By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There’s not a whole lot to keep sports fans entertained these days, but now there’s at least something to look forward to.
With the NFL releasing its schedule on Thursday night, we now have a perfect-world future to stew on. Whether that perfect scenario actually plays out? Well, we can’t know for sure. But for the sake of optimism, let’s maintain a positive outlook and assume that all of these games will be played. Let’s double down on that positivity and say the stadiums will be full of fans, too.
Is that a likely scenario? It does not feel that way, no. But the world needs some positive vibes at this moment in time, so there’s no need to drown them out just yet.
With that in mind, sit back and envision a world with roaring fans and blaring stadium music while taking in this instant reaction to the best games on the Patriots’ schedule in 2020.
5. Week 14: At Los Angeles Rams (Thursday Night Football)
A number of key players won’t be involved — namely, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski — but the Super Bowl LIII rematch nevertheless will lead to ample storylines to help build some excitement for this one. Will anyone be able to cover Julian Edelman? Will Sean McVay profess his love for Bill Belichick during warmups again? Will Aaron Donald figure out how to escape the death grip of Joe Thuney? Will Stephon Gilmore’s presence haunt Jared Goff?
As a little side benefit, we’ll get to get our first full dosage of that awful new Rams logo. At the very least, that ought to produce some laughter. This will come on the back end of a two-game Los Angeles trip, too, as the Patriots will be playing the Chargers just four days earlier. Expect the Patriots to camp out for the week in L.A.
4. BOTH Buffalo Bills Games — Week 8 in Foxboro, Week 16 in Orchard Park
The Patriots are still the betting favorites to win the AFC East. But are they really still the top dogs in the division?
That’s why we’re kind of cheating by sticking two games in the place of one here. The potential for ecstasy in Buffalo is very real.
We’ll get our first glimpse at the answer to the AFC East when the Patriots visit Buffalo in Week 8, and if we’re lucky we’ll get ourselves an old-fashioned AFC East championship game in Week 16 in Foxboro.
As you’ll surely recall, the Patriots beat the Bills twice last year, but neither was by a comfortable margin. The Patriots won 16-10 in a defensive battle in Orchard Park in late September, and they surged in the fourth quarter to come back and beat Buffalo in Foxboro in Week 16.
The Patriots proved they were still kings in the AFC East, but the Bills — who lost those games by 13 combined points — showed that they were right there. This year, they’ll get the opportunity to prove they’ve made the leap, while the Patriots will look to defend the crown that they’ve owned for 11 straight seasons and 16 of the past 17 years.
The question is: Are Josh Allen and Sean McDermott ready and able to make that jump? Whatever the answer to that question may be, the results will be fascinating to watch.
3. Week 2: At Seattle Seahawks (Sunday Night Football)
Do these two teams have a history? I feeeeeeel as though they do, though the exact moment seems to be escaping me at this moment in time. I swear there was something …
… hmm, oh well, never mind.
In any event, past postseason history or not, this matchup represents a team that’s actually found success against the Patriots. Under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks are 2-0 in the regular season vs. the Patriots. (Again, it feels like there was a playoff meeting in there, too, but it’s difficult to dig that up in the memory banks at this moment in time.)
Whether or not there are fans in the stadium figures to play a huge role in this one, as the structure of Seattle’s stadium has always helped the home team in a major way when the team is playing well — especially in prime time. The fact that his game is scheduled for Sept. 20 puts the fan part of the equation in question, which could be a major neutralizer on the home-field aspect.
The last time these two teams met, Seattle provided the 2016 Patriots with one of their two losses that season. Knowing Belichick, the head coach likely thinks of that nationally televised loss from time to time. Perhaps he’ll have another undrafted rookie defensive back waiting to pounce at the goal line to spoil Russell Wilson’s day. (Oh yeah! That was it. I knew there was something.)
2. Week 7: Vs. San Francisco 49ers
The return of Jimmy Garoppolo is probably enough of a marquee in and of itself, but the hype for this game is certainly intensified by the fact that the Niners are the defending NFC champs.
The last time San Francisco visited New England, it was rather memorable, with Colin Kaepernick (and Randy Moss!) leading the 49ers to a rare prime-time win for a visiting team in Foxboro. The 49ers won that crazy game in the rain 41-34 back in 2012.
This time will surely be entirely different, but Kyle Shanahan’s offense should provide a major test for the Patriots’ defense, and the Niners’ formidable defense should likewise give the Jarrett Stidham-led (or Brian Hoyer-led) offense a difficult challenge.
(Patriots fans can stay put on the couch after this one, too, as Tom Brady and the Bucs will be playing in Las Vegas on Sunday Night Football shortly after this game ends.)
1. Week 4: At Kansas City Chiefs
In 2018, the Chiefs appeared destined for AFC supremacy. But the old guard held them off in what was an instant classic of an AFC Championship Game.
As we know now, the Patriots were merely postponing the inevitable with that championship run, as the Chiefs recovered with a Super Bowl run of their own in 2019.
Now, with Brady gone, the equation has certainly changed, and the Patriots are certain to be underdogs when they return to Arrowhead for the first time since that frigid night in January 2019.
The Chiefs did take care of the Patriots last year, albeit in a game with some historically bad officiating. It was clear during those 60 minutes of football that there’s not a whole lot of love between these two teams. Adding that level of distaste to a matchup with the defending champs is enough to vault this one to the No. 1 spot. The Chiefs will surely be gunning for a repeat run to a Lombardi, while the new-look Patriots will be eager to prove they still belong in that conversation.
It’s always noteworthy when a No. 1 overall pick comes to town, so Kyler Murray and the Cardinals’ visit makes the list in some capacity. … Lamar Jackson flipped the football world upside down last year, wrecking the Patriots’ historic defense along the way. How will he follow that up in 2020? We’ll find out in Week 10 on Sunday Night Football. … The Dolphins’ game in Week 1 jumps up several notches if Tua Tagovailoa is the starting QB.