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New England Patriots schedule analysis

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Breakdown: The opener against the Steelers, which was expected for some time now, brings back memories of the 2002 season. The Patriots were coming off their first Super Bowl championship when they welcomed Pittsburgh to town for the opener and threw 25 straight times in a stretch between the second and third quarters en route to a 30-14 win. In 2015, this should be a nice showcase to open the NFL season -- Tom Brady vs. Ben Roethlisberger -- and two of the NFL's most successful franchises over an extended period of time. A classic type matchup. Elsewhere for the Patriots, multiple two-game stretches stand out as particularly challenging -- at Dallas and then at Indianapolis immediately after the Week 4 bye and prime-time games at home against the Bills and then on the road in Denver in late November. Overall, the Patriots are scheduled for five prime-time games.

Complaint department: Fans who prefer the traditional Sunday at 1 p.m. games might be disappointed with the Patriots' home slate, which includes two prime-time games on Thursday (Pittsburgh in Week 1; Miami in Week 8) and one on Monday (Buffalo in Week 11). The four 1 p.m. games are against Jacksonville, Washington, the New York Jets and Tennessee. Not really compelling in that traditional time slot. The Week 4 bye, which is the earliest possible date, also isn't ideal. Then again, in the 2004 championship season, the Patriots had the bye at the earliest point possible and that didn't stop them.

Two-game stretch could be key in AFC East: The Patriots' initial goal each season is to win the division, so when there's a stretch of two division games in a span of five days in late October, that sort of jumps off the page as critical to the No. 1 goal. If the Patriots can handle business at home against the Jets (Oct. 25) and Dolphins (Oct. 29), they could provide themselves a nice early cushion in the division. Then there is the back-to-back set of road games against the Jets and Dolphins to close out the season, and who knows if those teams will still be playing for something? There's been plenty of fan-based chatter about the gap possibly closing on the Patriots in the AFC East, but in a general sense, the division schedule seems to line up nicely for the team.

Strength of schedule: 22nd, .477

Patriots Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Thursday, Sep. 10, Pittsburgh, 8:30 PM

Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 20, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM

Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 27, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM

Week 4: BYE

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11, at Dallas, 4:25 PM

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18, at Indianapolis, 8:30 PM

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25, NY Jets, 1:00 PM

Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 29, Miami, 8:25 PM

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8, Washington, 1:00 PM

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15, at NY Giants, 4:25 PM

Week 11: Monday, Nov. 23, Buffalo, 8:30 PM

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29, at Denver, 8:30 PM

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 6, Philadelphia, 4:25 PM

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, at Houston, 1:00 PM

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20, Tennessee, 1:00 PM

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 27, at NY Jets, 1:00 PM

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3, at Miami, 1:00 PM