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On the road again...

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  November 10, 2009 06:33 PM

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The Patriots are traveling to Indianapolis on Sunday to play the Colts in what will be Tom Brady's debut at Lucas Oil Stadium, which opened last season.

One question readers keep asking is why the Patriots are playing the Colts at Peyton's Place for the third straight year and fourth consecutive time, counting the AFC title game in 2006?

There is no conspiracy afoot in the league office against the Patriots. The sites for the regular-season games have been predetermined by the NFL's rotating schedule formula. In fact, if the Patriots and Colts both finish in the same spot in their respective divisions, Indianapolis will be visiting Gillette Stadium next season.

There is a logical, if not entirely simple, explanation for the Patriots traveling to Indianapolis the last three seasons. The last time the Patriots hosted the Colts was in 2006. That season New England played the AFC South division and traveled to Tennessee and Jacksonville while hosting Indy and Houston.

In 2007, the Patriots played the AFC North division teams and as the 2006 AFC East champions had their remaining intraconference contests against San Diego (2006 AFC West champion) at home and on the road against the Colts (2006 AFC South champion).

Last season, the Patriots played the entire AFC West, hosted the Steelers (2007 AFC North champions) and traveled to Indy (2007 AFC South champion).

This season, the Patriots are once again playing the AFC South division like in 2006. As part of the rotation, the trips are reversed this time with home games against Tennessee and Jacksonville and trips to Houston and Indy.

That's why it's three in a row during the regular-season in the Hoosier State. It's worth pointing out that from 2004 to 2006, the Patriots hosted the Colts in three straight regular-season games and fives games overall, including the playoffs, where game location is determined by regular-season record.

Looking ahead the Patriots know that in 2010 they'll play the AFC North and the NFC North divisions, host the team of corresponding finish from the AFC South and travel to the team of corresponding finish in the AFC West.

Their opponents and the locations of those games, but not the dates, are already set.

Home: Jets, Buffalo, Miami, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Minnesota, AFC South

Road: Jets, Buffalo, Miami, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, AFC West.

If the season ended today and the Patriots, Colts and Broncos all won their divisions that would mean the Colts (AFC South) would visit the Patriots and Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels would renew acquaintances in Denver (AFC West) again.

Here is an explanation of the NFL scheduling formula, which currently is only locked in through next season, from the league's 2009 factbook:

The schedule format takes each team through a cycle of games -- home and away -- against every other team in the league.

Under the NFL scheduling formula, every team within a division plays 16 games as follows:
• Home and away against its three division opponents (6 games).
• The four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle (4 games).
• The four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle (4 games).
• Two intraconference games based on the prior year’s standings (2 games). These games will match a first-place team against the first-place teams in the two same-conference divisions the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place, and fourth-place teams in a conference will be matched in the same way each year.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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