So the schedule is out, the matchups have been set, and my Bold Predictions were way off. It's tough to fully appreciate or disparage the current schedule this far out from opening night, as a lot will happen between now and then, but we have enough at this stage in the game to have some knee-jerk reactions to the hand the Patriots are dealt. Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding the 2015 New England Patriots schedule.
Steelers Week 1. I initially thought that the NFL would wait until a little later in the year to schedule this game, as it's likely to have playoff implications regarding seeding, but I'm all for getting this one out of the way early. The Pats will be healthy and well-prepared, Pittsburgh is going to be without their all-star running back (and possibly their best receiver), and Gillette is going to be a frothing madhouse as the 2014 Championship banner is raised and the Patriots begin the process of defending their title. There's a lot going for the Pats in this game, and I'm glad it's against a team like the Steelers so they can hold any potential tiebreakers.
Cowboys after a bye. At Dallas is one of the toughest games on the schedule, so it's great that Bill Belichick will have an extra week to prepare. His record against teams following a bye is pretty good, and so New England will be able to come into this game rested, ready, and well-versed in how to best beat this team.
Late October Home Stand. From October 25 through December 6th, the Patriots are at home for five out of seven games. That's absolutely huge, as that's the real meat of the NFL calendar right there and when most teams start to separate themselves from the pack. A Sunday Jets game right into a Thursday night Dolphins game is tricky, but at least they are at home for both of those games, and will come out of that stretch extremely well positioned for the last few weeks of the season.
Week 4 Bye. This is the absolute worst week to have a bye; you're still pretty healthy, the rigors of the season haven't really kicked in, and once it's over you're playing football every week until at least December, hopefully longer. On top of that, the Patriots are already getting a mini-bye with their first game of the year coming on a Thursday night. Bye weeks are absolutely crucial in terms of rest and recovery, and New England is kind of getting hosed here. In all fairness, they have had late-season bye weeks for the past few years, so they were due for an early one.
Road divisional games to close out the season. At Jets and at Dolphins is a tough way to close out the year. Hopefully at least one of those games won't matter by then, but by no means is that a guarantee. If one or both of these teams are playing for either a wild card spot or treating the game against the Pats as their Super Bowl in an effort to ruin a first round bye for them, then New England could be in for some brutal games to close out the year. On the plus side, that Miami game is going to have a lot of Pats fans at it, as there are few better places to be in January than Miami.
Five Primetime games. This might only be bad for me, as I'm on record saying I dislike primetime games and would rather the Patriots play at 1 PM every week, but the Patriots are playing the maximum allotted games on national television. Playing in primetime alters travel plans, eating schedules, practices, pretty much everything, and the Pats are going to have to do that five times this season. The good news here is that Tommy B rarely loses in primetime, but the flipside there is that there are more chances than ever to change that narrative. Big test of mental toughness here.
Wacky September. The Patriots will play the Steelers on September 10th, then won't play again for 10 more days when they travel to Buffalo. Then it's back home to host the lowly Jaguars before the bye week. That's a wonky first few weeks of the year, and that makes it tough for the team to get into any real kind of rhythm. Bill Belichick has said more times than I can count that the first month of the season is kind of a throwaway, but this year New England will have to be particularly disciplined, as they won't have the chance to really get into a routine until October rolls around.
Back-to-back tough opponents on the road. At Dallas then at Indy is a pretty brutal two game stretch. Before what could be a Super Bowl and AFC Championship Game preview respectively, it would be nice to have a little time at home to prepare and regroup a little bit before jumping right back into the fray. That certainly isn't the case here, and if the Dallas game really takes it out of the Patriots, they might have trouble getting up for the much more important game against the Colts just a few days later. They then have to go home to pay two divisional opponents in back-to-back weeks, one of which is on a Thursday night. Yuck.
The Giants. What else do I need to say? The Giants are going to win this game and they won't deserve any of it and we'll all be miserable as visions of David Tyree and Mario Manningham run through our heads before we remember that WE'RE THE WORLD FREAKING CHAMPIONS and who cares.