be hard to unseat), and Week 11 sends them to Indianapolis for a night game against the Colts. The Broncos game is sure to be a battle, and the extra time to rest and prepare will be huge as New England gets ready to face a Colts team that will not only be better than they were in 2013, but looking for some payback for last year's playoffs. Indy already has Week 11 circled, so having that extra time to get healthy and watch extra tape will be crucial.
October home stand. October is one of the most important months on the NFL calendar; the season is in full swing, teams start to hit their stride, and we start to see separation within each respective division. Starting on October 5, New England plays four out of five at Gillette, the only exception being a road trip to Buffalo on October 12. It's a great time to be at home and generate some real momentum for the second half of the season.
Miami in December. While it's always enticing to make the quick flight down to Miami for the weekend in the winter to watch the Pats play the Fins on the road, I'd much rather have them come into the cold in December to play the Patriots in the elements. Who knows what the AFC East will look like during the final weeks of the season, and to have the Dolphins at home in inclement weather is certainly an advantage for New England.
Four of six on the road. The Patriots kick off their 2014 campaign with back-to-back road games, at Miami and at Minnesota, and play four of their first six on the road. The Dolphins almost always play the Patriots tough at home, and you know that they are going to be extremely fired up to open up at home with a win and hand New England their first Week 1 defeat since 2003. New England then has to travel to the very loud, very hostile Vikings Stadium, where they get to test what is hopefully a revamped run defense against Adrian Peterson. Darrelle Revis against Cordarrelle Patterson will be a blast to watch, and there's certainly potential for Matt Cassel to win the starting job in training camp and go up against his old team, but by no means is this game a cakewalk. Then it's home against Oakland for a quick breather before...
Monday Night at Kansas City. Anybody who watched a Chiefs game last year knows how loud Arrowhead can get; I can't imagine what it's going to be like on Monday Night against the Patriots. This is the Chiefs team that started the year 9-0, so they know how to open strong. This is going to be a tough game to win, especially considering that New England will have just traveled to Minnesota, back to Boston, and then over to KC within the span of three weeks. That's a lot of time in the air and several different time zones - and altitudes. And along those lines...
Tough Primetime games. New England plays Cincinnati, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and San Diego in primetime, with three of those four on the road. And while it's great that the Patriots will be getting so many nationally syndicated games, these are also games that teams that don't get too much national exposure really get up for. Teams play New England hard enough as it is, but to have the opportunity to take them out on the big stage is going to provide plenty of fuel to an already hot fire. Arrowhead, Lucas Oil, and Qualcomm are tough enough places to play as it is, but compound that with a Sunday or Monday Night game, and the Pats have their work cut out for them.
Bills and Jets on a short week. The Patriots have two huge games, at Buffalo and home against the Jets, on a short week. The Pats play Cincy on Sunday Night before they travel to Buffalo, which messes with the schedule a bit, and then they have a quick turnaround as they host the Jets on a Thursday night for the second consecutive year. That's a lot to handle and it would be easy for things to get a bit out of whack. And if last year's Jets/Pats matchup is any indicator, things could get a little sloppy.
Closing out the year vs. the AFC East. This could very well end up being a positive depending on how the season shakes out, but waiting until the last three weeks of the season to finish out the AFC East rotation means that the division may not be decided until very late. Ideally, the last three games of the season are spent lobbying for a first round bye with the division well in hand by week 13 or so; however, with all three opponents still to play, several tiebreaker scenarios don't take effect until very late, which means the end of the year now carries more weight than ever. Again, hopefully it won't even be an issue, but as of April 23 it's something to look at warily.
Plenty of fuel for the haters. There is a lot on this schedule for Patriots haters to whine about. How come New England gets such a great bye week? Why all the primetime games? How come so few teams get to face the Patriots coming off a bye with two weeks to prepare? Why do the Patriots keep winning games? Why do they get so many national games? Why does Roger Goodell love them so much? Blah blah blah. The good news is that New England could play all 16 games on the moon, on short weeks, against the 1994 All Madden team, and there would still be people bitching about how they get all the breaks, so ultimately it doesn't really matter what the schedule says. But to those who don't enjoy illogical morons hating on how the Patriots are the darlings of the NFL while ignoring facts like the strength of schedule and the quality of opponent and the several brutal stretches, this particular lineup didn't do you any favors.