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Curran: This would be ideal Patriots schedule for 2021 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The NFL is releasing its 2021 schedule Wednesday. It’s super-sized. Seventeen games of twisted steel, sex appeal and revenge, revenge, revenge.
The biggest game on the regular-season schedule in terms of drama is far and away Bucs at Patriots. But, truth be told, that will be the ninth-most important game on the Patriots schedule. It’s not even an AFC game. Who cares? Everybody.
And that’s what the league wants on its way to $25 billion in revenue. Every game with a subplot beyond the season-long race to the postseason. The quarterback race in New England, Bill Belichick’s pursuit of Don Shula and a seventh Super Bowl as Patriots head coach, how well the Patriots offseason spending spree works out, that’s the local stuff we get to watch unfold when the league unveils the order of business for 2021.
Since we can’t perseverate ALLLLLLL day about when Mac Jones will overtake Cam Newton, I decided to take an educated run at what might be an ideal schedule for the Patriots. A realistic best-case scenario, as it were. Eat it up.
Sunday, Sept. 12 -- vs. Jets (1 p.m.)
Nothing will ever match what we all watched at quarterback from 2001 to 2019. #Blessed. But being able to chart the progress of Tom Brady’s heir apparent, Mac Jones, as the team’s long-term solution – especially compared to the starters in Miami, Buffalo and New York is going to be a gas. Personally, I don’t think Jones will be starting Week 1. The Jets may wind up thrusting No. 2 pick Zach Wilson out there, though. Right now, James Morgan and Mike White are the rest of the Jets QB depth chart. And frankly, both names sound made up. New coach Bobby Saleh and new quarterback Wilson … same old Jets? We’ll see. Patriots have to be 1-0 coming out of this.
Sunday, Sept. 19 -- vs. Buccaneers (8 p.m.)
Last year, the Patriots opened with an AFC East opponent then the schedule had them out of the division until November 1. Week 2 was an NFC opponent. So we’ll piggyback that model and figure NBC and the NFL want to set the night on fire with (in my parochial view) the most compelling matchup on the entire regular-season slate. Now, the league could wait for sweeps as it used to with Brady-Manning. Doing that may time it up so that Mac Jones faces Brady not Cam. But if Jones takes over for Newton during the year, it may be because the Pats are in a swoon. Better to hit this one before the story of the 2021 season begins to be written and the 2020 season is still fresh. And I’m feeling instant classic on this one. Big-time Bullyball from both sides and a surprisingly tight one. It’s always better to catch Tom Brady early in the year.
Monday, Sept. 27 -- at Panthers (8:30 p.m.)
Back-to-back with the revenge games? Why not? Again, not a bad idea to strike while the odds are best that Newton will still be the starter for the Patriots. We will be deprived of the Damiere Byrd revenge game down there but treated to Sam Darnold in his new environs. Back-to-back prime-time games for the Patriots after a 7-9 season? Correct. Will Cam start to wobble? Or will this be the game where he shows all the self-assuredness isn’t window-dressing and whistling past the graveyard?
Sunday, Oct. 3 -- vs. Jaguars (1 p.m.)
Love this game. Boy king Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer coming up to Gillette riding a stunning 3-0 start? Patriots coming off a near-shutout of the Panthers and having not allowed more than 20 points in any of their first three games? D.J. Chark (doot, doo, d-doot-di-doot) vs. Stephon Gilmore? Revenge game for Phillip Dorsett? This is why we lift all them weights.
Sunday, Oct. 10 -- at Chargers (4 p.m.)
The Patriots bludgeoning of the Chargers on December 6 of last year was the high point of the season. The high lasted four days before the Rams gave the Pats a bludgeoning of their own, but still. The Patriots have this one trip to the West Coast on their schedule so getting it out of the way here in Week 5 is a good deal. Again, love the matchup with Justin Herbert and the Chargers. And whose revenge game is it? Adrian Phillips and Hunter Henry!!!
Sunday, Oct. 17 -- vs. Browns (1 p.m.)
Every week there’s a little juice to the matchups because of the quarterbacks! Isn’t this great?! Of course, we know that somebody’s gonna get blown up, sir, and we’ll be looking at the 2021 equivalent of Brandon Weeden for a couple of these games. But on paper, the matchups are fun to contemplate.
Sunday, Oct. 24 -- vs. Bills (4:15 p.m.)
The Patriots are back in the division now after a fairly soft start to their schedule. By now, the AFC East will have taken some shape and the Bills will be trying to negotiate a first-place schedule for the first time since Coolio released “Gangsta’s Paradise.” I’m betting there’s a logjam at the top and the Bills have done a little bit of backsliding, this being their first time as a marked team. Will we be then closing in on a move at quarterback? The bye week should be looming.
Thursday, Oct. 28 -- at Dolphins (8:15 p.m.)
If you’re a Patriots fan, do you love it or hate it? I know you love getting down to South Florida for the weekend so I’m giving you the game right out of the chutes on Thursday night. Then you can recover all day Friday and hit the beach running on Friday and into Saturday and come back with a bye week looking right at you. Tua vs. Mac Jones? Not yet.
Sunday, Nov. 7 -- vs. Cowboys (8 p.m.)
Networks are paying a lotta dough for these games. Best stick the two most prominent national brands in prime-time during the fall sweeps. Jerruh gonna be hot the Patriots are coming off a 10-day break before they get to attack Dak with the league’s No. 1 scoring defense. Such is life, Jerruh.
The Patriots were saddled with an early bye week last year right after the loss at Kansas City in Week 4. They came out of that bye still dealing with COVID protocols. They still point to that as having waylaid their progress offensively. This season, ideally, the bye would come right here a week after. Nine games into a 17-game season. We should by now know what the Patriots offense and team identity are and whether Cam’s on the clock, on the bench or in it for the long haul.
Sunday, Nov. 21 -- at Texans (1 p.m.)
The Patriots come out of the bye with a few more decent-sized trips to make. This is the first of them facing the Texans and their TBD quarterback. If it is indeed Deshaun Watson under center, the Patriots will have a chance to show how far their defense has progressed from the group that got shredded in 2020.
Sunday, Nov. 28 -- at Colts (1 p.m.)
Another week, another fascinating quarterback subplot. Carson Wentz will either be well on his way to a career rehab or mired in the muck. I’m betting on the former. Not because he’s particularly brilliant. Just because the Eagles seemed so dysfunctional and being around Frank Reich is going to give him a big-time boost. Could it be a post-Thanksgiving showdown between possible Comeback Player of the Year candidates Wentz and Newton? Ohhh, it could be.
Sunday, Dec. 5 -- vs. Titans (1 p.m.)
By this point, I have the Patriots for four prime-time games. My guess is they will have at least five despite the 7-9 season. With the offseason improvements they’ve made and Bill Belichick’s maniacal effort at a reboot at the age of 69, they remain the most compelling team in the league. Jonnu Smith revenge game!! And Belichick vs. Mike Vrabel!! This could be it. But the remaining games on their schedule also have some zip to them so I’ll call this a 1 p.m. operation.
Sunday, Dec. 12 -- at Falcons (1 p.m.)
By this time, Kyle Pitts should be well on his way to the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award and the Falcons will have bounced back from their 4-12 2020 season to be one of the league’s surprise teams. A mid-December, pre-Christmas trip to Georgia isn’t a horrible thing. Especially if they get the benefit of playing at home during the Christmas weekend.
Sunday, Dec. 19 -- vs. Saints (1 p.m.)
I’m not betting on the matchup being that compelling. Jameis Winston vs. Cam Newton? Or Mac Jones vs. Taysom Hill? Leave this one at 1 p.m. and figure the Saints are punching the clock at the end of a down season which lets New England fatten up for the stretch run.
Sunday, Dec. 26 -- vs. Miami (1 p.m.)
The Patriots visited South Florida late in the year in 2020. Now it’s the flip with the final three divisional games in the same order but the locations switched. Kyle Van Noy, Ted Karras, Jason McCourty, Elandon Roberts revenge game!!
Saturday, Jan. 1 -- at Jets (5 p.m.)
Just going by the last few seasons it looks like the league has been flipping the Bills and Jets back and forth as the season-finale. Last year, it was the Jets. So I’m figuring this year it’s the Bills. SO you get the Jets here. This one gets slipped into the Saturday window just for fun. We like fun. We have a good time.
Sunday, Jan. 9 -- at Bills (8 p.m.)
Here’s a nice, late-season SNF game for the masses. The fifth prime-time game of the year for the Patriots. The long-suffering, bloodthirsty denizens of Western New York primed and ready for a game with likely playoff implications -- maybe for the division? I like it. I like it all.