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5 initial thoughts on 2017 Patriots schedule

04.20.17 at 8:09 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will open the 2017 year at home against the Chiefs. (Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will open the 2017 year at home against the Chiefs. (Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

Get your fall and winter calendars ready, the 2017 Patriots schedule is out.

Key games are the season opener on Thursday, Sept. 7 at home against Chiefs in the annual NFL Kickoff Game, and then a Super Bowl LI rematch on Sunday Night Football Oct. 22, also at Gillette Stadium.

At first glance, this is a much tougher slate than they had last season, as there are no layup games against the Browns, 49ers, etc. They have nine games against teams that finished with above .500 records last year.

Here are five initial thoughts on the schedule.

1. Late division games. The biggest thing that stands out is how many division games the Patriots will play so late in the year. Five out of the last six games will be against AFC East opponents. The only exception is Week 15 when they play at Pittsburgh, which will be far from easy. The first division game the Patriots will play is Week 6 against the Jets. In recent years teams have played the final two games within the division, but five out of the last six is very unusual. New England will be home the last two weeks of the season meaning it won’t need to travel on Christmas Eve or New Years Eve. Fortunately for the Patriots, historically they play their best football after Thanksgiving and should be ready for this stretch.

2. Back-to-back altitude games. Following the bye, the Patriots will play at Denver in Week 10 on Sunday Night Football and then in Mexico City the following Sunday, Nov. 19 against the Raiders. This seems like a perfect opportunity for the Patriots to spend a week out west to avoid a lot of cross-country flights. The team did this in 2014 when they stayed in San Diego and went very well. Another factor is both games will be played in higher altitudes, so maybe a week in Denver could be in store in between the two games. This will help the Patriots get used to the altitude, as well as avoid multiple long trips.

3. Tough stretch after bye. The Patriots have one of the best byes in the league coming in Week 9 right in the middle of the season, but their schedule really gets tough in the second half. After Denver and Oakland on the road begins the five out of six division games stretch. Also, following the bye the Patriots will play five out their final eight games on the road. It is also strange to see the Patriots play Miami twice in a three-week span.

4. Don’t sleep on start of the season. Some may look at the beginning of the year and say it’s a piece of cake, but there are some sneaky tough games in there. While New Orleans struggled last year, they are typically tough at home and historically the Patriots haven’t played well there. This Week 2 game will be exciting to watch with Brandin Cooks facing his former team, and maybe even Malcolm Butler on the other side. Back-to-back home games with the Texans and Panthers may not seem like a challenge, but the Texans will certainly have revenge on their minds and if healthy, they have one of the best defenses in football. The Patriots will be the team seeking revenge against Carolina, as the last time they played featured a very controversial ending with the Panthers coming out on top. Also, playing Tampa Bay on the road on a Thursday Night could be a sneaky tough game.

5. Not a great home schedule. There just aren’t many intriguing matchups on the home schedule. Besides Atlanta in Week 7, what other big games are there? All home games after Oct. 29 are division games as well, which usually aren’t very good with how much better the Patriots are than the rest of the AFC East. Just like last season, three out of the first four games are at home, which will be key in getting off to a fast start. From a fans perspective, having the majority of the home games early means good weather games, as opposed to late in the year when cold and snow games enter the equation.

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