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It is what it is: Pats face challenging '08 slate

Back-to-back West Coast trips, another Week 9 date with Indy, and several prime time games make the Patriots’ 2008 schedule one of the toughest in recent memory.

Consider this payback.

After last season's favorable schedule – with a bye week after the Indy game in November and three straight home games in December – the New England Patriots are in for some tough sledding (and lots of frequent-flier mileage) in 2008.

Welcome home

Owner Robert Kraft got his wish, as the Pats will open the season at home with a 1 o'clock contest versus Kansas City. Kraft had openly lobbied for such a game at the NFL's Annual Meeting two weeks ago. And as he suggested, many of his team's road games are night affairs.

Following the Chiefs opener, the Pats have consecutive AFC East battles (on the road to face the Jets and home for the Dolphins), then New England gets its bye week on the final weekend of September – not the best spot for a week off. Teams typically prefer to have that week of rest later in the season, ideally to help get refreshed prior to the playoffs.

After that quick sprint out of the gates, the marathon begins for New England.

Go west, young men

The month of October begins with back-to-back trips to the West Coast, first to San Francisco for a 4:15 (Eastern) tilt, then to southern California for a Sunday nighter at San Diego. When the Pats get back from that exhausting fortnight, they'll have just one extra day to recover from the jet lag, as they host a Monday night game versus Denver.

Another home game with the St. Louis Rams that next Sunday precedes what has become their annual Week 9 engagement with the Indianapolis Colts (the fourth year in a row they've faced each other on that date). This one will mark New England's first visit to the Colts' new corral, Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indy.

Three of the next four games are at Gillette, but that's not necessarily an easy stretch. Just four days after the Pats host the Bills on Sunday, November 9th, they'll entertain the New York Jets in a Thursday night showdown on NFL Network.

The following week, when New England heads to Maimi, the NFL begins the flexible portion of its schedule. That means any of the times that are currently in place could be changed, at the league's discretion.

However, with five night games already on their schedule (six being the maximum for any one team), it's unlikely they'll be hit with another night game, but a move from 1 o'clock to 4 p.m. is a possibility.

Home for the holidays? Not this December

The twelfth month starts with the Pats' second back-to-back West Coast swing – Seattle on the 7th and Oakland on the 14th – and the season finale in Buffalo on the 28th, with a home game versus Arizona sandwiched in between.

Like last year, New England will be prominently featured in prime time and in late afternoon national or doubleheader games. However, the Pats at least have two more 1 o'clock games than a year ago – for now. As mentioned, flex scheduling could change that, as was the case late last season.

One thing that won't change is the bye week, unfortunately. Having that week off so early might help them prepare for those first two weeks out west, but it would have been more welcome sometime after that trip – say in November – to rest up for the next one. But the schedule, as head coach Bill Belichick is wont to say, "is what it is."

Making the most of it

It's still way too early to know for sure, but perhaps the team will help ease the grind of flying out west and back four times by staying out there in between those consecutive contests in October and December. For example, they might play the Niners, then fly down to San Diego and practice out there for a week before taking on the Chargers.

The same scenario might work for the Seattle-Oakland stretch. Logistics would have to be hammered out well in advance, but it certainly is an option to consider, if Belichick so chooses. Either way, those back-to-back trips will pose a significant challenge.

If Patriots fans want to take solace in any aspect of their team's 2008 schedule, maybe they'll find consolation in the strength-of-schedule. Their opponents' combined winning percentage from a year ago is dead last in the NFL, at .387.

Should those numbers hold up in '08, perhaps the Patriots' rough road ahead will be a bit smoother.

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