We already knew the “who” and the “where,” but now, we also know the “when” of the New England Patriots’ opponents on the 2014 schedule.
The NFL released the schedule at 8 p.m., and now, fans can begin to make their plans for fall and winter.
Colleague Zuri Berry has you covered with the full schedule, and here are some of my takeaways:
1. Brady-Manning XVI — It’s the game everyone’s waiting to see, so naturally, my eyes floated that direction when looking at the schedule.
The Patriots get their bye week immediately following this game, and it comes on the heels of a Sunday home stand against the Chicago Bears. This will be Peyton Manning’s third trip to Gillette Stadium in his three seasons with the Denver Broncos, and he has lost in his previous two trips.
This will not be like the other times. The Broncos and Patriots engaged in an arms race of sorts this offseason, beginning when the Broncos signed cornerback Aqib Talib away from the Patriots, and continuing with Denver’s signing of defensive end DeMarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (pursued by the Patriots last offseason). The Patriots counterpunched with some signings of their own, bringing in cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to bolster the secondary, and adding wide receiver Brandon LaFell to a growing list of pass-catchers.
In the past, this game has proven to be the key in determining which team has the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but the Broncos were able to win the conference’s top seed despite losing to the Patriots in 2013.
2. Patriots strength of schedule among toughest — The Patriots’ 2014 opponents had a combined win percentage of .516 in 2013, which gives the Patriots the 10th toughest schedule in the league.
The AFC East’s inter-division games are against the AFC West, which featured three playoffs teams (Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers). The Patriots play six games against teams that made the playoffs in 2013 (Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals). The Patriots have five games against teams that finished an even .500 last season, and four games against teams with a losing record in 2013.
The Patriots had the 14th toughest strength of schedule in 2013, with their opponents combining for a win percentage of .508.
3. Road games packed at the ends — With three road games in the first four weeks of the season and three road games in the final five weeks of the season, the Patriots have most of their road games on either end of the schedule. The first stretch is capped off by a prime time road game against a playoff team (Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football in Week 4); the second stretch features road games against two playoff teams (Green Bay Packers in Week 13, San Diego Chargers on Sunday Night Football in Week 14).
The Patriots always play their best at home, and went 8-0 at Gillette Stadium last year and 4-4 on the road, so those road games loom ominously at the front and back of the season to potentially put a downer on the Patriots’ pursuance of the conference’s top seed or a first-round bye.
4. Well-placed bye week — The Patriots get their bye week in Week 10. Count that as a win for the Patriots, as their rest week comes almost smack-dab in the middle of the season. If they could choose, they might place the bye week before the Broncos game and not after, but they will still need the rest to get ready for an Indianapolis Colts team that plays much better at Lucas Oil Stadium than what the Patriots saw from them at Gillette Stadium in the playoffs in January.
5. Win-loss prediction — Despite the difficulty of their schedule, it looks like another season with a double-digit win total for the Patriots. My pre-draft prediction has them with a 12-4 record, identical to last season. Check out my predictions for every game at Bleacher Report.