And here I thought I was excited when the NFL announced the 2017 preseason schedule.
This league owns my soul; there's just no other way around it. I spent all day yesterday eagerly anticipating finally knowing what the Patriots season is going to look like. Crucial, pressing questions involving bye weeks, primetime games, long road trips, and have now been answered as the 2017 regular season schedule has now been released. And as always, there is some good, some bad, and some ugly surrounding that schedule.
Now that we know who the Patriots will be playing and when, we can do a deeper dive and see how things look at this early point in the year. There's plenty more to break down over the course of the offseason, and who knows how each team will look when it's all said and done, but these are some initial reactions to what stands between the New England Patriots and a Super Bowl repeat in 2017.
Week 9 bye. Weeks 9 and 10 are the sweet spots for byes, in my opinion; you're well into the season and could use the rest, and there's still enough meaningful football left so you can shake off any residual rust that may come from taking the week off. The Patriots have been uncharacteristically sloppy coming off a bye as of late, so having Week 9 off will give them plenty of time to make any final adjustments and make a strong push towards the postseason.
Closing out at home. The Patriots finish their season as they have in seasons past with two divisional games, hosting the Bills in Week 16 and the Jets in Week 17. However, unlike seasons past, they are at home for both of those games, and their last game of the year is, as of this writing at least, against one of the worst teams in the league. That means that if the Patriots take care of business they way they should in 2017, then they (hopefully) won't have to travel anywhere again after December 17th until...well, we all know what I mean here. That's over a full month at home to keep the daily routines regulated, maximize rest and PT time, and minimize travel. That's huge.
Eight 1PM games. I love me some 1PM games. You get them in and out of the way early, leaving the rest of your Sunday free to watch or not watch other games as you see fit. !PM games are also easier to plan for from a coaching perspective, as the in-season schedule is very strictly regimented and getting started even a few hours later than usual can have an impact down the line. A lot of 1PM games adds a bit of normalcy.
Two Thursday Nighters. Thursday Night Football is one of the worst ideas the NFL has had in the past 50 years. It's nothing more than a money and ratings grab. The games are absolute trash. And the Patriots have to do it twice. Luckily, one of them is the home opener, so it doesn't really count, but I was really hoping that part of being the defending champs is that you're immune from the short week, poor preparation, inefficient healing time, and general mess that represents the Thursday Night game. The NFL needs to do away with this eyesore ASAP.
Five Primetime Games. Just as I love 1PM games, I hate primetime games. I know a lot of folks love them, but I personally don't. And since this is my list, I get to put the slate of five games at 8PM or later here in the bad section. It isn't a surprise - the Pats have played the maximum number of primetime games allowed for years now - but it's still not great to see on paper. The plus side here is that it lessens the possibility of them getting flexed in or out elsewhere on the calendar, but...I don't know. I guess I'm just being grumpy. Keep an eye on that Broncos game; if Denver stinks this year, that game will get bumped and the Patriots will play the Steelers in primetime.
Hardest games back-to-back. On paper at least, two of the hardest games of 2017 figure to be at Denver and at Oakland. New England has to play both of these games in consecutive weeks. To travel to Denver only to have to travel down to Mexico immediately thereafter is going to wreak havoc on team preparation. Not only that, but both Denver and Mexico City are known to be high altitude games; that's sure to make any kind of adjustments difficult, and who knows what kind of shape the team will be in after that stretch ends.
Five of six on the road. Starting in Week 10, the Patriots have to travel to Denver, then travel all the way to Mexico, then get a brief stop at home before heading to Buffalo, to Miami to play the Dolphins for the second time in three weeks, and then to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers in what could potentially be a battle for the #1 Seed. That is an absolutely brutal stretch from a travel standpoint. Denver is never an easy place to play, Mexico City is a total wild card (and against Oakland to boot), divisional games (particularly on the road) are almost always a battle, and the Steelers are going to be rounding into playoff form by that point and will likely want to make a statement. If New England can get through that stretch unscathed, they'll be in fantastic shape. But man...that's a horrible stretch.
Backloaded divisional games. The Patriots play their first divisional game, at the Jets, Week 6. Then they don't see another AFC East opponent until Week 12, at which point five of the final six games are in-division. That's insane, not only in that these teams are all playing each other so close together, but that also means that there will be very few tiebreakers coming into the home stretch of the season. My guess regarding the logic behind this decision is that the Patriots are likely to win the division regardless, so why not make it interesting by giving the rest of the AFC East a chance to either close the gap or play spoiler late. Records and talent usually go out the window with divisional games, so the last month of the season has "interesting" written all over it.