Are you ready for some football?! Good, because we now know when this year's games will take place! As we examine the 2018 Patriots schedule in detail, we find a number of similarities to last year's layout.
Looking at it first from a bird's-eye view, New England is once again slated for five prime time contests – three on Sunday nights, plus one each on a Monday and Thursday night this fall. In a curious scheduling move, all these will take place during the first half of the Patriots' season, prior to the team's Week 11 bye. Last year, their five nighttime tilts were spread out both before and after the mid-season week off.
The Patriots also have a trio of nationally televised 4:25 kickoff dates, two on CBS and one on FOX. The other eight contests are 1 p.m. Eastern kickoffs.
Bill Belichick's team also faces two tough stretches of road games flanking that bye week. Last autumn, New England took five road trips over a six-week span immediately after the bye. In 2018, the Patriots will travel three out of four weeks in late October and early November before their bye weekend. Coming out of it, they'll again be on the road three weeks out of four. That's six away games in nine weeks (including the bye week).
And no, your eyes aren't deceiving you. The most interesting coincidence, perhaps, is the final quarter of New England's schedule, which mirrors its December 2017 social calendar.
Long before that, however, the Patriots will be home to begin the season, as they were a year ago, but for the first time since 2010, New England will open its regular season by hosting a 1 o'clock Sunday kickoff at Gillette Stadium. Former offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien's Houston Texans are the opponent.
Week 2 sees Belichick's squad hitting the road, as it did in 2017 as well, this time for an AFC Championship Game reunion with the Jaguars in Jacksonville. They'll turn around and fly west to Detroit to meet erstwhile defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and his Lions on Sunday Night Football.
Gillette Stadium will be the site of the next three Patriots games in a favorable stretch for the home team. They'll welcome the Dolphins in a 1 o'clock affair, then quickly regroup for a Thursday night game in the first week of October, just like last season (at Tampa Bay). This time, though, instead of traveling, the Patriots will stay in Foxborough, facing the Colts. After they enjoy a mini-bye that weekend, the Chiefs will come to town the following Sunday night, the second consecutive season KC has earned a prime-time date with New England.
The most challenging stretch begins with the rare visit to Chicago in late October. New England then makes an unusual Monday night appearance in Buffalo, followed by a short week in Foxborough that ends with the Packers coming to Gillette on Sunday night to start the month of November. Nashville, another infrequent destination of the Patriots, is where they head on Veterans Day before getting a weekend off.
On Thanksgiving Weekend, the team heads to New York to meet the Jets. The Vikings travel to New England the first weekend of December for a potential Super Bowl preview that FOX will broadcast starting at 4:25.
As was the case last December, the Patriots will face the Dolphins in Miami in Week 14, travel to Pittsburgh in Week 15, then entertain the Bills and Jets just before Christmas and New Year's to close out the regular season. That game against the Steelers wound up being the most important regular season game of the '17 NFL season and could very well hold just as much significance this year.
Coincidentally or not, the past two seasons, New England has had its bye week precisely at the midpoint, in Week 9, with eight games before and eight games after, and reached the Super Bowl both years. Although this year's bye comes in Week 11, the scheduling of a Week 5 Thursday night contest gives the Patriots a chance to catch their breaths after five games, then once again after the ensuing five games (during the Week 11 bye).
If New England can clinch a first-round playoff bye yet again, they'll enjoy some more time off, the first weekend of January 2019, after their final six regular season games. That would give the team another much-needed opportunity to rest and heal up for a potential postseason run.
One final note: Beginning in Week 6 (against Kansas City), New England's schedule is subject to the NFL's discretion as part of the league's flexible scheduling criteria, meaning the start times could be moved up or back depending on how the season unfolds. For the time being, though, we have the framework established for the upcoming season, and it has the Patriots in the familiar position of being in the national spotlight much of the time.