They say that the most popular sport in the America is NFL football, and the second most popular is the NFL offseason. With the amount of hype surrounding the release of the 2020 schedule, it’s hard to argue.
I’m not even saying that because all other sports are currently on hold; even if we were right in the thick of baseball season and the NBA and NHL playoffs, there would still be three hour specials breaking down each and every game on the slate, and said special would still get better ratings that any live MLB game. We’ll take whatever we can get every offseason, and the schedule release is one of the pre-summer highlights we inexplicably look forward to the most.
And as always, with the Patriots’ opponents now set and the dates all locked in, there’s a lot to like about the 2020 schedule. There’s also a lot to not like, and a few parts of it that are just downright ugly. So let’s break down what will hopefully be taking place this Fall and see how New England stacks up.
Open and close at home. It’s always a good thing to open the season at home and to close it at home, and the Patriots have exactly that with winnable games against the Dolphins and Jets. New England can get off to a solid start with a home win to begin the season, and with a home game against the Jets in Week 17, they have another game they should win to hopefully solidify their playoff positioning.
Two home divisional games to finish the season. In addition to hosting the Jets in Week 17, the Patriots host the Bills in Week 16 for what could very well be the game that decides the AFC East. The NFL seems to think so, at least, as the scheduled that game for Monday night. This is now several years in a row where the Pats finish the season at home against the AFC East, and the familiarity combined with the homefield advantage is exactly what the team needs as they prepare for the postseason.
Back-to-back games on the West Coast. The Patriots play at the Chargers in Week 13 and then at the Rams on a Thursday Night game in Week 14, which is brutal in a lot of ways - but it also allows them to simply stay on the west coast and avoid multiple cross country trips. They then get to fly back from LA with a mini-bye before they get into the last few games of the season. It’s never fun to make too many flights to the other side of the country, and the way the schedule lays out here makes things easier to plan for from a travel perspective.
Week 6 bye. It’s not as terrible as the dreaded Week 4 bye, but Week 6 is still pretty early. You want to get a bye Week 8 at the absolute earliest, and the later in the season the better. New England had a Week 10 bye last season, which was ideal, so I guess they were due. But the most nerve-wracking part of the schedule release every year is sweating out the Week 4 bye, and Week 6 is a sad consolation prize.
Five primetime games. Once again, the Patriots have the maximum allotted number of primetime games, including two Monday Nighters. They also have three 4:25 games, which also isn’t ideal. I know I’m in the minority on this one...but I’d much rather every game start at 1PM. Plus, from a preparation standpoint, where everything is rigid and fixed, primetime games are a wrinkle in how timing works. On the plus side, the Patriots are no strangers to making primetime adjustments, so it won’t be too much of a detriment. It just means five more mornings where I’m even more useless than usual.
Home games on either side of the bye. Given the number of long flights the Patriots are making this year, playing both the NFC and AFC West, it would have been nice to have a bye week following a deep away game. Instead, New England is home against Denver in Week 5, and then home again against SF in Week 7. At the end of the day it’s not the worst thing in the world to have three straight weeks at home in October but that bye week is just so crucial... to maximize that rest and recovery by breaking up distance travel would have been a great bonus.
4 of 5 on the road late. From Week 11 to Week 15, the Patriots are on the road all but a Week 12 game against Arizona at Gillette. To make matters worse, they have three straight road games in Weeks 13-15, right as the playoff push starts and games really start to matter. You never want to have to play more than two games in a row on the road, so to have three straight and then four out of five is rough.
At Seattle on Sunday Night. Maybe the Patriots will get lucky here and there won’t be any fans in the stands for this game; otherwise, to ask Jarrett Stidham to lose his primetime virginity on the road against a very good team at the loudest stadium in the league simply isn’t fair. At Seattle is hard enough as it is...but a first year starter thrown into primetime to boot? This one could get ugly.
Get ready for some INSUFFERABLE storylines. Regardless of how the Patriots do, they play opponents that are going to be absolute gold for the worst that sports media has to offer. The buzzwords and catchphrases are going to get beaten into the ground, and Jarrett Stidham basically find himself in a position where he either wins games because Belichick can win with anybody, he loses games because he’s no Tom Brady, or he’s mediocre and screwed the Patriots out of a high draft pick. We’re used to untalented hacks using the Patriots for cheap pageviews, but with this new team - and this schedule - is going to come a whole slew of complete garbage. So buckle up.