Happy schedule release week, New England Patriots fans.
At 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday night, the NFL will officially unveil the 2021 regular-season schedules for all 32 teams (and, if tradition holds, a large portion of the Patriots’ slate will be leaked beforehand).
Ahead of the big reveal, here’s a quick refresher on the Patriots’ opponents, their most intriguing matchups and some of this season’s top storylines:
With the NFL schedule expanding to 17 games this season, New England will play nine contests at Gillette Stadium and eight on the road. (Next season, that will switch, with all AFC teams playing an extra road game.)
Home: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans
Away: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers
This is an obvious one: Tom Brady returning to Foxboro, Mass., for the first time as a member of the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There hasn’t been any reliable intel on when Patriots vs. Brady will fall in the schedule, but the NFL often likes to save these high-profile clashes for later in the season.
New England’s 2018 AFC Championship rematch against Patrick Mahomes wasn’t until Week 14 the following year, for instance. The 2018 edition of Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers was played in Week 9. Matchups against Peyton Manning were November staples.
This year’s Pats-Bucs showdown also will be Rob Gronkowski’s first game back at Gillette. One-time Patriot Antonio Brown will be back in town, too.
OTHER NOTABLE DATES
While Brady’s homecoming is the clear headliner, here are a few other Patriots matchups that will pique our interest:
vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
New England’s first look at 2021 top overall pick Trevor Lawrence.
vs./at New York Jets
Ditto for Zach Wilson and the Jets’ new Robert Saleh-led coaching regime. Can Wilson and Saleh pull New York out of the AFC East basement?
vs./at Buffalo Bills
Staying in the division, can the retooled Patriots compete with a Bills team that went 13-3 a year ago and fell one game short of a Super Bowl berth? Buffalo is coming off its first season sweep of New England since 1999.
at Carolina Panthers
A revenge game for quarterback Cam Newton (assuming he’s held off first-rounder Mac Jones up to this point).
at Atlanta Falcons
This matchup itself isn’t overly compelling, but it could be played in London, as the Patriots are one of five candidates to face the Falcons at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this season. It would be New England’s first trip across the pond since 2012.
vs. Dallas Cowboys
If nothing else, any game between these two storied franchises is sure to draw major television numbers.