The New England Patriots’ 2021 schedule has been released. Starting in mid-September, they will play 17 games — including one of the biggest regular season matchups in league history — and try to improve upon their 7-9 record from a year ago.
Of course, not every game is alike. Whether it is due to history or personnel, some games carry more intrigue than others. That’s just the way it is. So, with that said, let’s break down New England’s 2021 schedule and rank the games from least to most exciting.
17. Week 3 vs. New Orleans Saints: In the past, this would have been a marquee matchup between two of the top quarterbacks in the league. With Tom Brady and Drew Brees leaving for Tampa Bay and retirement, respectively, it lacks the same level of excitement.
16. Week 5 at Houston Texans: While the Nick Caserio storyline is a neat addition to the narrative of this game, the matter of fact is that Houston is projected as one of the worst teams in the NFL. Yes, the Patriots lost against the team last season but with Deshaun Watson’s future in question this could become a rather unattractive matchup.
15. Week 6 vs. Dallas Cowboys: Heading into the 2021 season, the Cowboys are one of the toughest teams in the NFL to project. With quarterback Dak Prescott expected back, they could be a competitor in the NFC; they could also flame out again after missing the playoffs in back-to-back years.
14. Week 9 at Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton’s return to Carolina will be the biggest story heading into this game, but there is no guarantee he even starts for the Patriots: with New England having drafted Mac Jones 15th overall, Newton returning to his old stomping grounds might be merely a footnote. But even if he starts, the game does not carry all that much intrigue.
13. Week 7 vs. New York Jets: The Patriots-Jets series will be over by Week 7 this year. Accordingly, the second of those games carries far less intrigue and importance for the playoff picture.
12. Week 15 at Indianapolis Colts: With the days of the rivalry long gone, the main storyline regarding the Patriots’ trip to Indianapolis will be each club’s standing in the playoff picture at that point. New England will be coming off its bye, which is an added bonus if this becomes a must-win game.
11. Week 10 vs. Cleveland Browns: On paper, the Browns are one of the most exciting teams in the league and a potential powerhouse in the AFC. Their Week 10 trip to New England could therefore have playoff implications for both clubs.
10. Week 11 at Atlanta Falcons: For the first time since Super Bowl 53, the Patriots will return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They also will return to Atlanta for the first time since their win over the Falcons in Super Bowl 51. The atmosphere will be exciting, even with Tom Brady no longer participating for New England.
9. Week 8 at Los Angeles Chargers: Los Angeles has built one of the better teams in the AFC, and with quarterback Justin Herbert set to take the second-year jump this could be a good mid-season test for New England’s revamped defense. The Patriots won 45-0 last year, but this game could very well be a closer affair.
8. Week 17 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: The Patriots’ first meeting with Trevor Lawrence takes place in early January. How the top draft pick will look against a Bill Belichick-led defense will be fun to watch.
7. Week 12 vs. Tennessee Titans: The Titans ended the Tom Brady era with an upset win in the wild card playoff round in January 2020. Now, they will return to Gillette Stadium for the first time since that game.
6. Week 2 at New York Jets: While the rematch with the Jets ranks fairly low on this list, the first meeting against New York will be one to keep an eye on. After all, it will be the Patriots’ first test against second overall draft pick Zach Wilson and new head coach Robert Saleh.
5. Week 16 vs. Buffalo Bills: The Bills’ return to Gillette Stadium after a 38-9 beatdown last December could have plenty of playoff implications: Buffalo is projected to compete for the number one seed in the AFC, while New England could be fighting for a wildcard spot. Either way, the game should be a fun one.
4. Week 18 at Miami Dolphins: The regular season finale could be a big one for both New England and Miami. There is a chance, after all, that the two will be fighting for one spot in the playoff picture. Add the AFC East rivalry perspective and you get an intriguing game.
3. Week 1 vs. Miami Dolphins: The Mac Jones era may or may not begin on September 12th. But even if the first-round rookie does not start New England will be worth paying close attention to on opening day: the Patriots restocked their roster over the course of the offseason, and the season opener against Miami will be the first chance to see the team in action — all while going against a Dolphins team coming off a 10-6 campaign.
2. Week 13 at Buffalo Bills: In order to keep their division crown, the Bills will have to win the pivotal games against their biggest rivals. The Patriots are just that, and their Week 13 prime time meeting will give both teams a first sense of where they are standing relative to one another.
1. Week 4 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: There simply cannot be another choice than this one. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski returning to Gillette Stadium for the first time since their departures, all while being with the reigning world champions, will be one of the most hyped regular season games of all time. It will be fascinating to see how Bill Belichick will try to slow an offense led by his long time quarterback down.
With all that said, let’s turn to you: Which games on the Patriots’ 2021 schedule are you most or least excited about? Let us know in the comments below!