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Analysis: Patriots 2019 schedule

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Are you ready for some Patriots football? Good, because we now know when the 2019 regular season games will be played.

As defending Super Bowl Champions, New England is once again a popular draw when it comes to primetime (8:20 p.m. Eastern) and nationally televised double-header games (which kick off at 4:25 p.m. Eastern). Those constitute either nine or 10 of New England’s 16 regular season contests (more on that shortly), the first of which comes in Week 1.

Starting with the Steelers

Three of New England’s first five games are away from Foxborough, but the season starts at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots would have opened 2019 at home on Thursday night, where Super Bowl winners have been scheduled in recent seasons, had the league not decided to break with tradition as it commemorates a season-long celebration of the NFL’s 100th season of play (not to be confused with the 100th anniversary, which will be in 2020). League decision-makers elected at last month’s Annual Meeting in Phoenix to put the NFL’s oldest rivalry, Chicago versus Green Bay, in that premiere position.

It was also revealed that the Patriots would instead host the Sunday Night game in Week 1, with an opponent to be determined. Given the overall theme of this season, I recently speculated that the Steelers, the team tied with New England for most Super Bowl victories in league history (six apiece), would make the most sense.

Apparently, the NFL agreed. Pittsburgh will indeed visit Foxborough on the evening of Sept. 8, marking the third time the Patriots will open with the Steelers at Gillette Stadium following a Super Bowl victory (2002 and ’15 were the other occasions). New England came out on top in both of those previous encounters.

The Patriots then get four consecutive 1 o’clock kickoffs, the first three against AFC East opponents. New England makes a trip to what will likely be steamy South Florida to face Brian Flores and his Miami Dolphins in Week 2. They return to Foxborough to host the New York Jets before venturing to Western New York to take on the Bills in Buffalo. This stretch could be pivotal for the Patriots’ chances of taking an early lead in the division. They close out the 1 p.m. stretch with a visit to the Washington Redskins the first weekend of October. New England last played there eight years ago in 2011, winning 34-27 in another 1 o’clock kickoff.

Primetime Period

Week 6 of the 2019 season begins a long road of late-day games for the Patriots, which is broken up in two convenient four-game blocks. Coming home from the Washington trip, they’ll have just three days to prepare to welcome the New York Giants for a Thursday night matchup at Gillette. But then the Patriots have 11 days before their next game, a Monday night affair in New York against the Jets, the Patriots’ lone Monday nighter of 2019.

A much-anticipated 4:25 home game against the suddenly popular Cleveland Browns closes out the month of October, and November opens with a Sunday night trip to Baltimore. The Patriots get a breather during Week 10’s bye.

Doubleheader Duty

Three of the next four games are at 4:25 (the spot usually reserved for network TV doubleheaders), beginning with a rare visit to Philadelphia in mid-November. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, New England hosts the Dallas Cowboys in a nationally televised FOX doubleheader, then heads to the Lone Star State a week later to take on Bill O’Brien’s Texans in Houston on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

A highly anticipated rematch of the AFC Championship Game participants comes here in Foxborough in Week 14 as the Chiefs and Patriots duel at 4:25 on CBS. This could easily have been the season opener, but CBS executives probably lobbied hard to keep that game on their airwaves.

Home (Again) for the Holidays

With three games to go, the Patriots make their final road trip of 2019 when they travel to Cincinnati, returning to 1 o’clock territory. New England gets to enjoy the holidays from home for the third straight season, as Weeks 16 and 17 are slated for Gillette Stadium.

However, in a bizarre twist, the league is leaving open the possibility of moving New England’s penultimate game from Sunday, Dec. 22 to Saturday, the 21st. It’s unclear exactly when that decision will be made, but if that were the case, they could have a sixth prime time game or fifth 4:25 kickoff against the Buffalo Bills.

Otherwise, the Sunday kickoff would most likely be at 1 o'clock. What’s almost assured, though, is that the Patriots will finish off with a 1 p.m. tilt versus Miami, pending any reshuffling of the kickoff times in Week 17 to accommodate for potential playoff implications around the league.

Favorable Format

From a travel perspective, this isn’t the most difficult of schedules for New England. Only twice all year do the Patriots have back-to-back road games. The first time around, both games are at 1 p.m. and relatively close by (Buffalo and Washington); the second of those occasions sees New England again with short flights to Baltimore and Philadelphia, but the late-day aspect of those two games is mitigated by the Patriots having their bye week in between, giving them sufficient time to rest and prepare. Houston will be the Patriots’ farthest road trip of 2019.

Where it might get tricky for New England is in late October, when the champs begin a gauntlet of potentially formidable foes. Cleveland nearly made the playoffs in 2018 and on paper looks to have an improved roster heading into 2019. Baltimore, Philly, Dallas, Houston, and K.C. all made the postseason a year ago, making that chunk of the Patriots’ schedule perhaps the most intriguing at this point.

In the meantime, we also learned exactly when the Patriots will play their four preseason opponents in August. Three of those four match-ups will be on the traditional Thursday night of preseason, with Week 2 at Tennessee being the outlier. That will take place on a rare Saturday night, Aug. 17, in Nashville.

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