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Analysis: Patriots 2017 schedule

A thorough look at the Super Bowl champs' upcoming regular season slate

Start making your autumn vacation plans, fans, because the 2017 Patriots schedule is now complete!

As reigning Super Bowl champions, New England will be featured five times in prime time, beginning with the league's opening game on Thursday night, Sept. 7. A second Thursday night tilt, two Sunday night affairs, and one Monday night contest are also on tap.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Patriots have nine 1 o'clock kickoffs and just two 4:25 start times at this point (pending the flexible scheduling decisions that are made in-season, which could alter those times for the benefit of competitiveness).

There's also a challenging six-week period in which New England plays five road games. As we do each April, let's examine the entire schedule on a block-by-block basis.

The first quarter of the Patriot's season begins with three of the first four games at Gillette Stadium. After New England's opener against Kansas City on that first Thursday night, they'll have 10 days before traveling to New Orleans to face the Saints in the first of three straight 1 o'clock kickoffs. Home games versus Houston and Carolina immediately follow.

It's a short turnaround, however, between the Panthers contest and the beginning of the next four-game block. The Patriots will have just three days to prepare for the Tampa Bay Bucs, whom they'll play on Thursday, Oct. 5 at Raymond James Stadium. This will mark New England's first Thursday road game since the Thanksgiving game against the Jets in 2012.

Coincidentally, they'll visit those Jets the following Sunday for a 1 o'clock game before returning home to host Atlanta – the team vanquished in Super Bowl LI – on Sunday Night Football. A 1 p.m. home game versus the L.A. Chargers rounds out the second quarter of 2017.

For the second consecutive year, New England will enjoy its bye week at the precise midpoint of the season, in Week 9 – the first weekend of November. They'll need the rest, too, because a potentially long two-game road trip looms thereafter.

Coming directly out of the bye, Bill Belichick's squad will travel to Denver for another Sunday Night Football appearance. Then, they head south of the border to take on the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City.

This presents possibly the most intriguing aspect of the season for New England. Given that both Denver and Mexico City are high-altitude destinations, Belichick might consider making this back-to-back stretch a weeklong trip, as he has done in previous seasons when long flights were scheduled in consecutive weeks.

Particularly with the Denver game being at night, it stands to reason that Belichick might want to keep his players conditioned to the thin air, either by remaining in Denver for a few days or traveling straight to Mexico to practice and prepare for the remainder of the next week.

Finding a suitable facility in either location will, of course, determine whether or not this is feasible, but it sure seems more effective than flying back and forth to New England several times. Such week-long sojourns have proven effective for the Patriots in the past.

Whatever they decide, they'll be back in Foxborough in Week 12 to host the Miami Dolphins.

That brings us to the final five-game stretch of the 2017 campaign.  

For three straight weeks, the Patriots will be on the road, with trips to Buffalo, Miami for Monday Night Football, and a 4:25 date with the Steelers in Pittsburgh. But for the holidays, the schedule makers gave New England the gift of being home for Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve against division rivals Buffalo and the Jets.

There are some potential travel challenges with this layout, but with five home games before the bye and five on the road afterward, it's a balanced schedule. And it'll be here before you know it. 

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