The Patriots' 2021 regular season schedule was officially announced Wednesday evening and it looks like this:
Week 1 (Sun 9/12, 4:25pm): vs Miami Dolphins
Week 2 (Sun 9/19, 1:00pm): at New York Jets
Week 3 (Sun 9/26, 1:00pm): vs New Orleans Saints
Week 4 (Sun 10/3, 8:20pm): vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 5 (Sun 10/10, 1:00pm): at Houston Texans
Week 6 (Sun 10/17, 4:25pm): vs Dallas Cowboys
Week 7 (Sun 10/24, 1:00pm): vs Jets
Week 8 (Sun 10/31, 4:05pm): at Los Angeles Chargers
Week 9 (Sun 11/7, 1:00pm): at Carolina Panthers
Week 10 (Sun 11/14, 1:00pm): vs Cleveland Browns
Week 11 (Thu 11/18, 8:20pm): at Atlanta Falcons
Week 12 (Sun 11/28, 1:00pm): vs Tennessee Titans
Week 13 (Mon 12/6, 8:15pm): at Buffalo Bills
Week 14: BYE WEEK
Week 15 (TBD): at Indianapolis Colts
Week 16 (Sun 12/26, 1:00pm): vs Bills
Week 17 (Sun 1/2, 1:00pm): vs Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 18 (Sun 1/9, 1:00pm): at Dolphins
Most Anticipated Game in Regular Season History?
Of course the most eye-popping matchup on the list is the Week 4 matchup when Tom Brady makes his return to Gillette Stadium as part of the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers.
While the Tampa Bay roster is undeniably well constructed, it would not be surprising to see the New England Patriots hold their own. With a reinforced defensive look, brand new offensive identity, years of knowledge surrounding Brady's play, and Brady's notoriously slow regular season starts, Bill Belichick has a strong chance of putting the Patriots in a position to pull off an upset.
Brady needs just 1,154 yards to surpass Drew Brees for the all-time passing yards mark — there is a good chance this game was scheduled in Week 4 so Brady could break the record in front of an energetic Gillette crowd.
Defense is Key
The New England schedule is chock full of top-notch quarterbacking talent _ on top of their divisional matchups against Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa, and Zach Wilson twice this season, they will be facing Brady, Deshaun Watson (potentially), Dak Prescott, Justin Herbert, Baker Mayfield, Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill, Carson Wentz and Trevor Lawrence.
While no game in the NFL is a "free win," this lineup of quarterbacking talent seems especially potent — many of these players could explode for a 400-yard performance on any given Sunday. Belichick's emphasis on building the front seven through the draft and free agency will be especially critical for the team to handle these quarterbacks week after week.
The silver lining in this schedule is that the quarterbacking talent is still quite young in some cases, and Belichick has an impeccably strong record against inexperienced throwers. Six of the team's games will be against quarterbacks 23 or younger, including four within the division.
The late week 14 bye could be a curse or blessing depending on how strongly the team starts off the season. If the squad is able to win upwards of 7-8 games heading into the bye, they would have a great opportunity to rest before presumably making the playoffs.
Conversely, the 13 weeks of fatigue may accumulate, especially with a brutal short week Thursday Night Football game against the Falcons offense followed by games against two premier AFC teams in the Titans and Bills. For this reason, it would not be surprising to see the team start off with an exceptional record for the first 10 weeks and see a relative losing streak into the bye.
While the schedule is not particularly noteworthy in terms of official "strength of schedule" (ranking T-19th at an average opponent win rate of .489), the lineup of explosive offenses and solid defenses coupled with a late bye could prove to be challenging.
With the level of uncertainty surrounding Cam Newton's expected production this season, it's difficult to project a precise range of wins for this squad. However, it is reasonable to assume that they will at least contend for the playoffs.
Regardless, it's clear that Belichick has left no stone unturned this offseason in preparing for this schedule. With the transition year over, it's time to see if the post-Brady Patriots can finally hit their stride.