The Patriots’ 2014 schedule will feature some familiar faces (Peyton Manning and the Broncos, Rex Ryan and the Jets) and some not-so-familiar ones (a rare trip to Lambeau Field to see Aaron Rodgers and the Packers).
Examine some of the key points for each matchup from the 2014 slate:
Sept. 7 at Miami, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Joe Philbin is still looking for his first playoff spot as he starts his third season as the Dolphins’ head coach. Chances are, he won’t get a fourth season if he doesn’t bring Miami (which has made just one playoff appearance in the last 12 years) to the postseason this year. And the Patriots loom as a major stumbling block for the Dolphins. New England has won nine of its last 11 games with Miami, though the Dolphins won the series finale last season and if they turn that into a winning streak vs. the Patriots (which they haven’t had since 2001) they could deliver a message that they intend to change expectations in the AFC East.
• Schedule oddity: Expect the Patriots to wear their dark jerseys, as the Dolphins will likely opt for their white uniforms in hopes the dark clothes will make New England feel even hotter on what could be a warm summer afternoon in Florida. The Patriots have lost the only two times they opened the season during a day game in Miami (1994, 1996).
Sept. 14 at Minnesota, 1 p.m. (CBS)
The Vikings are a team in transition – both on the roster and, literally, in their stadium. The game will be played at TCF Bank Stadium, the home of the University of Minnesota, which, after some touch-ups like a heated field to make it NFL-ready, will be the Vikings’ home while their new stadium is built at the site of the former Metrodome. TCF Bank Stadium has hosted the Vikings once before, after the Metrodome roof collapsed in 2010, and was the site of Brett Favre’s final NFL game. On the roster, new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has some rebuilding to do, starting at quarterback, where heading into the draft he still counts Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder as his main options.
• Schedule oddity: This will be the Vikings’ opener at the college stadium.
Sept. 21 vs. Oakland, 1 p.m. (CBS)
The home opener will mark the Raiders’ first trip to New England in more than nine years and only their second since their infamous playoff loss in the Foxborough Stadium finale after the 2001 season. So there’s not much familiarity between the franchises recently, but even AFC West teams might be unfamiliar with the Raiders’ rebuilt roster. Both offense (QB Matt Schaub, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, OT Donald Penn) and defense (DE Justin Tuck, LB LaMarr Woodley, DE Antonio Smith) are stacked with notable free-agent additions. And while there’s a lot of new names and probably some optimism, the Raiders’ rebuilding is currently based on players in the second half of their careers. Is Schaub, who couldn’t take the Texans to the Super Bowl when they were built their team around him for seven years, suddenly going to do that with a Raiders roster that’s jammed full of castoffs?
• Schedule oddity: The Raiders open the season at the Jets, then return home to host the Texans before traveling east for their second 10 a.m. Pacific start time in just three weeks. So while they may be tired of the traveling by the time they arrive in Foxborough, it’s not over yet. They head to London to play the Dolphins the next week.
Sept. 29 at Kansas City, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN, Monday)
The Chiefs look like a team primed to regress from last season’s 11-5 record. They went just 2-5 after their 9-0 start last year before losing a wild-card thriller to the Colts. They haven’t made much of a splash in the offseason, and lost a significant chunk of their offensive line – most significantly Branden Albert. The Patriots haven’t met Kansas City often in recent years, and haven’t visited Arrowhead Stadium since 2005. But they beat them 34-3 when the teams last met in 2011.
• Schedule oddity: This will be the second straight time the teams have met on Monday night, and will mark four Monday night appearances in the teams’ last seven games.
Oct. 5 vs. Cincinnati, 8:30 p.m. (NBC)
The Bengals handed the Patriots one of their most frustrating losses of 2013, a 13-6 decision where the Patriots failed to score a touchdown for the first game in more than four years. Tom Brady’s streak of consecutive games with a TD pass was snapped that day at 52. So expect Brady – who was still adjusting to his new receiving corps and counted Brandon Bolden as his top receiver that day – to be motivated to deliver some revenge to Cincinnati. He’ll likely have a better rapport with his receivers by then. The Bengals will be coming off their bye week, so they’ll have extra time to prepare for the Patriots.
• Schedule oddity: This will be the fourth time in the teams’ last five games that the Patriots and Bengals have met on the first week in October.
Oct. 12 at Buffalo, 1 p.m. (CBS)
This is Brandon Spikes’ first opportunity to back up his big talk. The ex-Patriots linebacker joined Pepper Johnson, the longtime New England assistant, in Buffalo and then said on Twitter in early April he plans to deliver two losses to his old team this season. But the odds aren’t in his favor. The Bills have lost 20 of their last 21 meetings with the Patriots. Expect Spikes’ old teammates to remember his boastful tweets.
• Schedule oddity: This will mark the Patriots’ only road trip over the course of more than six weeks.
Oct. 16 vs. N.Y. Jets, 8:25 p.m. (CBS/NFLN, Thursday)
This matchup already loomed as a grudge match because of the rivalry between the Jets and Patriots. But New England’s addition of former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (who previously said he wanted to be a “Jet for life”) kicked the rivalry into overload – and likely elevated it into a national TV appearance on Thursday night. Revis will have a new target to isolate in the Jets’ receiving corps, too, in free-agent addition Eric Decker (who arrives after having caught 172 passes over past two seasons for Denver). Expect Rex Ryan to cringe when he finally sees Revis, formerly one of his most prized assets, in a Patriots uniform.
• Schedule oddity: This will be the third year in a row, and fourth time in seven seasons, that the Patriots and Jets have met on Thursday night.
Oct. 26 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m. (Fox)
The last time these teams met, in 2010, the Bears were embarrassed by the Patriots at home in the snow in a 36-7 blowout. Much of the Bears’ personnel has turned over since then, though some key figures (Jay Cutler, Lance Briggs, Matt Forte) are still on the roster. The sting of that loss won’t be much of a factor, however, when the Bears arrive in Foxborough with their rebuilt defensive line that includes Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young. The Bears won’t be a pushover for the Patriots, and offensive-minded coach Marc Trestman will likely have some interesting ideas on how Jay Cutler can try to beat the Patriots secondary.
• Schedule oddity: The Patriots will have extra rest from the mini-bye after playing on Thursday the previous week. The Bears will be playing their third road game in four weeks.
Nov. 2 vs. Denver, 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
Few games across the NFL will be more anticipated than this rematch of the AFC Championship Game. There will be many subplots to this game. Aqib Talib will face his former team for the first time (if he stays healthy). The winner gains a key advantage for playoff seeding – and the right to host a potential rematch in January. But the hype surrounding this game will be about Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. It will be the 16th time the quarterbacks meet. And at this point with Manning 38 and Brady 37 in August, each meeting could be the last time we see the legendary rivals facing off.
• Schedule oddity: The TV networks love the Manning-Brady duels – and apparently love to see them televised during the important November sweeps period. This will be the second year in a row the Broncos and Patriots face off in November. The Manning-Brady contests between the Colts and Patriots were annually scheduled during the November sweeps from 2005-2010.
Nov. 9: Bye week
The Patriots’ bye comes at a good time after nine weeks and sandwiched between two of the premier matchups of the season.
Nov. 16 at Indianapolis, 8:30 p.m. (NBC)
The Colts of the Andrew Luck-Chuck Pagano era likely won’t accept playing the “kid brother” role to the Patriots for much longer. They’ve lost twice to New England since 2012 by a combined score of 104-48, the most recent loss coming in the playoffs at Foxborough last season. Over the same time, they’ve gone 23-10 against the rest of the NFL. So the talent is there (and possibly getting better, if free-agent addition Hakeem Nicks can find his old form). They just need to boost their confidence with a win against a team like New England. So the Patriots should beware of becoming an example of why the Colts are ready to make a deep postseason run.
• Schedule oddity: The Colts will be coming off their bye week and will have devoted an extra week of studying how to beat the Patriots.
Nov. 23 vs. Detroit, 1 p.m. (Fox)
The Lions were almost a polar opposite of the Patriots under departed coach Jim Schwartz. They were undisciplined, underachieving, and far too prone to mistakes. How much of that will change under new coach Jim Caldwell, who is very familiar with the Patriots from past stops as the Ravens offensive coordinator and the Colts head coach? Former Patriots safety James Ihedigbo joined the Lions this offseason, and he may be able to offer the Lions some insight on how to approach playing in Foxborough. But the Lions of the Matthew Stafford era have a history of falling apart while facing adversity. And until they prove otherwise, don’t expect them to stand tall against the challenge the Patriots will offer them in Foxborough.
• Schedule oddity: The Patriots have never lost to the Lions (3-0) since Brady became the starter in 2001.
Nov. 30 at Green Bay, 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have both won the Super Bowl, been named Super Bowl MVP and been named NFL MVP. But they have never faced off as NFL starting quarterbacks. So this game should feature two of the NFL’s premier signal callers – a matchup that was expected in Foxborough in 2010 but was sidetracked by an injury to Rodgers. It wouldn’t be wrong to expect Brady and Rodgers to produce an instant classic. But beware, the same could have been said about the Patriots’ last trip to Lambeau Field in 2006, which turned into a 35-0 blowout by the Patriots over Brett Favre’s Packers. (Incidentally, Rodgers played in relief of Favre that day.)
• Schedule oddity: The Patriots have only played at Lambeau Field twice before (1979, 2006). They played at the Packers in 1988, but the game was held in Milwaukee.
Dec. 7 at San Diego, 8:30 p.m. (NBC)
The rivalry that brewed between the Patriots and Chargers late in the last decade cooled when San Diego went into a three-year postseason drought from 2010-2012. But that drought ended under rookie coach Mike McCoy last season, and the Chargers surely want to prove to the Patriots they will be a force to be reckoned with in the AFC. Still, one could make a case that the Chargers overachieved last year when they needed a four-game win streak (the last one coming in OT) to close out the season and earn the final playoff berth. And the Chargers have made little splash in the offseason. Still, Philip Rivers remains the catalyst of the San Diego offense and will make sure his team understands how important it is to beat the Patriots on the Chargers’ home turf.
• Schedule oddity: Tom Brady has a losing regular season record in San Diego (1-2).
Dec. 14 vs. Miami, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Ryan Tannehill took a step forward last season when he threw for 3,913 yards and 24 TDs. But he’s yet to prove that he’s the long-awaited, long-term answer at QB the Dolphins have been looking for since Dan Marino left after the 1999 season. If he’s more than just the latest short-time QB for the Dolphins, claiming a playoff spot in his third season as starter will be important. He has a new offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, a rebuilt offensive line anchored by free-agent left tackle addition Branden Albert, and a new weapon in Knowshon Moreno (imported from the Broncos). But for Tannehill, improving will likely be measured by how he performs against the Patriots and if he can leap past New England in the AFC East standings.
• Schedule oddity: The Dolphins have lost their last four games (and seven of their last eight) in New England in December or January.
Dec. 21 at N.Y. Jets, 1 p.m. (CBS)
With Michael Vick added as a free agent to challenge second-year quarterback Geno Smith, it’s not far-fetched to think the Jets will have controversy surrounding their quarterback competition in training camp. Smith, who started all 16 games last season after being drafted in the second round, is the likely starter. But whenever he falters (and that happened often as a rookie, such as his five-game stretch without a touchdown pass), the shadow of Vick – along with the catcalls from Jets fans who want the veteran to play – will loom over him. Expect Revis and the Patriots’ reloaded secondary to be ready to pounce on whoever is the starting quarterback this week.
• Schedule oddity: The Patriots will conclude their season with three straight games against AFC East opponents. They are the only team in the division playing AFC East foes exclusively during that stretch.
Dec. 28 vs. Buffalo, 1 p.m. (CBS)
There are teenagers in Buffalo who’ve gone their entire lives without seeing the Bills in a playoff game. Perhaps if EJ Manuel can stay healthy in his sophomore season as the Bills quarterback he can offer the type of stability they’ll need to try and end the playoff drought that started after the 1999 season. Of course, to get there they will likely have to score a big win against the Patriots. And there are teenagers in Buffalo who’ve only seen a win vs. their AFC East rival twice in their entire life.
• Schedule oddity: The Bills are winless in Gillette Stadium. They’ve lost there every year (0-12) since its 2002 debut.
Game times for Sunday contests in Weeks 5-17 are subject to change.