The football world collectively exhaled Tuesday night after the NFL released its 2010 regular-season schedule. The Patriots have known for three months who they would play next season, and now they can finally look into travel accommodations.
New England's 2010 opponents had a 136-120 record (.531 winning percentage) in 2009, which makes it the sixth-most difficult schedule in the league. Here are some other initial impressions.
That's a relative term for this schedule, which is pretty brutal from start to finish. But if the Patriots want to gain some steam for a playoff run, they've got to target Thanksgiving. The Pats can be thankful they'll visit Detroit — although it comes four days after hosting the Colts — for an early-afternoon feast on the lowly Lions.
After that, they'll have 10 full days off in between their Monday night matchup with the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. Then, the Patriots will visit the Bears, host the Packers, visit the Bills and host the Dolphins on Jan. 2 to close out the regular season.
This isn't exactly an easy stretch, but the Patriots will have a week and a half to rest up for a home game against the Jets — a game you'd figure the Pats could win if they have high playoff hopes — before playing four teams that had trouble with consistency in 2009. The Patriots will need to take advantage of those half-dozen games.
The Patriots will come out of their bye with a Week 6 home game against the Ravens in a game that will truly test New England's mettle. They follow that by traveling to San Diego in Week 7, and West Coast trips are always difficult to bounce back from because the Patriots won't get back to Foxboro until Monday at about 5 a.m.
The Patriots then host the Vikings, who fell in the 2009 NFC championship. After that trio of tough games, the Pats have back-to-back road contests against the Browns and Steelers before hosting the Colts. That promises to be a chaotic six weeks for Bill Belichick's bunch.
The Best of the Rest
1. Eight of the Patriots' 16 games are against 2009 playoff teams, including two contests with the Jets. The others include: Week 1 against the Bengals, Week 6 against the Ravens, Week 7 at the Chargers, Week 8 against the Vikings, Week 11 against the Colts and Week 15 against the Packers.
2. The Pats have their bye in Week 5. That's on the early side of things, but it comes after three consecutive games against AFC East opponents, which promise to be physical matchups. After the bye, the Patriots play the Ravens, Chargers and Vikings. So in that respect, the bye actually comes at a good time.
3. The Patriots' first trip to the Jets' new home comes in Week 2, but it might work in New England's favor. The Jets will be coming off an emotional home opener in Week 1 against the Ravens, and it's always difficult for teams to bounce back after Monday night contests.
4. Speaking of which, the Patriots play twice on Monday night — Week 4 at Miami and Week 13 against the Jets. The Pats have a bye after their Miami game, so they won't have to worry about short rest in Week 5. But New England visits Chicago in Week 14, so that will be tough.
5. The Patriots open the season at home against the Bengals. New England won the Super Bowl the last time it opened the season against Cincinnati in 2001. Coincidentally, the Pats played the Jets in Week 2 in that season, too.
6. The Pats are scheduled to play two Sunday night games; Week 10 at Pittsburgh and Week 15 against the Packers. Keep in mind the NFL can remove those games from primetime two weeks before kickoff.
7. The Patriots host the Colts in Week 11. It's the first time the Colts will visit Gillette since 2006. While the game isn't currently scheduled for primetime, here's betting the league will find a way to make that happen.
8. The Patriots and Dolphins will each have weather to their advantage in their home games. New England visits Miami on Oct. 4 in Week 4, when it's still pretty balmy in Miami (although with the game at night, the heat could settle a bit). And the Pats host the Dolphins on Jan. 2 in Week 17.
9. Aside from visiting the Lions on Thanksgiving, the Patriots will host the Vikings on Halloween. They also visit the Bills the day after Christmas and host the Dolphins the day after New Year's.
10. The Patriots open and close the regular season at home, but they don't play consecutive home games at any point in the season. They only have consecutive road games once: Week 9 at Cleveland and Week 10 at Pittsburgh.