Patriots

What 21 NFL experts are saying about Patriots’ 2020 schedule

"The Patriots are in for a ride."

Jarrett Stidham Patriots
With the departure of Tom Brady, many are anticipating if quarterback Jarrett Stidham will be able to step up this season. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Patriots have released their official schedule for the upcoming 2020 regular season, with a home-opener scheduled against the Miami Dolphins on September 13. Due to the departure of longtime quarterback Tom Brady to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as well as the losses of Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Duron Harmon, many are questioning if the Patriots — and quarterback Jarrett Stidham — will be able to hold their own.

In what will be the toughest schedule in the league by opponents’ 2019 win percentage, the Patriots will have to face off against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4. Following an early bye in Week 6, they’ll then take on Jimmy Garoppolo’s San Francisco 49ers in Week 7, and not long after will go against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 10.

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“Brutal” is the word some experts have been using to describe the Patriots’ schedule.

“September won’t be a picnic, and after a Week 6 bye comes a brutal five-game stretch,” wrote Karen Gurgian of the Boston Herald.

“Oh, it’s brutal,” said CBS Sports’ Peter Prisco. “This is a perfect ‘Tanking for Trevor’ schedule for the New England Patriots.”

Due to the COVID-19 virus, the NFL season could look a little different, too. In order for the season to start, each team will need the consent of their state governor to re-open facilities, according to NFL.com’s Grant Gordon. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent out a memo on Wednesday, stating that facilities will first be limited to non-player personnel and players who need to continue therapy and rehabilitation for injuries that were “underway when facilities initially closed (March 25).”

The NFL is also currently planning on contingencies due to the virus, such as a delayed start, empty stadiums, or neutral sites.

Until then, here’s what NFL experts are saying about the Patriots’ regular season schedule:

Jeff Howe, The Athletic: “That Ravens game was going to be treacherous regardless of where it was dropped onto the schedule. The Ravens are loaded and had a terrific draft to get even faster on offense. But you know what? Despite losing Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Duron Harmon, the Patriots got more athletic in the draft with Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings and Kyle Dugger, so this will be a fun test for the remodeled group.

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The Patriots may very well be 4-5 after the Ravens game, but there’s enough remaining talent on defense – and optimism regarding Stidham’s potential – to lend the belief they could make a serious run from Weeks 11-17, which will include a team-building week in Los Angeles. And if they make a run over the final two months of the season to get into the playoffs, there won’t be many teams hoping to square off against Belichick in January.”

Tom E. Curran, NBC Sports Boston: “No matter how you sliced the 16 games, the schedule was going to look like a grind on paper. To me, after the early bye, the Patriots are in for a ride.

“They face the defending NFC Champion Niners at home in Week 7 then get two on the road with the Bills and Jets. The Jets are a Monday night game so the Patriots have a short week before playing another night game against the Ravens on Sunday Night Football. That’s followed by the long flight to Houston to play the Texans. So it’s four out of five games against 2019 playoff teams.”

Mike Reiss, ESPN:“It is 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham’s job to lose as Tom Brady’s successor, and if the quarterback follows through and seizes it, he will get an early baptism in two of the toughest road environments in the NFL — at Seattle in Week 2 and at Kansas City in Week 4. They don’t come much tougher than that. This, of course, assumes fans are in attendance, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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“The Patriots will likely be underdogs in those games, which will make it imperative for them to hold their ground in their early-season home games — against the Dolphins in Week 1, the Raiders in Week 3 and the Broncos in Week 5. Then New England will have a Week 6 bye to assess its early progress. While Stidham represents an unknown, the television networks still see the Patriots as a big draw, as evidenced by their five prime-time games.”

Christopher Price, Boston Globe: “It’s always dangerous to project forward, but the toughest stretch for New England could be between the first month of the year when the Pats will face Seattle at CenturyLink Field, and two weeks later, when they’ll meet the Chiefs at Arrowhead. Then, there are six games between mid-November and mid-December that include road trips against the Chargers, Rams, Dolphins, and Texans, as well as home dates with the Ravens and Cardinals. Neither will be easy, but four home contests in their first six will make things a little easier.”

Doug Kyed and Zack Cox, NESN:

Kyed: “You do still have Jimmy Garopolo’s revenge game in this one. I think, obviously, he’ll be trying to play his best. Belichick will be trying to play his best, Kyle Shannahan, this is going to be one of the premier matchups this season for the Patriots. But, ultimately I had it as a lost, just because of how talented the 49ers roster is.”

Cox: “Yeah, this is the most interesting game on the Patriots schedule I think, just for the Jimmy Garpolo-factor. This is his first time coming back to Foxborough, since he was traded away. I’m already envisioning Bill Belichick’s praise of Jimmy Garoplo’s during these press conferences going up to this game, because Belichick obviously was a very big fan of Jimmy G when he was here.”

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Andy Hart, WEEI: “It’s a rematch of last year’s regular season finale for the teams, as you may still recall despite trying to forget that Miami’s upset in Foxborough cost the Patriots a playoff bye and was the first step in an uncharacteristically long offseason – both literally and figuratively.

“When the teams return to the Gillette Stadium turf it’s possible the game will be a battle of SEC powerhouse quarterbacks making their first NFL starts. Auburn alum Jarrett Stidham could very well kick off his second season stepping into the massive shoes Tom Brady left in Foxborough. And Dolphins first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa is recovering so well from his season-ending hip injury at Alabama that he might just be ready for opening day.”

Oliver Thomas, Forbes: “While Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers own the rights to a franchise-record five prime-time games in 2020, the Patriots also stand with the league maximum. For an organization that began the draft on the other side of the ball with Lenoir-Rhyne safety Kyle Dugger and versatile linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings, intrigue remains…

“With the league plotting its course amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unclear whether Arrowhead Stadium and CenturyLink Field will be at capacity when the Patriots are slated to arrive. But if 23-year-old Auburn product Jarrett Stidham gets the green light to start at QB versus Kansas City and Seattle, the decibels should exceed his 2017 Iron Bowl victory over Alabama.”

Scott Pianowski, Yahoo Sports: “I’m surprised the Patriots received five prime-time games, which is the most anyone gets before schedule flexing. Belichick’s presence is always something, but unless Jarrett Stidham is the breakout of the year, what’s the upside?”

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Michael Hurley, CBS Boston:“What a whopper of a quarterbacking trio that Bill Belichick and his defense have to deal with in a three-week stretch just past the midpoint of the season. Week 10 vs. Lamar Jackson. Week 11 vs. Deshaun Watson, in his house. Week 12 vs. Kyler Murray.

“Now, Murray may not yet be close to that elite category, but he is a No. 1 overall pick, and it would be reasonable to expect a Year 2 jump working with Kliff Kingsbury. That stretch is made slightly more difficult by the Monday night game on the road that precedes it, thus setting the Patriots back a step in their preparation for Baltimore.

“Patriots’ defense better get a jump on their cardio now. They’re going to need it.”

Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: “The Patriots’ schedule luck from 2019 was due for a course correction. They play seven games against playoff teams from a year ago, tied for the most in the NFL. They head out on early trips to Seattle and Kansas City, two of the toughest road venues the league has to offer — and two enormous tests for presumed first-time starter Jarrett Stidham. The Pats are also one of just four teams to face the dreaded three-game road trip this season, and New England’s daunting trek comes in early December.

“It’s worth wondering what sort of position the Patriots will be in for the playoffs before finishing with two home games in the division. I don’t put a ton of stock into conventional “strength of schedule” rankings based on last year’s record, but it’s not a surprise after looking at this slate that New England’s schedule is ranked the toughest. Then again, Bill Belichick’s crew remains in a rather forgiving division.”

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Michael Giardi, NFL Network: “Last time the Patriots had back-t0-back games out west was 2017. Weeks 10 and 11, at Denver then Oakland (but game was played in Mexico City). Pats went from Mile High to practice at the Air Force Academy for the week before going to Mexico City to beat on the Raiders…

“I think the schedule broke about as well as it could for them when you consider the quality of opponents they have to play.”

David Lombardi, The Athletic: “Last year, the 49ers’ schedule ranked No. 12 in difficulty, per DVOA. Based on 2019 DVOA numbers, the 49ers’ 2020 schedule will be of above-average difficulty again. However, there’s plentiful year-to-year variance. The Patriots, for one, project to be worse in 2020.”

Mark Daniels, Providence Journal: “For the Patriots, it’s been assumed that life without Tom Brady won’t be easy. If this year’s schedule is any indication, it certainly won’t be.

“The Pats head into this season with the toughest schedule in the NFL. When you look at the strength of schedule, which combines opponents records from the 2019 season, the Patriots have the hardest with an opponent winning percentage of .537.”

Henry McKenna, Patriots Wire: “The departure of Brady did not mean a departure from prime time. The nation wants to see if Belichick will sink or swim without Brady…We’ve seen the Patriots start slow in recent years. And then they go on to win Super Bowls. It’s just a matter of calibration. But that tuneup period may take even longer as Belichick figures out how to highlight his new quarterback’s strengths.

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“The tight end and receiver groups should have some young contributors, too (N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene). And the defense has three talented rookies that will likely earn big roles (safety Kyle Dugger and linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings). The Patriots may look a little lost. But it’s always foolish to count them out.”

Karen Gurgian, Boston Herald: “September won’t be a picnic, and after a Week 6 bye comes a brutal five-game stretch, the toughest on the schedule. Last season, the same type of stretch exposed the Patriots. After an 8-0 start, they fell to the Ravens, Texans and Chiefs in a five-game span. Those games took the wind out of the start, and poked holes in the Patriots’ early dominance.

“But first up in 2020? The Miami Dolphins. It could be Stidham vs. Tua Tagovailoa. It might also be Brian Hoyer vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick. Obviously, the latter is not quite as appealing. It just depends on how quickly Tua assumes the mantle…

“Beyond getting a feel for Stidham at this point, we’ll also see how the Patriots defense shapes up against a couple of good offenses, particularly with mobile quarterbacks Mahomes and Russell Wilson on tap in September.”

Chris Mason, MassLive: “[Patriots] boast the toughest strength of schedule in the league, though — their opponents had a .537 winning percentage in 2019 — and have to travel to Kansas City and Seattle, two of the loudest buildings in the league.

“New England caught a bit of a break with their Los Angeles road trips coming back-to-back. With a game at the Chargers followed by a Thursday Night Football date with the Rams, they’re bound to stay out in California and only fly coast-to-coast once in December. Still, it’s a gauntlet.”

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Devon Clements, Sports Illustrated: “It’s a tough hand that the Patriots have been dealt. As they enter their first season of the Bill Belichick era without Tom Brady, having an easier schedule would have allowed Jarrett Stidham to ease his way into the starting quarterback role, build some confidence, which would have helped with future success. But that’s not the case. Instead, New England must face the NFC West this year, which includes the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, and Arizona Cardinals. On top of that, they must face some of the best teams the AFC has to offer, like the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, and the Buffalo Bills, who, as always, they will face twice during the regular season.

“The six-time Super Bowl champions are about to take on one of their toughest schedules of the past 20 years. That’s not ideal given the state of the franchise.”

Eric Rueb, Providence Journal: “There’s a good chance by Week 11 the Patriots traded a seventh-round pick, a lock of Chase Winovich’s hair and the rights to speak to Ernie Adams for 35 minutes to Houston for Deshaun Watson. If not, the future Patriots QB should think about taking it easy on guys that will be his in a few months…

“Some of those dubs are going to be more stressful than they were in years past. Fans are going to have to get used to actually having a pulse during the regular season, but every loss won’t be treated like the end of the world. It’s a new era of New England football, so why not try and enjoy it?”

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Aidan Curran, Boston.com: “It’s a good thing the Patriots added some youth and speed in this year’s draft, because they will need it in Weeks 10-12, when they face arguably the most dynamic runners at the quarterback position in the NFL in Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, and Kyler Murray.

“The Baltimore game will especially be a tall task for the Patriots’ defense to prepare for, coming off of short rest after a Monday night game on the road against the New York Jets in Week 9.

“Whether rookies Kyle Dugger and Josh Uche are up to speed by this point could dictate the team’s chances in stopping these quarterbacks. The rookie defenders’ speed and athleticism will be desperately needed.”

Peter Prisco, CBS Sports: “Oh it’s brutal. This is a perfect ‘Tanking for Trevor’ schedule for the New England Patriots…If  Jarrett Stidham isn’t good, they’re not going to be good football team, and it’s going to be a real challenge for Bill Belichick. … I think Buffalo’s going to be better, I think the Jets will be a little improved, I think Miami is going to be improved, the division is getting better, and that schedule is tough.

“If Belichick can work miracles and get this team to the playoffs, then kudos to him. He’s arguably the greatest coach of all time as is, but if he can get this team to the playoffs, that just might cement it — no matter any argument: Don Shula; Paul Brown; Vince Lombardi, any of them.”

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