The NFL released its full 2015 schedule, and to little surprise, America is going to get a heavy dose of the Patriots this fall.
The reigning Super Bowl champions will have exactly half of their games shown across the country — the maximum five nighttime national TV games this fall, plus three games in the national 4:25 p.m. slot.
The season opens on Thursday, Sept. 10 with the Patriots hosting the Steelers in the NFL’s annual kickoff game, and concludes with road games at division foes New York and Miami. In between are reunions with Rex Ryan and Darrelle Revis, the annual Tom Brady-Peyton Manning showdown and a nationally-televised Deflategate rematch with the Colts, during which Bill Belichick might have blood dripping from his teeth.
Here are 16 thoughts about the Patriots’ 16 games this fall:
1. The Patriots’ national TV schedule consists of two Thursday night games (vs. Steelers Week 1, vs. Dolphins Week 8), two Sunday night games (at Colts Week 6, at Broncos Week 12), and one Monday night game (vs. Bills Week 11). They’re lucky that both of their Thursday night games are at home (the Dolphins will be coming off a tough Sunday game against the Texans), but the Patriots will have a tough challenge in Week 12, playing on the road at Denver with one less day of rest.
2. The three 4:25 p.m. national games are all against NFC East teams — at the Cowboys in Week 5, at the Giants in Week 10 and vs. the Eagles in Week 13. The NFL saved the Patriots-Cowboys game for a regular Sunday instead of the Thanksgiving game, which draws big ratings no matter the teams.
3. The Patriots get the earliest possible bye, Week 4, after getting a Week 9 or 10 bye the last two seasons. The early bye isn’t terrible, given that it still comes after six weeks of training camp and four weeks of the regular season. The post-bye schedule is tough — at Cowboys and at Colts — but it is followed by three straight home games against the Jets, Dolphins, and Redskins.
4. The Patriots play four straight “national” games between Weeks 10-13, two of which are at 4:25 p.m. But the Patriots’ last nighttime national TV game is in late November, and they will finish the season with four consecutive 1 p.m. games.
5. The two games vs. Rex Ryan and the Bills are Week 2 at Buffalo (Sept. 20) and Week 11 at Gillette on “Monday Night Football” (Nov. 23). The Patriots will have extra rest for both games — 10 days to prepare for the Week 2 matchup and eight days to prepare for Week 11. But the Bills will have 11 days to prepare for that Monday night game at Gillette.
6. The Revis Reunion: Week 7 vs. the Jets at Gillette (Oct. 25) and Week 16 at MetLife Stadium (Dec. 27). Both games are at 1 p.m. — the first time since 2009 that the Patriots and Jets aren’t playing at least one game at night on national TV.
7. And the other big reunion is with the Texans in Week 14, when the Patriots will see Vince Wilfork, Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, Bill O’Brien, Romeo Crennel, and Mike Vrabel. Given the star power of Brady, Belichick, and J.J. Watt, and all of the ties between the two teams, I’m surprised this game isn’t in prime time.
8. Patriots at Colts. Sunday night, Oct. 18 at 8:30 p.m. Can. Not. Wait.
9. The Patriots have to play their last two games of the season on the road because the Bruins are playing the Winter Classic at Gillette, but the Patriots at least got the “good” AFC East travel — Buffalo early (Week 2) and Miami late (Week 17). The Patriots wilted in the heat in Miami last year in Week 1, but that shouldn’t be an issue on Jan. 3.
10. Their five December games are: vs. Eagles, at Texans, vs. Titans, at Jets, at Dolphins. The Eagles and Texans should be tough, while the Titans at home should be an easy victory. But the difficulty of the closing stretch depends on the division rivals.
11. The Patriots face six of the 12 worst passing defenses from 2014 based on passing yards allowed — Eagles (second-worst), Steelers (sixth), Cowboys (seventh), Redskins (ninth), Jaguars (11th), and Texans (12th). Brady threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns against the Steelers in 2013, and might do even better this time with the departures of defensive backs Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, and coordinator Dick LeBeau. The Steelers also won’t have suspended RB Le’Veon Bell for the opener, while the Patriots won’t have suspended RB LeGarrette Blount.
12. The Patriots play three of their first five on the road, and three of their final four on the road. But they’ve got to like having two warm-weather games in December (Houston, Miami). And the middle of the schedule has a nice soft spot with five of seven games at home between Weeks 7-13.
13. Of course Brady-Manning 17 had to be in prime time. We say this every year, but this really might be the last matchup.
14. The Patriots only face one team coming off a bye — the Redskins in Week 9.
15. The Patriots are only playing four playoff teams from 2014, the lowest possible number based on NFL scheduling. For conspiracy theorists, this has everything to do with the NFL’s natural rotation (the Patriots playing the AFC East, AFC South, and NFC East) and nothing to do with the NFL playing favorites with the Patriots.
16. I see potential losses to the Bills, Dolphins, Cowboys, and Broncos, and maybe we’ll throw the Texans in there. But the Patriots will go 12-4 and cruise to another AFC East title. As usual.