The Super Bowl 53 Champion New England Patriots have their 2019 schedule set and the big question remaining is when will the games be scheduled. After three straight Super Bowl appearances and four of the last five (with three wins) the Patriots will have their share of prime time games.
The NFL has a rotating schedule and set divisional games for each team so the Patriots already know going into the season that they will see Adam Gase and the New York Jets, former defensive coordinator Brian Flores and the Miami Dolphins, and the stingy defense of the Buffalo Bills twice.
The Patriots already knew that they would be facing the NFC East as they do every four years. That means Patriots fans get a final chance to see Eli Manning against Tom Brady when the Giants come to Foxboro as well as the Dallas Cowboys. Fans looking for a road trip have short plane trips to the Nation’s Capitol to see Jay Gruden’s Washington Redskins or to Philadelphia for the brave and bold to risk life and limb and watch the Patriots in a Super Bowl 52 rematch against the Eagles.
The Patriots also have their rotation playing the AFC North. This means the Foxboro faithful will see former number one overall draft pick Baker Mayfield at Gillette Stadium. As seems to happen each year, the Patriots will face Pittsburgh with the Steelers coming to Foxboro. New England has two more road games just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away with games in Baltimore against John Harbaugh’s Ravens and into Ohio to face the Cincinnati Bengals.
The last two opponents were dependent on where the teams finished in the standings. Already facing the NFC North champion Ravens by virtue of their rotation to play the AFC North, the Patriots drew the other two AFC division champions to fill in their schedule for the tenth straight season.
This means an AFC Championship game rematch against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs and another game against former offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and the Houston Texans. The Chiefs rematch will take place in Foxboro, however. New England’s longest trip on the road brings them to Reliant Stadium to play the Texans.
As it has been for much of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era, the Patriots schedule is designed for them to play all the divisional winners in the conference each season. While this encourages parity throughout the NFL, it has yet to slow down the Patriots.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the match-ups for 2019:
REMATCHES VS AFC DIVISION WINNERS:
So the Patriots are on the road against the Houston Texans and at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs game is going to be fought over by all of the networks trying to get that game into a key slot. That match-up has the potential to be the most-watched game of the season and probably be scheduled on a Sunday Night again like last season in October. The two games the Chiefs and Patriots played were among the best of the season with the Patriots winning 43-40 at home and then 37-31 in overtime in Kansas City in the AFC Championship game.
Mahomes versus Brady is a guaranteed ratings bonanza and the Chiefs and Patriots have developed into the best rivalry in the AFC in the past five years (sorry Steelers and Ravens). While both teams will look a little different in 2019, it should be a great game.
The Houston Texans are seemingly always an entertaining game with Bill O’Brien as head coach. New England won 27-20 in an entertaining week one match-up last year. In 2017, it was Brandin Cooks’ “Welcome to the Patriots” moment with his stunning touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter to lead the Patriots to a 36-33 win.
In 2016, the Patriots first beat the Texans on a Thursday night without Tom Brady (deflategate suspension) and Jimmy Garoppolo (injured). That was the game Jacoby Brissett and the defense won 27-0. In the AFC Divisional round, despite being saddled with Blake Osweiler at quarterback, the Texans’ defense kept them in the game into the second half. The 2015 game (27-6 Patriots win) featured Brian Hoyer at quarterback and Vince Wilfork at defensive tackle for Houston on a prime-time Sunday night game in December..
The Texans should have Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins whenever they face the Patriots in 2019 which should make for an entertaining game. While Patriots fans may want another shot at the Tennessee Titans and Mike Vrabel after New England was humiliated 34-10 on the road in 2018, the Texans game should be a tough road match-up.
Patriots fans are going to have the road game against the Eagles circled on their calendars. The ending of Super Bowl 52 gnawed at them for an entire offseason and even the Super Bowl 53 win has not sated their hunger for revenge.
Philadelphia is not likely to have Super Bowl 52 MVP Nick Foles as they cannot afford to pay him what he will get on the open market. The Eagles have a difficult decision whether to franchise tag Foles this offseason. Most likely, it will be quarterback Carson Wentz under center whenever the Patriots and Eagles face-off.
Going to Washington is likely a game the Patriots should win. Washington has yet to find a quarterback after the gruesome end of Alex Smith’s season. Smith is unlikely to play in 2019 and the Redskins will need to find another quarterback either in free agency or in the NFL Draft.
New England hosts the Cowboys and Giants in 2019. Dallas won the NFC East and defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round before falling to the NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round. Dallas has their “Triplets” on offense again with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper. On defense, linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have developed into game-changers.
The Giants appear set on another season of Eli Manning playing just well enough to hold onto his job and poorly enough in key situations to finish at the bottom of the division. The big offseason question for New York is whether they keep mercurial wide receiver Odell Beckham as he has been mentioned in trade rumors. More than likely, Beckham will be back in New York with offensive rookie of the year Saquon Barkley as the dynamic duo on offense.
The Patriots playing the Steelers and Ravens always seem to make for entertaining games. At least one, if not both, will be “must-watch” games. The Patriots have not played John Harbaugh and the Ravens since the end of the 2016 season. New England fans remember the Ravens as having tipped off the Colts about footballs deflating in the cold New England night back in January 2015.
The Ravens still have a strong defense, despite having turned over most of the players from that 2014 AFC Divisional round game. At quarterback, the Patriots will face the Ravens with a quarterback other than Joe Flacco under center for the first time since Kyle Boller led the pesky Ravens in December 2007 and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan lost the game by calling a timeout on a fourth down stop by the Ravens defense.
The Steelers beat the Patriots this past December and then fell apart and lost their lead in the AFC North as the team crumbled down the stretch including Antonio Brown walking away from the team. Pittsburgh had lost five in a row to the Patriots and are 4-11 (including playoffs) against the Belichick/Brady Patriots.
All eyes are on the Steelers this offseason with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown likely to leave the franchise in one way or another. With James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and JuJu Smith-Schuster all under the age of 25 in 2019, the offense should continue to be dangerous and the locker room lacking the drama of Bell and Brown.
New England has six games against their AFC East rivals. They were 5-1 with only the “Miami Miracle” the blemish on their divisional record. However, despite the disdain laid upon the division, these games are rarely the easy wins that the national media wants to make it out to be.
Both games against Buffalo were heavyweight slugfests. The tough defense of the Bills held back the New England offense much of both games. The problem in Buffalo is the offense that leaned too heavily on two 30 year-old running backs (LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory) and lacked playmakers at wide receiver for first-round draft pick quarterback Josh Allen.
The Jets played the Patriots tough in their November home game, falling 27-13 in a game that was tied at 13 mid-way through the third quarter. The week 17 game was a team that had completely quit on their lame duck head coach and were ready to go home. The Jets have their quarterback of the future in Sam Darnold and brought in Adam Gase after he was fired in Miami after his…”quality” work with Ryan Tannehill?
The Dolphins brought in Patriots’ defensive coordinator Brian Flores as head coach. Ryan Tannehill is unlikely to return at quarterback and the offense and defense needs a total overhaul. Danny Amendola, DeVante Parker and right tackle Ja’Wuan James could be gone from the offense next season.
On defense, Flores will be installing a new system which could mean turnover on defense as well. The Dolphins have Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald and 2018 first-round draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick who all are best playing strong safety. They need help on the interior defensive line and are overpaying for minimal production on the edge. Outside of Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard, the cornerback position has many bodies and little production.
As usual, the Patriots appear to the prohibitive favorite in the AFC East and should win at least four if not five of their six AFC East matchups. They should hold their own just fine with the NFC East and be favored to win at least two or three against the tough AFC North. The rematch with the Chiefs should be another epic match-up, and the Texans–although the defending divisional champion–may be the third best team in the AFC South next year with Tennessee and Indianapolis both on the upswing.
Without seeing where the games fall in the schedule (pre-bye week, prime-time, short week Thursday game, road trip, etc.) it is difficult to get a handle on the match-up. That said, the AFC North was an aggregate 32-30-2 while the NFC East was 31-33. Add in the three AFC East teams being a combined 17-31 last season and the Patriots dynasty may be in good position to continue for at least another season.
Look for a Patriots team that–with a healthy Tom Brady–should be in position to potentially upgrade with a couple new wide receivers to add to a deep running back group and a defense that is likely to look more like the aggressive unit from Super Bowl 53 as Greg Schiano and his attacking 4-3 defense philosophy. This team should again be in the 11 to 13 win range based on this schedule, win the AFC East and be in position for a bye week.
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01