Yesterday, the NFL released the 2018 preseason schedule. While exact dates and times for the New England Patriots' matchups have not yet been announced, we already know that the team will face the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers and New York Giants over the course of four consecutive August weeks. Let's take a closer look at the matchups and the stories that they might produce:
Plenty of Super Bowl rematches are on the menu
Arguably the biggest game of the NFL's 2018 preseason cycle takes place in week two when the Patriots host the Eagles in a rematch of the most recent Super Bowl. The game, despite only being an exhibition contest, will certainly see plenty of coverage leading up to it. However, it is only one of five total meetings between former Super Bowl contestants involving New England: There will also be rematches of Super Bowls 38 (Panthers), 39 (Eagles), 42 and 46 (Giants).
Joint practices with familiar sparing partners are a possibility...
For the past six straight years, New England conducted joint practice sessions with other teams. It would therefore not be a surprise to see them hold some as well in 2018, with Washington and Philadelphia – considering them being the opponents in weeks one and two – the most likely sparing partners. The team already held joint sessions with the two teams before: The Patriots and Eagles practiced together in 2013 and 2014, the Patriots and Redskins did the same in 2014.
...and don't be surprised if some of them lead to player signings
One thing New England regularly does during joint practices is scout players on opposing teams and identify potential targets to acquire at a later point in time. The most recent example is Riley McCarron: The second-year wide receiver was with the Houston Texans when the team held joint sessions with the Patriots last summer. When he was released a few weeks later, New England quickly added him to its practice squad.
The Patriots' starters will see most playing time in Carolina
Week three is when a team's starting personnel is typically seeing the most exposure during the preseason and often plays into the third quarter. This year, the Patriots' top players will see extensive snaps against the Carolina Panthers – a team that went 11-5 last year and features one of the NFL's most dynamic quarterbacks as well as a stingy defense. It certainly projects to be a good test for New England in all three phases of the game.
The traditional finale against the Giants takes place again
Ever since the 2005 preseason, the Patriots' exhibition schedule features a game against the Giants in week four – and 2018 will be no different as the two teams will meet for the 14th straight year. The contest that normally sees the two teams' top players not participating, was overwhelmingly won by New York in the past as New England was able to come away victoriously from only three of the 13 meetings so far.