After years of drawing favorable regular season schedules, the New England Patriots are set to face a brutal list of opponents in 2020.
Well, the party’s over.
Whether or not Tom Brady remains the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots in 2020 and beyond remains to be seen. Without question, that is the dominant storyline to follow over the course of the next month (or longer?) if you’re a Patriots fan.
But it’s far from the only question or concern in New England these days.
There are also great, gaping questions surrounding a number of other important aspects of this team, including but not limited to: Devin McCourty’s future, Julian Edelman’s health, N’Keal Harry’s development, and pretty much anything to do with the tight end position.
For the first time in what feels like forever, there are legitimately more causes for alarm than there are reasons to be confident heading into a new Patriots season.
Perhaps the most distressing facet of this upcoming season isn’t even being talked about at all, either — and that’s yet another reason for concern in itself.
According to Devon Clements of Sports Illustrated’s PatriotMaven, New England enters the 2020 season with the most difficult schedule of any NFL team. The Patriots’ strength of schedule tops the list of all 32 franchises at .537 (137-118-1).
In case you’re curious, the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins rank second and third, the Super Bowl 54 runner-up San Francisco 49ers check in at No. 4, and the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions are tied for fifth.
Much to the chagrin of Patriots fans everywhere, the Baltimore Ravens — who finished the 2019 regular season with the No. 1 seed in the AFC — have the easiest strength of schedule in 2020 at .438 (112-144). Behind them are the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, and Washington Redskins, in that order.
Now it’s certainly prudent to point out that these rankings often feel a bit antiquated by the midpoint of the following season.
After all, one need look no further than the 49ers for a perfect example of why you can’t always judge a team by its prior season record. Anyone who had San Fran on their 2019 docket probably assumed it would be an easy win based off the 49ers’ lackluster 2018 record… and all the 49ers did was win a ton of games, earn the NFC’s No. 1 seed, and make the Super Bowl.
So yeah, it’s not like these strength of schedule rankings are foolproof or ironclad or anything.
Still… a deeper look at the Patriots’ list of opponents next year should make even the most optimistic fan queasy.
Though we won’t know the exact order of the 16 games until sometime in April, we do already know the full list of teams the Pats will face during the regular season. We also know which games will be played at home and will be occur on the road.
Here’s the complete list:
HOME: New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Las Vegas Raiders
AWAY: New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, Houston Texans
First things first, note the Patriots will play both participants of this month’s Super Bowl. They get to host former QB Jimmy Garoppolo as he returns to Foxborough with the NFC champs, and they also get to travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the AFC and world champs themselves, the Chiefs.
The fun doesn’t end there though.
The Pats also must host reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson and the Ravens at Gillette Stadium, they have to travel all the way to Seattle to face Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, and they have road games against both L.A. teams and the Texans (who beat them in Houston during the regular season last year).
This is all on top of their own division mates, who are far from easy outs at this point. The Buffalo Bills made the playoffs and twice gave the Patriots everything they could handle during the regular season last year. The Jets and the Dolphins should be better in 2020 than they were in 2019 as well.
Is anyone feeling sorry for the Pats? Of course not.
Can the Pats still win a bunch of games, make the playoffs, and challenge for another Super Bowl title? Of course.
If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past two decades, it’s never to count out this team. They may be down from time to time, but they’ve seldom if ever really been out.
That said, if Brady leaves and a series of other unfortunate events occur this spring that work against the Patriots’ hopes and expectations, this brutal schedule might end up being too tall a challenge for New England to overcome — even with the greatest coach of all time in Bill Belichick still at the helm.