The NFL flexed its marketing muscle and released its 2022 schedule in one fell swoop Thursday night, an event that really shouldn’t be an event but somehow has become an event!
Actually, the bulk of the schedule was leaked well ahead of the made-for-TV fun by various media outlets across the land throughout the day, including for New England.
While we’ve known for months who the Patriots opponents would be, we now have times and dates to add to the schedule mix. It’s oh so exciting!
That means the next important step in the timeline is some reactionary, over-analysis of the slate of 17 games for Bill Belichick’s squad that is still very much a work in progress, yet to hold a single padded practice. But, hey, it’s what we do and part of the process of the NFL’s year-round hold on the sports world.
If the NFL can pretend that the schedule release is a big deal then we sure as sugar can pretend we know how things are going to play out from September until January! With that in mind, here are 22 titillating thoughts regarding the Patriots 2022 schedule!
1 – Holy Crap!: Forget strength of schedule based on what happened a year ago, there’s no way to look at New England’s 2022 slate other than it’s an absolute beast, especially down the stretch from Thanksgiving on.
(Remember that critical time when New England used to play its best football? Well, that hasn’t been the case the last three years.) From a hot opening day in Miami right through a potential frigid season finale in Buffalo, the Patriots will have to very much earn everything they get.
2 – In the middle of it all: That said, there could be two very distinct seven-week stretches of action after the opening month. Beginning in Week 5 hosting the Lions through hosting the Jets coming out of the bye in Week 12 is a six-game span that could decide the season. Much like so many of us fans, the schedule is a bit soft around the middle. Each of the games is very much winnable. Anything worse than a 5-1 record against the Lions, Browns, Bears, Jets, Colts and Jets probably will be an indication of a team that’s not nearly good enough to be in the playoff conversation over the final seven weeks. But, if the Patriots can handle their business against those teams, there could at least be the idea of meaningful football down the stretch.
3 – Mettle-proving time: Beginning with Thanksgiving night’s trip to Minnesota to take on the Vikings, the final seven games are about as tough a row as any farmer could possibly hoe. Other than the penultimate game of the year hosting Miami, New England is unlikely to be favored in six of the seven other final games of the year. The span includes the Vikings, Bills, Cardinals, Raiders, Bengals, Dolphins and Bills. There are four consecutive night games. Back-to-back games in Arizona and Las Vegas. Thanks to consecutive Thursday night games there’s three games in 12 days. It’s a murderers’ row of challenges for any team, never mind one likely trying to figure out how it measures up to the rest of the league.
4 – Uncertain September: For years September has been considered an extension of the preseason in New England. The theory is that Belichick is still trying to figure out what his team is and can do, while also gathering intel on the other teams across the NFL. That may be truer than ever in 2022. The Patriots will be under the direction of new coaching on offense, maybe with career defensive coach Matt Patricia learning to call offensive plays on the fly for Mac Jones and Co. The first four opponents are not layups by any means. What does Miami look like with Tyreek Hill? Who’s the Week 2 QB in Pittsburgh? What do the Ravens look like offensively as they return to health with questions at receiver? And by Week 4 has Aaron Rodgers found new targets to keep himself happy (is he ever happy?) and the Packers’ offense rolling? The first four weeks are always questions for every team, the Patriots facing as many as ever to open the new year.
5 – Hot start: Even in the heart of the Tom Brady-led dynasty, an opening day trip to Miami was less than desirable for New England and its players. The Florida afternoon heat on Sept. 11 will absolutely be a factor, even if Belichick won’t admit it during the week leading up to the game. It can’t be prepared for in Foxborough. It will hinder the Patriots ability to play four quarters of high level football, both on an individual level and as a team.
6 – Meet Miami: The heat is far from the only concern for the opener in Miami. The Dolphins have a new look for 2022 that has the potential to be dangerous. Trading for Tyreek Hill adds the most explosive playmaker in the NFL to the offensive arsenal. That offense is now being schemed up by first-year coach Mike McDaniel, bringing his creative brain across the country from San Francisco. How will McDaniel deploy Hill in the opener? What will he unleash on a suspect New England secondary with months to prepare? Getting the new-look Dolphins on the road on opening day might be the worst time and place to face Tua’s troops.
7 – Good bye: Not everything about the Patriots schedule is daunting. Week 10 is a pretty darn good spot to have a bye, essentially breaking the season in half. By mid-November aged veterans and green rookies alike will be appreciative of a mental and physical break, especially leading into two months of scheduled hell.
8 – Home/road splits: Thanks the 17-game schedule, New England plays eight at home and nine on the road. There’s never more than consecutive road games, although the road games are weighted a bit toward the early part of the season. New England opens with consecutive road games, traveling for two of its first three and three of its first four. While the Patriots open the year with two games in a row on the road, they don’t play consecutive weeks at home until Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. (Consecutive home games against the Colts and Jets in November are sandwiched around the bye.)
9 – Road Trip 1: The NFL schedule does the Patriots a solid by having the team play consecutive weeks in Arizona (Monday night) and Las Vegas (Sunday night). It would seem like a virtually certainty that New England will remain out west for its work over the course of that short week between games. Hey, maybe Belichick can stay at Josh McDaniels’ house in Vegas!
10 – Road Trip 2: There’s a number of intriguing road trip games on the schedule for Patriots fans to pick from this fall. While it’s a long wait and the season could be somewhat decided by then, the Dec. 18 game in Las Vegas is probably the premier destination game. It’s against the new-look Raiders with McDaniels leading the charge. It’s in Vegas. What else needs to be said? The Week 4 game at Lambeau Field is another attractive trip both from a history perspective and to see MVP Aaron Rodgers do his cheesy best. A couple other interesting road trip options would be the Week 2 trek to take on the Steelers or the Week 14 battle with Kyler Murray and the Cardinals in Arizona. Heck, if budget and time aren’t an issue doing the Cardinals-Raiders double-dip in December would be a dream early Christmas present from Santa.
11 – Home cooking: The 2022 Week 3 home opener against the Ravens at Gillette Stadium might be the best home game of the year. The September Sunday-at-1 start has the potential for pristine New England football-watching weather. Former MVP Lamar Jackson is one of the unique, must-see athletes that any NFL team has to offer. The Patriots rivalry with the Ravens is a fun one that seems to lead to entertaining, memorable matchups. And while both teams face questions and challenges heading into the new season, optimism should still remain abundant from Boston to Baltimore in Week 3.
12 – Week 6 suspense: Deshaun Watson’s availability will obviously be a huge factor in New England’s Week 6 trip to Cleveland. If/when Watson is suspended the expectation is that it could be in the range of six games or more. That means the Patriots could avoid dealing with one of the elite athletic quarterbacks in the game, as they did a year ago in Houston, and may be left facing Baker Mayfield or another Browns backup. New England has had plenty of success against Mayfield in recent years, but avoiding Watson would be a nice boost for a team that will need every October win it can get.
13 – Give Thanks: This will mark the sixth time the Patriots have played on Thanksgiving, the second time in a game that didn’t involve traditional holiday opponents Dallas or Detroit. The last New England Thanksgiving affair was in 2012, a game best known for the so-called “Butt Fumble” by Mark Sanchez in a lopsided contest the Patriots won on the road 49-19. That night included three touchdowns in 54 seconds for New England, coming on offense, defense and special teams. Fans can only hope this Thanksgiving’s battle with the Vikings in Minnesota is as successful and memorable. All of New England will need to get a nap in after dinner, though.
14 – Santa and Joe Cool: Christmas Eve will be a big day in New England and not just due to Santa’s impending arrival. Joe Burrow and the defending AFC Champion Bengals hit Gillette for a 1 o’clock start to the holiday weekend. Many perceive Jones as trying to take a Burrow-like year 2 jump in his young career, which might be a bit optimistic. But it is still a pretty fun matchup of former star SEC QBs in Foxborough.
15 – Prime examples: New England landed five prime time games on the 2022 schedule, one of 12 teams with the max number of ever-expanding prime TV slots. That includes four straight 8:15 or 8:20 starts from Thanksgiving night through Dec. 18. The rundown serves New England up two on Thursday night, two on Monday night and the Sunday night battle with McDaniels’ Raiders in Las Vegas. While some may look at the Patriots as rebuilding and a second- or third-tier NFL team, the league doesn’t seem to mind having Belichick, Jones and the New England rest in big TV spots. Of course most of those games include plenty of star power on the opposing sideline as well.
16 – Overdue Bills: For better or worse the Patriots avoid Josh Allen and the Bills until the month of December for the second straight season. Weather played a huge role in the Patriots’ upset of the Bills in early December last season and certainly the elements could be a consideration again in a pair of matchups between Dec. 1 and Jan. 7/8. The only question is how much those games will matter in the AFC East standings at that point, Buffalo the clear team to beat in the division.
17 – Vegas vacation: New England will actually visit Las Vegas twice this season if you include the Week 3 preseason trip to take on the Raiders. After facing frequent August foes in the Giants and Panthers, the trip across the country to take on McDaniels’ squad is somewhat unique. While teams deny that they have any say in the preseason schedule, it almost certainly indicates there’s no hard feelings between Belichick and his former assistant who departed New England and took a few assistants with him to Las Vegas this offseason. With two teams battling in the preseason finale who’ll theoretically be looking for similar types of roster talent, it will be interesting to see if any players end up switching employers as roster finalizations come down the pike, or if there is some understanding between Belichick and McDaniels in regards to “poaching” each other’s bottom of the roster/practice squad talent. It could also be the Jarrett Stidham revenge game!
18 – QB comp: The Bears traded up in last year’s draft to select quarterback Justin Fields No. 11 overall, while the Patriots stood pat at No. 15 to let Jones fall into their waiting lap. In Week 7 two of the five first-round quarterbacks from a year ago will go head to head in Foxborough. It’s a chance for the two teams and their fans to see what could have been – one way or the other – at the quarterback position had the 2021 NFL Draft played out a bit differently. Many Patriots fans wanted New England to trade up for Fields like the Bears did. Maybe he’ll show the Foxborough Faithful what they missed out on or maybe Jones will display exactly why Belichick got the right guy.
19 – Sunday at 1: For fans of traditional Sunday-at-1 start times, the early part of the schedule is a boon. New England plays at 1 p.m. in each of the first three weeks of the year, five of the first six weeks and eight of the first 10. Of course that leaves the four straight prime time games for the late-year test of mettle, when the Patriots will actually play five of eight games from Oct. 24 to Dec. 18 after 8 p.m.
20 – On the record: What would a mid-May reaction to the Patriots’ schedule be without a record prediction? What, you think we should wait until the team is actually built in training camp, roles on the field and on the coaching staff solidified? What’s the fun in that? Write it down in Sharpie right now! Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, New England will go 8-9 this season to miss the playoffs.
21 – The W/L game!: Whether people want to admit it or not, the moment the schedule is released we all play the W/L game. It’s simple, you read down the schedule say a quick “Win” or “Loss” after every matchup. It’s instinctive. It’s reactionary. It’s a little stupid. It is what it is and for the 2022 Patriots it’s as follows: L, W, L, L, W, W, W, L, W, W, L, L, W, L, L, W, L. 8-9, there it is.