Well, losing Tom Brady didn’t hurt the Patriots too much in the prime-time-scheduling department.
New England’s 2020 schedule, announced Thursday night, includes five prime-time games and saves some of the toughest matchups, including those against both of last season’s Super Bowl teams, for Sunday afternoons.
It’s a doozy of a slate. You’ll hear that the Patriots have the NFL’s toughest schedule in 2020, given that their opponents had a collective .537 winning percentage last season. Last season’s wins, in reality, aren’t the best predictor of next season’s strength, but playing the Chiefs, 49ers, Ravens, and Seahawks — three of them within the first eight weeks of the season — is sure to be difficult.
There’s also a lot of travel, with an early trip to Seattle and back-to-back games at the new SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles (assuming they finish construction) in December. No matter how you slice it, 2020 is an uphill battle before Brady’s exit enters the conversation.
By the way, while losing Brady didn’t hurt the Patriots’ prime-time appeal, he added some appeal for Tampa Bay, which is also scheduled for five prime-time slots, most in that franchise’s history.
Week 1: Sept. 13 vs. Dolphins, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Will it be Jarrett Stidham vs. Tua Tagovailoa right off the bat? Whether it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tagovailoa, the Dolphins showed last season that even with a roster full of holes they’re not pushovers. That roster is considerably better now, with additions including Tagovailoa, cornerback Byron Jones, and former Patriots Kyle Van Noy, Ted Karras, and Elandon Roberts.
Week 2: Sept. 20 at Seahawks, 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
The Patriots’ first prime-time game won’t feel like a Super Bowl XLIX rematch, without Brady, Malcolm Butler or Marshawn Lynch, but it’s always fun to watch Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll match wits on the sidelines.
Week 3: Sept. 27 vs. Raiders, 1 p.m. (CBS)
The Patriots and Raiders haven’t played since a 33-8 New England win in November of 2017, but quarterback Derek Carr is practically the only holdover from the roster that played in that game.
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 4 at Chiefs, 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
The Patriots visit the defending Super Bowl champions at Arrowhead for what looks like the toughest game on the schedule.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11 vs. Broncos, 1 p.m. (CBS)
It’s been a few years since Denver was a regular challenger to the Patriots in the AFC, but John Elway did his best this offseason to surround quarterback Drew Lock with talents such as Melvin Gordon and Jerry Jeudy, and an improved offensive line.
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25 vs. 49ers, 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
What could be called The Battle of the Brady Backups is a brutal challenge for the Patriots’ offense, whatever shape it’s in next season, against the scariest defensive front in football. They luck out that it comes after their early bye week.
Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1 at Bills, 1 p.m. (CBS)
The Patriots dip back into their division schedule for the first time since the opener at the season’s midway point. Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane has quietly built a sturdy roster with a top-tier defense that could challenge the Patriots in the AFC East. Get ready for Stefon Diggs vs. Stephon Gilmore. Winner keeps his preferred spelling?
Week 9: Monday, Nov. 9 at Jets, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)
The Patriots stay in New York for their second of back-to-back AFC East matchups. General manager Joe Douglas made some offseason moves that look shrewd and pleasantly understated by Jets standards, but the roster doesn’t look ready to compete yet.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15 vs. Ravens, 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
One of the toughest games on the Patriots’ schedule comes on a (slightly) shortened week after the “Monday Night Football” game in New York. The 37-20 beatdown in Baltimore last year that was the Patriots’ first loss of 2019 was closer than it looked, but it seems as if the Ravens have only solidified things since then, while the Patriots have more questions than usual. Lamar Jackson probably won’t be the quarterback with something to prove in this one.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22 at Texans, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Bill O’Brien and the Texans finally beat the Patriots in Houston last season and will probably look at the 2020 squad as an easier mark, especially with that monkey off their backs.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29 vs. Cardinals, 1 p.m. (Fox)
The Cardinals’ offense that just added DeAndre Hopkins is already interesting, but want to make this game a little more meaningful? Winner gets Kliff Kingsbury’s house.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 6 at Chargers, 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
Justin Herbert and Tyrod Taylor will compete for the Chargers’ quarterback job now that Philip Rivers is a Colt, and there’s still a scary veteran defense. This is the first of back-to-back games in Los Angeles that come late in the schedule, when the NFL is probably more hopeful California regulations on football-game-sized gatherings will be less stringent. (The weather is also nice.)
Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 10 at Rams, 8:20 p.m. (Fox/NFL Network/Amazon)
The Patriots will likely stay out West for their “Thursday Night Football” game. The second chapter of their SoFi-Stadium back-to-back is also a Super Bowl LIII rematch.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20 at Dolphins, 1 p.m. (CBS)
New England’s second matchup with Miami comes as it begins three AFC East games to close out the regular season. If Tagovailoa isn’t starting Week 1, it’s more likely he will be by this point.
Week 16: Monday, Dec. 28 vs. Bills, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)
The Bills at home come with a reduced risk of crazy fan activity, but that defense can travel.
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3 vs. Jets, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Given the strength of the Patriots’ schedule, the Jets at home seems like the easiest weekend they’ll get. Then again, we said that about the Dolphins last year.