Due to the Coronavirus pandemic impacting life all over the globe since last year, the NFL was forced to cancel all international games during the 2020 season. With the outlook more promising this year, however, the league plans return to playing games abroad.
The first team to participate in this year’s International was announced on Thursday: the Atlanta Falcons will serve as the home team in an October game at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Of course, the contest is subject to change given how Covid-19 travel restrictions and other guidelines develop over the coming months.
The exact date of the game as well as Atlanta’s opponent will be announced as part of the NFL’s schedule release in May, but we already know that the Falcons will play a non-divisional opponent. This means that the New England Patriots are on a five-club shortlist of candidates to possibly travel to the United Kingdom in six months.
The Patriots are probably the most attractive opponent out of that group: New England has enormous international appeal and projects to be noticeably improved this season after some massive offseason investments. Add the fact that the game versus Atlanta will be a Super Bowl rematch, and that the club last appeared in a London game back in 2012, and it is not unreasonable to think that the league will pick the Patriots to participate.
While playing in the U.K. is a challenge for all teams given the travel schedule and time differential, New England has fared well when asked to fly to London. The team won both of its previous games in the city in blowout fashion: the Patriots beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7 in 2009, and won 45-7 versus the then-St. Louis Rams three years later.
The organization has played just one international game since then, beating the then-Oakland Raiders 33-8 in Mexico City during the 2017 season. In total, New England is 3-0 when playing outside the United States with a combined score of 113-22
Whether or not the Patriots will get a chance to add to their impressive international résumé this year remains to be seen, but they are expected to play internationally in the relative near future. As part of the NFL’s announcement to move to a 17-game regular season format, the league also announced that clubs would play at least one game abroad every eight years:
The enhanced season will ensure that beginning in 2022, all 32 clubs will play internationally at least once every eight years. The scheduling of up to four neutral-site games per year in a country outside the United States will focus initially on Canada, Europe, Mexico, South America and the United Kingdom. In addition, interested clubs can continue to volunteer to play home games internationally, as is currently the case.
As for London, only two teams have had a longer absence in the city than the Patriots. The Green Bay Packers have yet to play an international game of any sorts, while the Denver Broncos last visited in 2010. Given that neither team is on the aforementioned list of Falcons opponents this year, plus the other factors mentioned above, New England is a prime candidate for the 2021 season.