FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The National Football League released its 2006 regular season schedule today. For the fifth consecutive season, the New England Patriots will appear in at least five nationally televised games, including their first two preseason contests. The Patriots also have seven games (Weeks 10-15 and Week 17) that are eligible to be moved to NBC's prime time slot under the NFL's new flexible scheduling policy. During the second half of the 2006 season (Week 16 is a holiday weekend and won't be subject to any changes), Sunday afternoon games tentatively scheduled for 1:00 p.m. will be eligible for re-scheduling to reach a larger network audience at 4:00 p.m., or to be showcased on NBC's nationally televised prime time games at 8:30 p.m. The NFL will inform the teams and fans of any changes 12 days prior to the game during Weeks 10-15 and no later than six days before the regular season finale in Week 17.
The Patriots will open the season with consecutive games against division rivals, hosting the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium in their regular season opener (Sunday, Sept. 10) before traveling to battle the Jets on Sunday, Sept. 17 at 4:15 p.m. Last season, the Patriots did not play a divisional opponent until Week 8 when they defeated the Bills, 21-16, at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots will make their NBC Sunday Night Football debut Week 3 when they host the Denver Broncos in a divisional playoff game rematch from last season. The two original AFL franchises have become familiar foes since 1995. This year's clash will be their 12th game in the past 12 seasons, including last January's playoff loss at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver.
The Broncos game will be the first of two NBC Sunday night appearances and the first of three scheduled nationally televised regular season prime time games. In addition to the Broncos, the Patriots will also host the Indianapolis Colts in a Sunday night clash on NBC. Since the Colts left the AFC East in 2002, the two long-time rivals have faced each other five times in the past three years. The Colts defeated the Patriots in Gillette Stadium last year, snapping a Patriots six-game win streak in the series. The Patriots own a 43-25 series advantage against the Colts.
The Patriots' only other scheduled nationally televised prime time game will be on the road when they travel to Minnesota for the first time since 1997. The game will be played on Monday night and will be the Patriots only appearance on ESPN in 2006.
In addition to the Broncos and Colts, New England's 2006 schedule also features three other teams who qualified for the playoffs in 2005; Cincinnati, Chicago and Jacksonville. In Week 4, the Patriots will travel to Cincinnati to battle the Bengals, who won the AFC North with a 13-3 record in 2005. The Patriots have defeated the Bengals in four of their last five regular season meetings. Their only loss since 1993 came at Cincinnati in the 2001 season opener. Thanksgiving Day weekend, the Patriots will host the defending NFC North division champion Chicago Bears on November 26. Then, on Sunday, December 24, the Patriots will travel to Jacksonville, site of the Patriots' Super Bowl XXXIX victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots hosted the Jaguars in last season's first-round playoff game, but haven't played the Jaguars in Jacksonville since a playoff loss on Jan. 3, 1999.