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Jim McBride

A game-by-game look at what awaits the Patriots in 2017

Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots will open the regular season against the Kansas City Chiefs Sept. 7.
Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots will open the regular season against the Kansas City Chiefs Sept. 7.2016 FILE/CHARLES KRUPA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Patriots will play five prime-time games — including the NFL’s season-opening kickoff game Sept. 7 at 8:30, when they’ll raise Super Bowl banner No. 5 in a yet-to-be determined location at Gillette Stadium.

It won’t be a rematch of Super Bowl LI, instead the Chiefs will be on hand rather than the Falcons. In addition, the Patriots will again be home for Christmas, as they will host the Bills on Dec. 24. The Patriots hosted the Jets last Christmas Eve. The Patriots will play the Jets on New Year’s Eve. Both holiday games are slated to start at 1 p.m.

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In addition to opening night, the Patriots will play another Thursday night game in Tampa Bay on Oct. 5. New England will play twice on Sunday night, hosting the Falcons Oct. 22 and visiting the Broncos on Nov. 12.

A week after the Broncos game, the Patriots will face the Raiders on Nov. 19 in a 4:25 p.m. game in Mexico City, meaning they’ll play back-to-back games in the high altitude of Mile High and Estadio Azteca.

The Patriots’ final scheduled prime-time matchup will come on Monday, Dec. 11 in Miami Gardens. In an oddity, that game will come just two weeks after the Patriots host the Dolphins.

The Patriots will play five of their final six games against AFC East foes. New England has won eight straight AFC East titles and 14 of the last 16.

The Patriots will get their bye in the desired Week 9 spot but must play five of their next six games on the road. New England was 8-0 on the road last season.

The preseason schedule was also finalized Thursday: New England will host the Jaguars Thursday, Aug. 10 and the Giants Thursday, Aug. 31. Both games will be at 7:30 p.m. The Patriots play at Houston on Saturday, Aug. 19 (8 p.m.) and at Detroit on Friday, Aug. 25 (7 p.m.).

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The Patriots are exploring the possibility of holding joint practices with the Jaguars in Foxborough and with the Texans at the Green Brier Resort in West Virginia.

Here’s a closer look at New England’s 2017 slate:

WEEK 1: Kansas City Chiefs

Date: Thurs., Sept. 7, 8:30 p.m.

All-time series: Chiefs lead, 17-14-3.

Comments: Andy Reid’s team has made the playoffs the last two seasons, and there’s enough talent to make another run, but can they get past wild-card weekend?

Alex Smith is still the QB, and he’s fine if he’s playing with the lead, but scoring points in bunches is tough for this offense because there’s a lack of weapons. Tight end Travis Kelce is among the best.

Tambi Hali and Justin Houston can get after the QB, and safety Eric Berry is an All-Pro.

WEEK 2: at New Orleans Saints

Date: Sun., Sept. 17, 1 p.m.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 9-4.

Comments: After practicing together and facing off in the preseason the last two seasons, the Patriots and Saints square off in the regular season.

All eyes will be on Brandin Cooks, the electrifying receiver New England acquired from New Orleans for the No. 32 overall pick. Will Malcolm Butler be his teammate or will he wearing Black and Gold?

Drew Brees can still sling it (keep an eye on Michael Thomas), but this defense is not so good.

WEEK 3: Houston Texans

Date: Sun., Sept. 24, 1 p.m.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 8-1.

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Comments: With Tony Romo atop the depth chart at CBS, Bill O’Brien will be holding open auditions to find a new starting quarterback. So, if you can chuck it, hit up GM Rick Smith.

If Houston can find a legit field general (Tom Savage, is it you?), then this team will be among the AFC’s best. Running back Lamar Miller and receiver DeAndre Hopkins will ease the transition for any QB.

The defense was exceptional last season, and that was without J.J. Watt. He’s back this year. The linebacking corps of Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing, and Bernardrick McKinney is the best in the business. Oh, and Jadeveon Clowney is pretty good, too.

WEEK 4: Carolina Panthers

Date: Sun., Oct. 1, 1 p.m.

All-time series: Tied, 3-3.

Comments: This is another team the Patriots have some familiarity with after playing the Panthers the last two exhibition seasons.

If Cam Newton (shoulder surgery) is fully healthy, this could be a bounce-back year for the Panthers, who were abysmal in 2016, one year removed from a Super Bowl berth.

Newton is dynamic. He has an excellent arm and is built like a linebacker — but he must stop absorbing those big hits.

WEEK 5: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Date: Thurs., Oct. 5, 8:25 p.m.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 6-2.

Comments: In a scheduling oddity, the Patriots play their first regular-season game in Tampa since 1997; the Buccaneers “hosted” New England in London in 2009.

The Patriots get their first look at star quarterback Jameis Winston, who has a pair of stud receivers in Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. Running back Doug Martin keeps the offense balanced.

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The defense? There’s lots of work to be done there.

WEEK 6: at New York Jets

Date: Sun., Oct. 15, 1 p.m.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 61-54-1

Comments: Who’s playing quarterback for Gang Green this year?

It won’t be Ryan Fitzpatrick or Geno Smith. Will Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg step up and seize the job? Will the Jets spend another high draft pick on a signal-caller?

Yup, as usual, there are tons of question marks surrounding the Jets, who haven’t had a postseason dance since 2010 and will need a series of mini-miracles to get there this season.

WEEK 7: Atlanta Falcons

Date: Sun., Oct. 22, 8:30 p.m.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 8-6.

Comments: The Falcons could win this game, 75-0, and it wouldn’t erase the memory of the crushing Super Bowl LI loss in February.

Atlanta’s offense returns intact, led by MVP quarterback Matt Ryan, dangerous receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, and backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

Tackle Dontari Poe will bolster a defense led by linebacker Vic Beasley and cornerback Desmond Trufant.

WEEK 8: Los Angeles Chargers

Date: Sun., Oct. 29, 1 p.m.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 23-15-2.

Comments: Quarterback Philip Rivers and fellow graybeard, tight end Antonio Gates, are back for their umpteenth seasons with the Bolts (they may have been on the original Los Angeles Chargers). This offense is in serious need of an infusion of youth.

Defensive end Joey Bosa had a solid rookie season after a lengthy holdout, and he’s worth the price of admission.

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WEEK 9: BYE

WEEK 10: at DenverBroncos

Date: Sun., Nov. 12, 8:30 p.m.

All-time series: Broncos lead, 30-22.

Comments: The Patriots secured their most emotional win of the 2016 regular season at Mile High — normally their House of Horrors — as part of a late run to the Super Bowl title.

Paxton Lynch likely will get his chance as the starting quarterback to try to get the Broncos back to the playoffs after the defending champs failed to qualify last season.

The strength of this team is still on defense, where pass rusher extraordinaire Von Miller’s first step and closing speed are downright scary.

WEEK 11: at Oakland Raiders (Mexico City)

Date: Sun., Nov. 19, 4:25 p.m.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 18-15-1.

Comments: The Patriots avoid a final visit to the Black Hole and instead head to Mexico City to face the Raiders at Estadio Azteca. This will be the franchise’s first international game since playing in London in 2012.

Derek Carr’s late-season injury spoiled a fine season for the Raiders, and the big question surrounding this team is: Will the fan base turn out for a lame-duck franchise?

Defensive end/linebacker/soul crusher Khalil Mack plays with ferociousness.

WEEK 12: Miami Dolphins

Date: Sun., Nov. 26, 1 p.m.

All-time series: Dolphins lead, 53-50

Comments: The Dolphins will look to build on their playoff season of 2016, when they lost their wild-card game to the Steelers in Adam Gase’s first year at the helm.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has some solid weapons with running back Jay Ajayi and receivers Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills in place, and newcomer Julius Thomas will help at tight end.

Kiko Alonso is an instinctive heat-seeker at linebacker, and he’s going to like his new running mate, Lawrence Timmons.

WEEK 13: at Buffalo Bills

Date: Sun., Dec. 3, 1 p.m.

All-time series: Patriots lead, 70-43-1

Comments: The bluster of Orchard Park remains. The bluster of Rex Ryan is gone. Ryan (and his alter ego, Walt Patulski) is off to the broadcast booth as Sean McDermott takes over.

Running back LeSean McCoy is the centerpiece of the offense, but questions remain about whether quarterback Tyrod Taylor (back under a reworked deal) can lead this team. Taylor is an excellent athlete with a big arm but can be streaky.

There’s a ton of talent on the defensive front seven with veteran tackle Marcel Dareus and rising stars Shaq Lawson at left end and Reggie Ragland at middle linebacker.

WEEK 14: at Miami Dolphins

Date: Mon., Dec. 11, 8:30 p.m.

The news that Landry thinks the Dolphins will sweep New England this season won’t get much play in the Patriots’ locker room, but you can bet the players know about it.

Miami has split the season series with the Patriots in three of the last four years, with last season being the exception. Tom Brady has a 20-9 mark against the Dolphins but is just 7-8 in Miami Gardens.

WEEK 15: at Pittsburgh Steelers

Date: Sun., Dec. 17, 4:25 p.m.

All-time series: Tied, 15-15.

Comments: How is this just the 31st game between these franchises? Seems like they play three times per season.

Ben Roethlisberger stunned absolutely nobody when he announced he’d be back for his 14th season. And why wouldn’t he, with this supporting cast? Le’Veon Bell is the best all-around back in the league and receiver Antonio Brown always is a must-see (even if that look is via Facebook Live).

This defense will never be confused with the Steel Curtain (Chris Hogan is still open) but there is a nice mix of veterans and youth. James Harrison is a marvel.

WEEK 16: Buffalo Bills

Date: Sun., Dec. 24, 1 p.m.

Terry Pegula signs the checks in Buffalo but the common thought is that Brady owns the Bills. Brady is 26-3 against Buffalo with 66 TDs and 20 INTs.

The Bills were the only blemish on New England’s AFC East schedule last season, earning a Week 4 against Jacoby Brissett as Brady sat out the final game of his suspension and Jimmy Garoppolo nursed a shoulder injury.

WEEK 17: New York Jets

Date: Sun., Dec. 31, 1 p.m.

The Jets have won the second matchup between the clubs in two of the last four seasons (2013, ’15) with both coming at MetLife Stadium.

Brady is 23-7 vs. the Jets in the regular season, with 44 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.


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