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NFL schedule: Tom Brady returns to Foxborough Oct. 3, and it will be the toughest ticket in Patriots history

Tom Brady will be cheered upon his return to Foxborough, but not when the game begins.CHANG W. LEE/NYT

Let the bidding begin.

The date for the most coveted ticket in New England Patriots history was unveiled Wednesday night, along with the rest of the dates on the 2021 NFL calendar.

Tom Brady’s return to Foxborough will be a prime-time one on Oct. 3, and tickets to the Sunday night affair will be the most requested early Christmas present of the century. Season ticket-holders and ticket brokers alike will undoubtedly be entertaining lucrative offers right up until kickoff.

Brady highlights a cavalcade of big-name quarterbacks on the Patriots schedule that includes the top two picks in the draft in Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson (twice).


Additionally, Josh Allen (twice), Dak Prescott, Baker Mayfield, Matt Ryan, Tua Tagovailoa (twice), Sam Darnold, Justin Herbert, Ryan Tannehill, and Jameis Winston all are on the slate.

And barring a trade, Deshaun Watson could be on the list as well.

With five of their first seven games at Gillette Stadium — including the homecoming of Messrs. Brady and Gronkowski — the Patriots have a favorable slate to start the season.

New England then plays five of its next seven on the road, starting with a trip to Los Angeles and ending in Indianapolis. During that stretch, the Patriots play Buffalo twice in three weeks, including a Monday night affair in front of the Bills Mafia.

The Patriots get a bye in Week 14 and will be home for the holidays, facing the Bills on Dec. 26 and the Jaguars on Jan. 2. New England will host Washington (Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m.) and travel to Philadelphia (Aug. 19 at 7:30 p.m.) and the New York Giants (Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m.) for its three exhibition games.

A preliminary look at the opponents the Patriots will face as they attempt to get back to the postseason after last season’s 7-9 campaign.


vs. Dolphins (Week 1, at Gillette Stadium, Sept. 12, 4 p.m., CBS); (Week 18, at Miami Gardens, Jan. 9, 1 p.m., CBS):

This is a pivotal season for Tagovailoa, who struggled once he was handed Miami’s starting job — despite some nice magic from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Tagovailoa’s receiving corps with DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, and Jaylen Waddle is elite. Fuller will miss the Week 1 matchup as he serves the final game of his six-game PED suspension.

Tua Tagovailoa led the Dolphins to a late-season win over the Patriots last year.Matthew J. Lee/Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Key addition: CB Jason McCourty.

All-time series: Dolphins lead, 57-54.

vs. Jets (Week 2, at East Rutherford, N.J., Sept. 19, 1 p.m., CBS); (Week 7, at Gillette Stadium, Oct. 24, 1 p.m., CBS):

A rookie first-round quarterback of the future for Gang Green? Sounds a lot like 2018. More on Darnold later. Wilson likely will be seeing ghosts in his initial matchup against Bill Belichick. How he responds in the return engagement likely will be a scary thought for one of these fan bases.

Key addition: Wilson.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 69-54-1.

vs. New Orleans Saints (Week 3, at Gillette Stadium, Sept. 26, 1 p.m., Fox):

Winston gets his chance to see if he can enjoy a career renaissance as the man who replaced Drew Brees. A year working under Brees and with Sean Payton should pay off.

Key addition: DE Payton Turner.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 10-4.

vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 4, at Gillette Stadium, Oct. 3, 8:20 p.m., NBC):

Brady will hear raucous cheers as a thankful response for two decades of thrills and chills. Until kickoff. That’s when the lovefest (and the appreciation for six Super Bowl crowns) ends as the locals switch their allegiances back to the local FC.


Key addition: RB Giovani Bernard.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 7-2.

at Houston Texans (Week 5, at Houston, Oct. 10, 1 p.m., CBS):

There is obviously a huge dark cloud hanging over Houston, as Watson’s status (Will he be a Texan? Will he be in the NFL?) remains murky. Watson wants out, but until his legal concerns are clarified, GM Nick Caserio’s hands are tied.

Key addition: QB Tyrod Taylor.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 10-3.

vs. Dallas Cowboys (Week 6, at Gillette Stadium, Oct. 17, 4:25 p.m., CBS):

This is one of the league’s marquee inaugural “17th game” matchups, as Jerry Jones brings “America’s Team” to Foxborough. Prescott, armed with a six-year, $240 million contract and receivers Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup, leads the charge.

Dak Prescott struggled in this 2019 appearance against the Patriots in Foxborough.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Key addition: LB Micah Parsons.

All-time series: Cowboys lead, 7-6.

at Los Angeles Chargers (Week 8, at Los Angeles, Oct. 31, 4:05 p.m., CBS):

The Patriots make their third trip to SoFi Stadium after spending a week in La La Land last season. Herbert is coming off a great rookie season but had a rough outing against Belichick’s defense (45-0 loss) in 2020, and he’ll be itching to erase that memory.

Key addition: Brandon Staley (head coach).

All-time series: Patriots lead, 25-15-2.

at Carolina Panthers (Week 9, at Charlotte, N.C., Nov. 7, 1 p.m., CBS):


Cam Newton returns to Carolina to face Darnold, a man haunted by the Patriots the last three seasons. It’ll be interesting to see which quarterback receives louder cheers. Darnold has a new cast of characters around as he auditions to be the face of the Panthers. Beating the guy who used to hold that title would be good starting point.

Key addition: Darnold.

All-time series: Panthers lead, 4-3.

vs. Cleveland Browns (Week 10, at Gillette Stadium, Nov. 14, 1 p.m., CBS):

An AFC favorite this season after Mayfield led them to the playoffs (where they beat the archrival Steelers), the Browns boast one of the most talented bunch of defenders in the land led by Myles “Megamuscles” Garrett.

Key addition: DE Jadeveon Clowney.

All-time series: Browns lead, 13-12.

at Atlanta Falcons (Week 11, at Atlanta, Nov. 18, 8:20 p.m., Fox, NFL Network, Amazon):

The Patriots get Ryan on a short-rest Thursday night. He’s got a bevy of talented pass catchers in Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and rookie Kyle Pitts, the highest-drafted rookie tight end in NFL history, at his disposal.

Key addition: Pitts.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 9-6.

vs. Tennessee Titans (Week 12, at Gillette Stadium, Nov. 28, 1 p.m., CBS):

A big test for New England’s reconstructed front seven as Derrick Henry, the biggest and baddest running back in the land, comes to town. His footprints from the playoff win two seasons ago can still be seen in some parts of Gillette.


Derrick Henry rushed for 182 yards in a playoff win over the Patriots on January 4, 2020.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Key addition: LB Bud Dupree.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 25-18-1.

vs. Bills (Week 13, at Orchard Park, N.Y., Dec. 6, 8:15 p.m, ESPN); (Week 16, at Gillette Stadium, Dec. 26, 1 p.m., CBS):

Allen took a seismic leap in leading the Bills to the playoffs last year. He is coming off a legitimate MVP-caliber season, and his rapport with receiver Stefon Diggs is ridiculous.

Key addition: WR Emmanuel Sanders.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 76-45-1.

at Indianapolis Colts (Week 15, at Indianapolis Colts, Dec. 18 or 19, time and network TBA):

Carson Wentz is scheduled to be the fourth different Opening Day starting QB in four seasons for the sons of Johnny Unitas (Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers). The organization is banking on Wentz returning to his winning ways now that he’s reunited with Frank Reich, his former offensive coordinator in Philadelphia.

Key addition: Wentz.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 52-29.

vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 17, at Gillette Stadium, Jan. 2, 1 p.m., CBS):

Maybe the second-biggest home game of the bunch. The story lines: Lawrence is the top QB prospect to come into the league since Andrew Luck; after three FBS titles, Urban Meyer is finally an NFL head coach; oh, and break out those old No. 15 jerseys, because there’s a chance (albeit slim) that Tim Tebow is back at his old stomping grounds (exaggeration alert).

Key addition: Lawrence.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 11-2.

Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.