ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss, Mike Rodak and Field Yates answer the question: What stands out the most to you when you look at the Patriots’ 2013 schedule?
The two things I look for when the schedule is released is how often the team's regular seven-day schedule is disrupted, and where the bye week falls. The bye is solid, after nine games, and with the Patriots playing a Monday night game after their bye, players potentially could earn an extra day off. As for the short weeks, there are two -- vs. the Jets in Week 2 on a Thursday night in which both teams will have the quick turnaround; and Week 12 against the Broncos. With one fewer work day before that game against Denver, that would be the one part of the schedule that didn't necessarily fall in the Patriots' favor, but it's far from a major deal. I was also surprised at the Monday night game at Carolina, just in terms of the Panthers getting that national draw. It's always difficult to tell which teams will be tough (who really had the Seattle game as a loss last year?), but at this point, the most challenging pockets of the schedule look like Weeks 4-6 (at Falcons, at Bengals, vs. Saints) and the majority of the post-bye slate.
Bill Belichick has a very well-known -- and healthy -- obsession with getting his teams to play well toward the end of the season, especially after Thanksgiving. Last year's schedule was tough in that regard, and included back-to-back home games against one of the AFC's best (Houston) and one of the NFC's best (San Francisco). But those were home games. Before anyone talks about the Patriots making a playoff run again this season, they'll want to see how they perform beginning in Week 12. In fact, the first half of this season will be pretty dull for Patriots fans. Call it an extended preseason. If they can win their one major test -- a Week 4 trip to Atlanta -- they have a legitimate shot of going into their bye week undefeated. It's what happens after the bye week that will determine their season. On Nov. 24, they host the Broncos. Then they travel to Houston. Two weeks later, they're in Miami, often a house of horrors for the Patriots. Then, in Week 16, just when most Patriots teams would be starting to let up for the playoffs, they have their biggest test of the season, traveling to Baltimore. This schedule just doesn't give the Patriots any breaks after their bye week and will keep things interesting even until Christmas.
The NFL is a league of parity, and we've seen teams make dramatic turnarounds from one season to the next. So while we have a sense of which teams project to be strong in 2013, the truth is anything can happen and an opponent that looks like an "easy" foe now could turn out to be a tall task when the season actually rolls around. By that reasoning, the knee-jerk reaction I have relates less to the specific opponents and more to the logistics of the Patriots' schedule. In 2012, the Patriots had a stretch in which they traveled roughly 12,000 miles in a span of 17 days (to Seattle on Friday of Week 6 and concluding with a trip home from London after Week 8). The Patriots have two back-to-back road game scenarios in 2013 (which are never easy), but neither involves leaving the Eastern time zone. Additionally, the Patriots have a Thursday night game in Week 2, at which point they won't have established a seven-day rhythm of preparation. The Patriots will be able to put in preparation for their Week 12 Sunday night game in Denver during their Week 10 bye, alleviating the difficulty of preparing during a short week following their Week 11 Monday night game at Carolina. There were several times in 2012 when the Patriots were having to juggle short and long weeks during the middle of the season, a time when you prefer to be in a consistent routine. While they'll have a pair of short weeks in 2013, the timing of each is more conducive to better preparation. That's a positive for the Patriots.