Many Patriots fans have been clamoring to see their favorite team return to the field since almost immediately following the final play of Super Bowl XXXVIII. And while the exact times and dates are not yet available for either the 2004 preseason or regular season schedule, it was announced Monday that New England will prepare for its title defense with preseason action against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Super Bowl champs will open up 2004 preseason action on the weekend of August 12-16 at Gillette Stadium against the 2003 NFC East Champion Eagles, a team New England beat in both regular season and preseason action a year ago.
The following weekend, August 19-23, the Patriots will travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. As was the case with the Giants, Redskins and Eagles a year ago, New England will play the Bengals in both the preseason and regular season in 2004. For what it is worth, the Patriots went a combined 5-1 in those preseason/regular season combo games last fall.
The third week of the Patriots preseason schedule will likely be the most over-hyped game of the practice action as the defending champs travel to Carolina for a nationally televised CBS game with the Panthers on August 28. While the matchup will be nothing more than a chance for most players to battle for final roster spots or fine tune themselves for the coming season, much will be made of the fact that the last time the two teams were together on the field in Houston the action produced one of the most explosive and entertaining endings in Super Bowl history.
New England will cap off its 2004 preseason action on the weekend of September 2-5 in front of a fanatic Foxboro crowd against the Jaguars. Along with the Eagles and Panthers, the Jaguars mark the third of New England's 2004 preseason opponents that the team beat during the 2003 regular season.
On a league note, the NFL preseason kicks off officially on August 9 as the Denver Broncos and the Washington Redskins will do battle in the Hall of Fame game on ABC. The matchup will give a national TV audience a first look at Redskins running back Clinton Portis and Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, the big-name components of the biggest offseason trade in the NFL, with their new teams.
Aside from the four Patriots games, local football fans will have plenty of chances to see NFL action throughout the preseason. ESPN will carry the Falcons at the Ravens on Aug. 12, the Seahawks at the Packers on Aug. 16, the Jets at the Colts on Aug. 21 and the Steelers at the Eagles on Aug. 26. Aside from the Hall of Fame Game ABC will have the Rams at the Chiefs on Aug. 23 and the Titans at the Cowboys Aug. 30. CBS has the Ravens at the Eagles on Aug. 20 to go along with the Patriots at the Panthers on Aug. 28. FOX has the Giants at the Panthers on Aug. 19 and the Redskins at the Rams on Aug. 27.