The New England Patriots recently learned the dates and times (well, except for one) of all their games during the 2021 regular season schedule. While we already knew the opponents and the sites, the timing of each game brings an additional layer when it comes to degree of difficulty.
With that mind, we rank the Patriots' 2021 schedule by degree of difficulty, as it looks heading toward the final days of May.
1. At Buffalo, Dec. 6, Week 13
Yes, the temptation is to go with an earlier game against a certain former Patriots quarterback, but this Monday night road game just looks even more daunting. The Patriots no doubt remember the 38-9 drubbing they took at the hands of the Bills in a Monday night game at Gillette Stadium last December.
2. Vs. Tampa Bay, Oct. 3, Week 4
This obviously is the marquee matchup on the schedule with the return of Tom Brady to Gillette Stadium. The fact that Tampa Bay returns every starter from its Super Bowl team only makes this even more challenging, though playing at home will help a bit.
3. Vs. Buffalo, Dec. 26, Week 16
Make no mistake, Buffalo has become the team to beat in the AFC East and the Patriots will see the Bills twice in a four-week span.
4. Vs. Cleveland, Nov. 14, Week 10
As good as the Bills have become, it was the Browns who gave Kansas City its toughest challenge on the way to the Super Bowl. Cleveland has one of the best rosters in the entire NFL and will be a legitimate Super Bowl contender if Baker Mayfield produces.
5. Vs. Tennessee, Nov. 28, Week 12
This will be the teams' first meeting since the playoff game at Gillette Stadium and the biggest challenge now will be what it was then: stopping Derrick Henry. The Patriots will need to do a better job after Henry rushed for 182 yards in that Jan. 4, 2020 game.
6. At Indianapolis, Dec. 18 or 19, Week 15
Whether this game will be played on Saturday or Sunday, it won't be easy because the Colts are pretty loaded — if Carson Wentz can revive his career after his trade from the Philadelphia Eagles.
7. Vs. Dallas, Oct. 17, Week 6
This is the "17th game," the one that wasn't on the original schedule based on the previous formula. And it should be another tough test for the defense if Dak Prescott comes back and regain his pre-injury form.
8. At L.A. Chargers, Oct. 31, Week 8
We might be ranking this game way too low, but it's just difficult to do that when we remember the Patriots' demolition of Justin Herbert and company at Los Angeles last season.
9. Vs. New Orleans, Sept. 26, Week 3
The Saints have been perennial Super Bowl contenders for a while, but there's just no way to know whether they can maintain that status now that Drew Brees is gone and Jameis Winston and/or Taysom Hill will be running the offense.
10. At Miami, Jan. 9, Week 18
The Dolphins had the best record of any team not to make the playoffs in 2020, but they remain somewhat of a mystery because of Tua Tagovailoa's uneven rookie season. If he takes a big step in his second year, the Dolphins could be trouble.
11. At Atlanta, Nov. 18, Week 11
The Falcons have a new coach with Arthur Smith and he's got a brand new toy on offense with fourth overall pick Kyle Pitts. It's yet another offense that's going to challenge the Patriots defense.
12. Vs. Miami, Sept. 12, Week 1
See number 9. The Pats defense stifled the Miami offense (then led by Ryan Fitzpatrick) in the opener last year and will look to do the same in 2021.
13. At Carolina, Nov. 7, Week 9
The big question when it comes to this matchup is whether Cam Newton will be at quarterback to face his former team. The Panthers figure to counter with Sam Darnold, and how well he can rebound in Carolina will determine how tough a matchup this will become.
14. Vs. N.Y. Jets, Oct. 24, Week 7
The Jets figure to be much improved in 2021 with new coach Robert Saleh and quarterback Zach Wilson, and Wilson figures to be better equipped to deal with the Bill Belichick defense the second time he sees it.
15. Vs. Jacksonville, Jan. 2, Week 17
Yes, Trevor Lawrence is another rookie QB who'll have to deal with the Bill Belichick defense, but that will come toward the end of his rookie season and Lawrence also is no typical rookie.
16. At N.Y. Jets, Sept. 19, Week 2
Wilson might shine as a rookie, but recent history suggests he won't be putting up big numbers against the Patriots in his second career start.
17. At Houston, Oct. 10, Week 5
The Texans are in complete rebuilding mode under Nick Caserio and the question isn't so much how many games they can win but how often they can be competitive.