The New England Patriots' 2014 opponents are locked in and look like this:
Home: Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Broncos, Bears, Bengals, Lions, Raiders
Away: Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Chargers, Chiefs, Colts, Packers, Vikings
Hoping to strike a bit of a lighter touch in the wake of the club's AFC Championship Game loss, here's an initial "ranking" of how we view the 2014 road slate:
1. Packers -- Site of the first-ever NFL road game I covered (1997 preseason), I remember standing on the Lambeau Field sidelines at the end thinking, "You can actually get paid to do this?" Reminded me of the first time I stepped inside Fenway Park.
2. Chargers -- Always a heavy Patriots' fan presence for this game as the West Coasters come out in force. Almost feels like being home.
3. Chiefs -- Maybe Bill Belichick and Andy Reid pull off a trade in the pre-game. Arrowhead Stadium rocks again and is one of the underrated venues to take in a game; haven't been since '05, making this one unique.
4. Colts -- Andrew Luck's struggles against the Patriots remind me of Peyton Manning's early years. And always nice to grab a corned beef sandwich from Shapiro's, which tops my power rankings for the 15th year in a row.
5. Jets -- Return to the scene of Jerome Boger's overtime "pushing" penalty against the Patriots. One guarantee: Boger won't be assigned this game.
6. Dolphins -- If the NFL schedule-maker is reading this, we'd appreciate any consideration for this game to be in December. Thanks much.
7. Bills -- ... And if this one could be in September, that would be great, too.
8. Vikings -- No more Metrodome, so this one will have a throwback type feel to it, sort of like the 2002 trip to Chicago when Soldier Field was undergoing renovations and the team played at Memorial Stadium.