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Patriots packing bags early

Any success for the 2001 season will depend on New England being road warriors. Of the first nine games the Patriots play, six will be on the road, including the first two games of the year.

The season opener will be at Cincinnati on Sept. 9, followed by a tilt in Carolina with the Panthers Sept. 16. New England's final home slate at Foxboro Stadium will not kickoff until Sept. 23 when AFC East rival New York visits for a 4 p.m. kickoff.

As tough as the early travel plans will be, the Patriots may be able to create momentum for themselves through their non-division opponents. In the first six weeks New England's non-division opponents are the Bengals, Panthers and San Diego, all of which finished below .500 and had a combined record of 12-36.

By contrast, the key stretch will come from Weeks 7-13. Over that period, the opponents include six teams that finished .500 or better and four playoff squads. The schedule as a whole includes just seven games with teams that reached the postseason in 2000.

Conditioning will be a factor for the team as well. The bye week for New England is Week 17, meaning the Patriots season will be completed on Saturday, Dec. 22 at home, and for the second consecutive year New England ends the regular season against Miami. If the Patriots make the postseason, they will have at least one week off before their first playoff game, but they also will not have the benefit of a break during the season.

For the first time since 1996 the schedule does not include any Monday night games for New England. The only prime time affair is Week 11, a Sunday night game at home against St. Louis.

2001 New England Patriots Schedule

**SEP. 9**at Cincinnati1:00p
**SEP. 16**at Carolina1:00p
**SEP. 23**NEW YORK JETS4:05p
**OCT. 7**at Miami1:00p
**OCT. 14**SAN DIEGO1:00p
**OCT. 21**at Indianapolis1:00p
**OCT. 28**at Denver2:15p
**NOV. 4**at Atlanta1:00p
**NOV. 11**BUFFALO1:00p
**NOV. 18**ST. LOUIS8:30p
**NOV. 25**NEW ORLEANS4:05p
**DEC. 2**at New York Jets1:00p
**DEC. 9**CLEVELAND1:00p
**DEC. 16**at Buffalo1:00p
**DEC. 22**MIAMI (Sat.)12:30p
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