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Sunday Patriots Notes: New England’s players welcome improved competition in the AFC East

Notes and thoughts on the Patriots and the rest of the NFL.

New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The NFL Draft is in the rear-view mirror, as is the league’s schedule release. What’s ahead? The slowest time on the calendar, with teams operating mostly behind the scenes during the offseason workout program.

The New England Patriots are in the same mode right now, but that does not mean the news cycle ever sleeps. So, in order to clean out the notebook from the last few days, please enjoy this week’s edition of our Sunday Patriots Notes.

New England’s players welcome the improved competition in the AFC East. The Patriots’ division projects to be one of the most competitive in the NFL this season. Besides New England, the AFC East features two playoff participants from a year ago — the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins — as well as a New York Jets team that added one of the best quarterbacks in league history via trade.

Aaron Rodgers’ arrival significantly bolsters a Jets roster that had one major weak link in 2022: sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson struggled mightily, and the team still finishing with a 7-10 record is a sign of its high ceiling. At least on paper, adding Rodgers to the mix makes that team a lot more dangerous.

This also means that the Patriots seemingly cruise-controlling to a pair of victories against New York appears to be off the table. Owning a 14-game win streak that dates back to 2016, they will have their hands full against the Jets and the rest of their division this year.

Is this a problem? Not according to the players themselves.

“I thrive off this competition in general, especially in our division. Seeing different moves teams make, it always gets you excited what’s to come,” said linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley this week.

“Aaron Rodgers, definitely a fantastic quarterback, for sure. He’s definitely going to add some things to the Jets as far as their offense is concerned. Hands down, it’s going to be a hell of an opportunity for us to go against him twice a year. But if you ask us, we’re excited about the opportunity. We have no choice but to be excited about it.”

Bentley’s mindset was shared by fellow defender Davon Godchaux. The defensive tackle, who spent the first four years of his pro career in Miami before moving to the Patriots in 2021, also welcomes the improved competition.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “Competition brings out the best in everybody. The Jets are a better team because they’ve got Aaron Rodgers. No one is going to say that the Jets are not a better team because they picked up A-Rod. He’s a Hall-of-Famer. His resume speaks for itself. It’s going to be very exciting to see him twice a year. Can’t wait.”

While looking at the moves made by division rivals is a popular way to spend some time in the offseason, the Patriots are well aware that their focus needs to be on themselves first and foremost. Coming off an 8-9 campaign, there is plenty of room for improvement.

Center David Andrews, who like Bentley will be a team captain again in 2023, said as much during a recent appearance on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football.

“We’re all in a fresh start right now. We’re all in a race. Each day, we’re racing our opponents to be the best we can be,” Andrews said. “Right now, we’re focusing on the New England Patriots — what I can do to be a better football player, what I can do to help our team be a better football team, what we can do collectively, especially on offense. That’s the most important thing.

“It’s going to be super competitive. Really good teams. It’s always competitive in those divisional matchups. So, I think everybody right now is in a race to be the best that they can be, and then we’ll go to minicamp, and starting training camp, and throughout the season. It’s great competition. It’s the NFL. It’s what you look forward to. When you play these guys twice a year, those rivalries, you’re familiar with them. It’s going to be great competition. Excited about it, and excited for what our team can do and what we can try to work for.”

The Patriots are still a big deal for the schedule makers. Despite finishing the 2022 season with an 8-9 record and outside the playoffs, the NFL still sees the Patriots as a team worth using in high-profile games. The 2023 schedule, which was released earlier this week, reflects that.

New England, for example, will be playing four primetime contests this upcoming season. While that number alone is not necessarily impressive compared to some of the league’s top-tier teams, NFL vice president of broadcasting Onnie Bose explained on a recent conference call that the Patriots are still a popular team for the schedule makers.

“Looking at the distribution of the Patriots games, they have one game just about everywhere — each of the prime-time packages, one international, one potential NFL Network, one CBS doubleheader, one FOX doubleheader,” Bose said. “I think that’s illustrative of what we’re looking at: they’re a team that can play in a lot of places. The legacy of the team and competitiveness of the AFC East plays into that. We’re saying, ‘These games are significant.’”

One of the biggest games on the Patriots’ 2023 schedule is their Week 10 bout with the Indianapolis Colts in Frankfurt, Germany. While the Colts are not necessarily high-profile opposition — they went just 4-12-1 last season — the international status makes this a noteworthy affair.

“The Germany game, you very quickly narrowed down the potential pool of opponents,” Bose said about the contest from a Patriots point of view. “But it’s really meaningful for our international team to have the Patriots over there the first time, going into Frankfurt. With the Chiefs hosting one game and the Patriots another, those are going to be some impactful games both for our international group and for NFL Network.”

The Patriots are one of the most popular NFL teams in Europe, and them playing in just the third ever game in Germany — the second will be played by the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs one week earlier — is indicative of that.

Patriots rank 10th in the NFL in travel miles. That game in Germany is the longest trip the Patriots will take this season in terms of miles covered. The linear distance from Gillette Stadium to Frankfurt Stadium is almost 3,700 miles, meaning that the trip to play the Colts alone accounts for roughly one third of New England’s total travel mileage of 23,299 miles.

According to Bill Speros of the Boston Herald, the total distance that will be covered by the team is ranked 10th in a league-wide comparison. The Seattle Seahawks’ 31,600 miles is top is the NFL; the Cincinnati Bengals’ 11,942 miles is on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Patriots-Eagles is the hottest ticket in town. New England’s regular season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles will be a spectacle. Not only will the reigning NFC champions be in town, the Patriots will also honor long-time starting quarterback Tom Brady that day.

Needless to say that the Sept. 10, 4:25 p.m. ET contest will be a must-watch affair — something that is reflected in the demand for tickets: according to Tickpick, prices start at $707, the highest such number in the league.

“I invited him back to come here and be with us the opening game and let the fans in New England thank him for the great service he gave us for over 20 years,” said Patriots owner Robert Kraft this week about the Week 1 festivities. “It’ll be the beginning of many celebrations to honor Tom Brady and say ‘thank you’ for what he did for us those 20 years playing for the New England Patriots.”

The Patriots-Giants preseason streak is over. For the last 17 years, excluding 2020 when Covid-19 impacted life in pro football (and everywhere else), there has been one constant in the preseason: the Patriots and Giants playing one exhibition game against each other. The tradition started in 2005 and typically saw the clubs meet in the preseason finale.

Last year was an exception, with New England and New York meeting in the first week of the preseason. This year, the two teams will not meet at all: a look at the schedule shows that the Patriots will go up against the Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers, and Tennessee Titans.

The Giants, meanwhile, are nowhere to be found for the first time in almost two decades. All good things must come to an end.

Dan Snyder’s tenure as Washington owner will soon be over... The schedule release was not the only big news coming out of the NFL last week. Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder has also reached an agreement with a group led by Josh Harris to sell the franchise for $6.05 billion. The move is still pending approval from the other league owners, but the expectation is that it will get green-lighted possibly as early as the ownership meetings later this month.

Snyder will leave behind a mostly negative legacy. Under his leadership, the team had as many name changes as playoff wins — two apiece — and was involved in several scandals. The owner himself is currently under investigation for alleged improper business practices and workplace misconduct.

...while Tom Brady’s in Las Vegas might begin. Former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who announced his retirement from pro football earlier this offseason, is reportedly in “deep discussions” about becoming a limited partner with the Las Vegas Raiders. What exactly that would entail is not known at this point, but it is not the first time Brady and Mark Davis are entering business together.

The future Hall of Fame QB is already a partial owner of the Las Vegas Aces — the WNBA team that has Davis as its majority owner. Of course, one could also go as far as make a joke about Brady already having owned the Raiders for the past two decades based on his combined 6-1 record in seven career games against them.

Setting up the week ahead. The Patriots will continue their voluntary offseason workout program this week. They are entering the final week of Phase 2, meaning that they are permitted to hold individual and group drills. Those sessions are closed to fans and media alike.

Additionally, the rookie developmental program will also continue for the first-year players on the roster.