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2016 New England Patriots Schedule Analysis: Challenging prime-time games

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If the Patriots are in fact forced to open the season without Tom Brady at least they'll get do so mostly at home.

The NFL schedule was announced Thursday and after opening the 2016 campaign with a Sunday night trip to Chandler Jones and the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 11, New England will enjoy three straight home games at Gillette Stadium to close out the first quarter of the season.

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That means if Jimmy Garoppolo is forced to take the reins and open the season at quarterback he'll start most of those games in Foxborough. The Patriots will host division rivals Miami (Sept. 18) and Buffalo (Oct. 2) sandwiched around a visit from Houston on Thursday night (Sept. 22).

In the event that Brady is suspended and misses the first month, he would return Oct. 9 in Cleveland for a Week 5 matchup with the Browns.

In addition to the opener and the Thursday night affair, the Patriots will appear in prime time on at least three other occasions (the NFL's flex scheduling could add one to that list, as was the case in 2015) – coming out of the bye in what could be a potential Super Bowl preview in Week 10 against Seattle (Nov. 13), Week 12 at the Jets (Nov. 27) and Week 14 against the Ravens on "Monday Night Football." That would mean three night games in a five-week span last in the season, which could represent a difficult stretch.

The Ravens game will be followed by a trip to Denver before the Patriots close out the campaign on Saturday, Christmas Eve at home against the Jets and a trip to Miami on New Year's Day. Unlike in 2015 when the Patriots closed with four road games in the final six weeks, the last six games are split evenly with three each at home and on the road.

While it's difficult to project how a schedule will play out, the most challenging games would appear to be the prime time games plus a trip to Pittsburgh on Oct. 23. 

Any schedule reveal would be incomplete without some input from Andy Hart in terms of results. Just in case anyone is interested here's how Andy sees the schedule unfolding: L, W, W, W, W, W, L, W, W, W, W, W, L, W, W, L – that comes out to 12-4. He also would like to qualify the first four games should Brady be suspended. He's adding a loss to Houston in that event.

The Patriots will visit the following stadiums during the 2016 NFL season.

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