View the Patriots 2015 schedule in photos.
The defending champions now know the layout of the minefield they'll have to navigate to try to get to Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco. New England will play half its 2015 schedule in prime time or in nationally televised doubleheaders; the other half is slated for 1 p.m. Eastern kickoffs.
In this historic season, when the NFL will celebrate its milestone Super Bowl, the Patriots will open the season at home on Thursday night, September 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Between them, the two franchises have appeared in 16 Super Bowls – eight apiece – and won a combined 10 championships. This game also marks a repeat of New England's 2002 season opener, when they were defending Super Bowl champions and christening Gillette Stadium with a 30-14 triumph over the Steelers.
The next two weeks, the Patriots will have 1 o'clock tilts, first with Rex Ryan's new Buffalo Bills squad, then against Jacksonville in Foxborough before enjoying their bye week the first weekend of October. That's two extended breaks in the first month of the season.
Following the bye, New England faces a tough two-game road stretch, heading to Dallas for their first 4:25 doubleheader appearance. This will be the first time the Patriots have visited the Cowboys since a thrilling 2007 win, and New England's first in Big D's big new stadium. A week later, they travel to Indianapolis for a Sunday Night showdown with the Colts, their opponent in the AFC Championship Game last season, whom they also routed at Indy last November.
Two home games against AFC East opponents – the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins – then come within four days of one another. Miami comes to town for a Thursday night affair at the end of October, giving the Patriots another mini-bye week on Halloween weekend and marking the approximate midpoint of the season.
A third straight home game awaits thereafter, when the Redskins pay a rare visit to Foxborough at the start of November. New England makes a quick road trip to the New York Giants for another 4:25 doubleheader against their two-time Super Bowl opponents before the Ryan-led Bills come to Gillette for the Patriots' only Monday Night Football contest of 2015.
On Thanksgiving weekend, many observers expected Belichick's Patriots to be in Dallas for a traditional Turkey Day tilt with the Cowboys. Instead, New England will be at Denver for a Sunday Night showdown in a venue that typically gives the Patriots trouble. It could also be one of the final Tom Brady-Peyton Manning matchups we'll see.
That brings us to the month of December and the final five games of the regular season. Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles are the final 4:25 doubleheader on New England's slate, here at Gillette, then a string of four 1 o'clock kickoffs close out the Patriots season, three of which are on the road.
New England travels to Houston before hosting the Tennessee Titans in the final home game of 2015. Two days after Christmas, and with the NHL preparing Gillette Stadium for the Boston Bruins' New Year's Day Winter Classic, the Patriots will take on the Jets in the Meadowlands. Then two days after New Year's, they'll fly down to Miami for the regular season finale against the Dolphins.
As always, there are NFL Flex Scheduling rules that could apply for much of the season and alter the kickoff times. However, the Patriots are locked into their Thursday night games against Pittsburgh in the opener, the Dolphins in October, and the Monday Night contest with the Bills in November.
Having a bye week in the first month, plus two mini-byes after their two Thursday games, could be beneficial for Belichick's Patriots as they work to get into midseason form. They'll also need to be at their freshest down the stretch when they have to travel for five of their final eight games.
The back-to-back road games in October at Dallas and Indy will be early tests for the champs, particularly on defense against two very potent offenses. The three-game home stretch immediately thereafter, though, should be a welcome relief. The Denver-Philly-Houston stretch could also be a difficult challenge as the Patriots look to jockey for potential playoff positioning.
And while this schedule is by no means a day at the beach, that's where they'll close out the 2015 regular season. Perhaps a fitting reward for another hard-earned AFC East title? Remains to be seen, of course, and it will be tougher, given New England's stature as champs – every team on the schedule will be focused even harder on taking down the Patriots each week. Belichick will have his troops ready, and knowing how the schedule will now unfold, he can start getting them prepared to defend their title.