Patriots are at Miami in Monday night opener
The Patriots, no strangers to prime time games over the last several seasons, will have four games under the bright lights in the 2011 season.
The NFL released its schedule for this fall last night, though the anticipation didn’t seem as great as in most years because of the labor uncertainty casting a cloud over the league. The release came out about an hour after the NFL and the Players Association wrapped up a seven-hour day of court-mandated mediation in Minnesota.
Assuming the sides reach a new labor deal in time for the regular season to kick off on schedule, the Patriots will open Sept. 12, on “Monday Night Football’’ against the AFC East rival Dolphins in Miami.
It is the first time since 2007 that the Patriots are not opening at home.
New England plays three of its first four away from Gillette Stadium, which can be seen as a negative, but the flip side is that the Patriots will be at home for seven of their last 12, including the final two.
The home opener is Sept. 18 at 4:15 p.m. against San Diego.
The Patriots then head to Buffalo for another division tilt Sept. 25 (the first time in four years they aren’t there in December or January), and travel to Oakland Oct. 2.
Their first meeting with Rex Ryan and the Jets is in Week 5, at home Oct. 9, which is followed by a meeting with the other Ryan brother — Rob Ryan, who was once the Patriots linebackers coach and now is the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator. Dallas will be at Gillette Oct. 16 for a 4:15 p.m. showdown.
Week 7 is the bye week, a pretty favorable spot, as it comes midway through the season and at a time when players certainly will welcome a break — particularly if the post-bye stretch is as tough as it appears.
The Patriots travel to Pittsburgh off the bye (New England has won its post-bye game for eight straight years), host the Giants Nov. 6, then have a pair of prime-time games: at the New Meadowlands against the Jets on Sunday night, Nov. 13, and then home against Matt Cassel and the Chiefs for “Monday Night Football’’ Nov. 21.
Games against two more 2010 playoff clubs follow: at the Eagles Nov. 27 and home for their annual game against the Colts, a Sunday night tilt Dec. 4.
As tough as that six-game set could be, the schedule for the final four seems favorable: the Patriots travel to Washington and Denver, then host the Dolphins and Bills.
New England’s opponents were a combined 129-127 last year, which ranks in the middle of the NFL pack in terms of difficulty. The Panthers, who were a league-worst 2-14 last year, will try to bounce back while playing the hardest schedule; their opponents were 142-114 in 2010.
While there is skepticism as to whether the season will kick off as scheduled, commissioner Roger Goodell told NFL Network yesterday that the league is operating as it usually does in anticipation of a labor resolution.
“Clearly, we have some uncertainty with respect to the labor situation, but this is a great day for the fans,’’ Goodell said. “We’re doing all we can to prepare for the 2011 season.
“We’re announcing the schedule as usual, around this time of year, because we know that is an important point where fans start looking forward to the season, and I think there’s every reason for them to do that.
“We have every intention of playing a full schedule, and that’s why we’re releasing it as we normally do.’’
Asked if he was confident the season would begin as scheduled, Goodell answered, “We’ve set the schedule up to play the full 16-game schedule, and that’s certainly our intention.’’
The Super Bowl champion Packers will host the now-traditional Thursday night season kickoff game against the Saints Sept. 8.