The NFL will announce the preseason schedule on Monday, so we will soon know which teams the New England Patriots will face and which teams will hold joint practices. We can look at recent history to see if we can find any clues on the Patriots potential opponents.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss reports that the Patriots will go on the road to face the Detroit Lions in week 3 of the preseason. Week 3 of the preseason is the final tune-up for the starters since they usually rest in week 4 of the preseason.
The Patriots most recently faced the Lions in the preseason in 2011 and 2013 and the Lions are a likely option for the Patriots to hold a joint practice. Former Patriots director of pro scouting Bob Quinn was named the Lions general manager in 2016 and Detroit participated in their first joint practices since 2000.
Week 4 belongs to the annual match against the New York Giants. This year should take place in New England since the home team alternates each season.
The only two weeks of uncertainty are weeks 1 and 2 and we can use the process of elimination to guess which teams are possible options. The Patriots have faced just one AFC team in the preseason since 2010 (Jacksonville Jaguars, 2011), so we can likely strike all AFC teams. The Patriots also avoid teams on the west coast, having last faced a West team in 2006 (Arizona Cardinals at Gillette Stadium).
The Patriots also avoid playing teams on their upcoming regular season schedule, with the Giants generally the only exception every four seasons. Other than New York, the Patriots have faced just one regular season opponent in the preseason (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2013) over the past decade- and the Buccaneers were coached by Greg Schiano of Rutgers fame, so of course Bill Belichick arranged that joint practice session.
So we can eliminate the AFC, the NFC South, and the NFC West, which means that there are only six possible teams that could fill those remaining two weeks of the preseason- and we can cull that list even further. The Patriots haven’t faced the Cowboys or Vikings in the preseason under Belichick, which leaves just four options.
Last faced in preseason: 2014
Washington has always been a common preseason opponent for the Patriots and head coach Jay Gruden has expressed an interest in more joint practices- but they would have to take place on the road if they take place in the first two weeks of the preseason. Would the Patriots be okay having both of their joint practice sessions on the road?
Last faced in preseason: 2016
The Patriots and Bears held joint practices last preseason, but Chicago says they will no longer have joint practices due to injury concerns. The two teams had a bench-clearing fight as CB Malcolm Butler and WR Alshon Jeffrery escalated tensions.
A look at the fracas. Nearly became a full-on brawl. pic.twitter.com/G7IXbiVdM4— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) August 15, 2016
I doubt the Bears would be on the Patriots preseason schedule for this reason.
Last faced in preseason: 2015
The Packers have also said that they will not participate in joint practices because the coaching staff is concerned about the injury risk. The Patriots could face the Packers, but don’t expect it to come with a joint practice.
Last faced in preseason: 2013
The Patriots and Eagles have played each other in the preseason five times in the past decade and these sessions have spanned head coaches Andy Reid and Chip Kelly. The Eagles are led by Reid protege Doug Pederson, so perhaps the Eagles could be on the schedule again as a possible joint practice option.
If I had to guess, I would say the Patriots would travel to Washington in week 1 of the preseason and host Philadelphia in week 2, with joint practices a possibility in both cases.
What is your guess?