The Patriots open and close the 2018 season at home, and play the maximum five prime-time games next season, according to the official schedule, which was released Thursday night.
For the first time since 2014, New England will begin the regular season with a 1 p.m. start, at Gillette Stadium against the Texans on Sept. 9.
From there, they go on the road for an early rematch of the AFC Championship game, in Jacksonville for Week 2, with a 4:25 p.m. kickoff. No word on whether Bill Belichick will bring his new puppy, Nike, to the Jaguars’ new Pet Park at EverBank Field. Ed Sheeran has a tour date scheduled for Gillette Stadium that weekend, so it works out for the Patriots to be elsewhere.
Beginning in Week 3, America is going to get its fair share of Patriots games through Week 9, because New England plays all five of its prime-time games in that seven-week stretch. The Week 3 game is in Detroit, against Matt Patricia’s Lions, on “Sunday Night Football.”
After a 1 p.m. Sunday kickoff in Week 4 against the Dolphins, the first AFC East game of the season, the Patriots have a quick turnaround before hosting the Colts on “Thursday Night Football” in Week 5.
After the mini-bye, the Chiefs come to town for a Sunday night matchup in Week 6. This year, “Sunday Night Football” games will kickoff a bit earlier, at 8:20 p.m. “Thursday Night Football” games also will begin at 8:20 p.m., and “Monday Night Football” games after Week 1 will begin at 8:15 p.m.
Weeks 7 and 8 make up one of two back-to-back games on the road, as the Patriots travel to Chicago for a 1 p.m. Sunday start (Oct. 21) before going up to Buffalo for “Monday Night Football” (Oct. 29).
The Patriots then return home for Week 9, a “Sunday Night Football” matchup against the Packers that would be just the second contest between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
It’s possible a game could be flexed but, with the schedule as it is now, New England would have the maximum number of prime-time games permitted. Other teams with five scheduled prime-time games are the Eagles, Packers, Seahawks, and 49ers — call it the Jimmy Garoppolo effect.
After the highly billed matchup with the Packers, the Patriots visit Mike Vrabel and the Titans for a 1 p.m. start at Nissan Stadium, the last game before New England’s Week 11 bye.
It’s the latest bye week the Patriots have had since 2001. The late bye coupled with three road games in the four leading up to it, with the added sleep-cycle changes caused by the prime-time games, should make for an exhausting stretch mid-season, but the players would be hypothetically better rested for a playoff run than they would with an early bye week.
New England comes out of the bye with just its third AFC East matchup of the season, a trip to New York to play the Jets at 1 p.m. in Week 12.
After that, the Patriots play their final game of the year against an NFC opponent (unless, of course, they go back to the Super Bowl) in Week 13, at home, against the Vikings.
Weeks 14-17 are all AFC matchups, with a visit to Miami in Week 14 followed by the third straight regular-season trip to Pittsburgh, this time in Week 15.
The Patriots close with back-to-back division games, facing the Bills in Week 16 and the Jets in Week 17, both at home with 1 p.m. Sunday starts.
Patriots 2018 schedule
Week 1: Sept. 9 vs. Texans, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Week 2: Sept. 16 at Jaguars, 4:25 p.m (CBS).
Week 3: Sept. 23 at Lions, 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Week 4: Sept. 30 vs. Dolphins, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Week 5: Oct. 4 vs. Colts, 8:20 p.m. (Fox)
Week 6: Oct. 14 vs. Chiefs, 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Week 7: Oct. 21 at Bears, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Week 8: Oct. 29 at Bills, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Week 9: Nov. 4 vs. Packers, 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Week 10: Nov. 11 at Titans, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Week 11: Bye week
Week 12: Nov. 25 at NY Jets, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Week 13: Dec. 2 vs. Vikings, 4:25 p.m. (Fox)
Week 14: Dec. 9 at Dolphins, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Week 15: Dec 16 at Steelers, 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
Week 16: Dec. 23 vs. Bills, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Week 17: Dec. 30 vs. NY Jets, 1 p.m. (CBS)