With the NFL announcing its intentions earlier this week to expand its International Series, it seems like a foregone conclusion that the league will play regular season football in Germany sooner rather than later. At the moment, only limited information is available: the league is currently searching for a suitable partner city with the goal of hosting at least one game there starting in 2022.
If that happens, the New England Patriots seem like a perfect candidate to not just participate at one point further down the line but to actually open the series next year. There are four reasons for that, so let’s take a look at them.
1. Fan interest: The Patriots are the most successful team of the league’s “International Era” and as such have built an enormous following abroad. Germany is no exception, with New England arguably the most popular NFL team in the country. It is no coincidence the team has been broadcasting preseason games there as well as the United Kingdom and Mexico. Fan interest in Germany will be big regardless, but the Patriots certainly have more appeal than, say, the Jacksonville Jaguars or Arizona Cardinals.
2. International history: While the Patriots have participated in the International Series as recently as 2017 — beating the Oakland Raiders 33-8 in Mexico City — they have not traveled across the Atlantic since a 45-7 blowout win over the then-St. Louis Rams in London in 2012. Only two teams have had a longer absence in Europe 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. The timing seems to be perfect for New England in 2022.
3. The Jakob Johnson factor: Other players also have ties to the country, but Jakob Johnson still enjoys a special status among them. He is one of only two players currently under contract with an NFL team — the other being Seattle Seahawks rookie linebacker Aaron Donkor — who were both born in Germany and hold German citizenship. Considered an International Player by the league, Johnson may neither be a household name in the United States nor in Germany itself but he is a factor to consider nonetheless.
4. New England-Germany ties: Johnson is not the first German or German-born player the Patriots have employed through the years. Halfback Gerhard Schwedes and defensive lineman Markus Kuhn spent some time with the organization — although 50 years apart — as did Sebastian Vollmer. Vollmer in particular stands out: a long-time starter at right tackle, the former second-round draft pick played 98 combined regular season and playoff games for the team. He is now serving as a broadcaster in Germany.
Given all of those reasons, the Patriots appear to be perfectly suited to kick off the NFL’s International Series if it indeed arrives in Germany in 2022.
While playing in Europe is a challenge for all teams given the travel schedule and time differential, New England has fared well when asked to fly across the pond in the past. 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, as noted above, won 45-7 versus the Rams three years later.
Whether or not they will get a chance to add to their impressive international résumé in 2022 remains to be seen, but the Patriots are a realistic candidate to play abroad again in the very near future.