Breakdown:The Patriots, coming off another Super Bowl appearance, are poised to make another deep run under head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. New England's schedule strength ranks 32nd in the NFL thanks in part to a weakened AFC East division and a fortunate draw this year against the struggling NFC West.
New England will play in four prime-time games, which was expected. Surprisingly, one of those prime-time games will not be against the Denver Broncos. But we will get to that later.
The Patriots will begin their journey on the road against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 9.
Complaint department: It's hard to pick out a particularly brutal stretch for the Patriots. There are back-to-back home games against Houston and San Francisco that will be a challenge. But otherwise, my biggest complaint about New England's schedule is it's too easy. The Patriots are the reigning AFC champs and do not need the easiest schedule in the NFL. Yes, the AFC East was a weak division last season. There's nothing the Patriots can do about that. It’s up to the New York Jets, Miami Dolphinsand Buffalo Bills to step up their game. But I'd like to see a talented New England team tested more next season. The Patriots play just four games against playoffs teams from 2011 -- and three of those games (Denver, Houston, San Francisco) are at Gillette Stadium. Barring significant injuries, New England could be a virtual lock for at least 11 or 12 wins again next season.
Manning versus Brady is back: One of the first things I did when New England's schedule was released was to check for its game against the Broncos. Week 5 will rekindle the Hall of Fame quarterback rivalry between Denver's Peyton Manning and New England's Tom Brady. Brady has struggled against the younger Eli Manning, but has had Peyton Manning’s number over the years. Brady is 8-5 against Peyton Manning, which included some huge playoff wins that led to Super Bowl victories. Manning missed all of 2011 with a neck injury. With both Manning and Brady reaching the tail end of their careers, football fans should appreciate these final meetings involving two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
Patriots Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Arizona, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Baltimore, 8:20 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Denver, 4:15 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, NY Jets, 4:15 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, at NY Jets, 8:20 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Monday, Dec. 10, Houston, 8:30 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, San Francisco, 8:20 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Miami, 1:00 PM