We now know how the reigning Super Bowl champions will begin their title defense – sort of.
Today, the NFL announced the preseason game opponents for all 32 teams, and your Patriots will start out at Gillette Stadium. The Jacksonville Jaguars will visit Foxborough in Week 1 of the preseason – most likely on the second Thursday of August.
Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have developed a tradition of holding joint training camp practice sessions with preseason opponents whenever possible. Last year, as a result of the 2016 schedule, New England actually hosted two teams for joint sessions, the first time that's ever occurred here.
It's unclear at this point if the Jags would be interested in coming to New England a few days early, but Belichick's side will likely extend an invitation to do so. Joint sessions break up the monotony of training camp, but also provide coaches with a more competitive practice environment that comes close to mimicking game-like conditions. That's why Belichick and other coaches jump at the chance to participate in them.
New England normally likes to hold joint practices with its first two preseason opponents, which would put the Texans into consideration for Week 2 this summer. The fact that the Texans and Patriots will square off at Gillette during the regular season is not necessarily a deterrent, either. In 2013, New England hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in August sessions before the Bucs returned for a regular season date just one month later.
In February, the Texans announced that they will hold their 2017 training camp at West Virginia's Greenbrier resort. New England made a sojourn there in 2015 when the site played host to the New Orleans Saints training camp. According to ESPN, Texans coach Bill O'Brien, a former Patriots offensive coordinator, is amenable to joint sessions with his old club and is planning with Belichick to make this happen.
Things could get interesting in Week 3, when the Patriots fly to Detroit for what is normally the most regular season-like of the four preseason tilts. Recent history has not been kind to the Patriots in this venue during the month of August. In 2011 and '13, New England visited Detroit in the third preseason game, and both results were lopsided wins for the Lions (34-10 and 40-9, respectively).
Like Houston, Detroit also has a recent Patriots connection with general manager Bob Quinn (late of New England's scouting department). While that would seem like an obvious candidate for joint practices, teams normally don't gather for such sessions in the days before the third preseason affair, although there is precedent involving the Patriots for this anomaly as well.
Typically, the public viewing portions of training camp have ended by that time. Plus, coaching staffs are focusing more on preparing their rosters for a regular season-like week of work. However, in 2012, Belichick flew his Patriots down to Tampa for a couple of days of joint sessions with the Bucs at their facility before the two teams tangled in the third contest that summer. So, a joint session with the Lions can't be ruled out at this point.
New England will wrap up its preseason slate by hosting the New York Giants, whom the Patriots historically face each August. The venue alternates between New Jersey and Massachusetts; this year, it's New England's turn to host.
Of course, the true tests don't begin until September, when the regular season kicks off. We know that New England, as the defending champs, will host the season's first game, in all likelihood on Thursday night, Sept. 7. Whom they'll face remains to be seen, but we'll find that out later this month when the NFL releases all 32 regular season schedules. Exact dates and times for the preseason games will also accompany that announcement.