The 2020 season was the Patriots’ first without Tom Brady as the team’s primary starter since he played in just one game in the 2008 season before suffering a torn ACL. Fittingly, it also became the first time that the team missed the playoffs since that season. The Cam Newton-led Patriots posted a 7-9 record which was, incredibly, the team’s first losing season since Bill Belichick’s squad posted a 5-11 record during the 2000 campaign.
Now in 2021, the Patriots will look to recapture the magic that formed one of the longest dynasties in NFL history. The team was aggressive in free agency this offseason and brought in countless veterans to add depth and talent to their squad. Then, they made a big move in selecting Alabama QB Mac Jones in the first round of the ’21 NFL Draft, marking the first time they had selected a quarterback in the first round since they spent the No. 1 overall pick on Drew Bledsoe back in 1993.
The Patriots may look very different in ’21, but so does the rest of the AFC East. Once the NFL’s weakest division, the Bills have turned into a threatening team under Sean McDermott while the Dolphins are on the rise under Brian Flores. As for the Jets, they have a new coach and a rookie quarterback, so if Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson turn out to be the real deal, the Patriots’ divisional games could prove to be tougher than they’ve been in quite some time.
Also on the docket this year for the Patriots are opponents from the AFC South and NFC South. That’ll mean matchups with some lowly teams like the Texans, but they will also face some intriguing quarterbacks, chief among them rookie wunderkind Trevor Lawrence and old friend and G.O.A.T. Tom Brady.
Here is a complete breakdown of the Patriots’ 2021 schedule, including dates, start times and analysis for all 17 games.
Patriots schedule 2021
The Patriots’ schedule will be announced as part of the NFL’s schedule release on Wednesday, May 12 at 8 p.m. ET. These are the teams that they are scheduled to play during the 2021 NFL season.
|Buffalo Bills||Atlanta Falcons|
|Cleveland Browns||Buffalo Bills|
|Dallas Cowboys||Carolina Panthers|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Houston Texans|
|Miami Dolphins||Los Angeles Chargers|
|New Orleans Saints||Indianapolis Colts|
|New York Jets||Miami Dolphins|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||New York Jets|
Last year, the Patriots could never get quite get on track because of a slow start to the season. They began the year 2-1 and nearly beat the Seahawks in an offensive shootout, but after Newton was sidelined due to a positive COVID test in Week 4, they fell off. The Patriots would go on to lose their next four consecutive games, and while they eventually got back to .500 at the three-quarter pole of the season, another three-game losing streak ended their chances of competing for a playoff spot.
Perhaps a bit more explosiveness on offense along with COVID-related opt-outs returning to the team in 2021 will give the Patriots a chance to perform at a more stable level. At the very least, they should be better on both sides of the ball and will be able to marry solid offensive play with upper-level defensive play. They lacked offense last year when their unit finished 27th in the league in total yardage and scoring.
One good thing about the Patriots’ 2021 schedule is that they’re playing just two road games against teams that made the playoffs last season. They have five such opponents at home, but they should have a better chance of rattling some of their warmer-weather and dome-based competition in the chillier Foxboro.
Patriots strength of schedule
Based on last year’s records, the Patriots’ strength of schedule in the upcoming season ranks middle of the pack at 19th overall (0.489). However, teams can change big-time year-to-year, and it’s worth noting that some of the worst teams on their schedule should be better in 2021.
The Cowboys won’t be as bad with Dak Prescott back from a leg injury and some defensive upgrades. Trevor Lawrence will be quarterbacking the Jaguars instead of Gardner Minshew. And, of course, the new regime with the Jets could make their team a bit stronger than they were last season.
So, while the Patriots’ schedule may look easier than average on paper, it has a chance to be harder than some may anticipate.
Toughest Tests: One of the biggest games on the schedule for the Patriots will be their date with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. That game is at Gillette Stadium, but it will be an emotional revenge game for both Brady and Belichick. The Bucs are elite, so the Patriots need to have their QB situation figured out before that game rolls around.
Facing the Bills twice will be no easy task either, especially since they spent their first two draft picks upgrading their pass rush to help their already-strong defense. New England’s home schedule is tough in general, so the Patriots will hope to recreate a nice home-field advantage this year or get lucky with some cold-weather game against warm-weather teams.
Biggest Breaks: The Texans are one of the laughingstocks of the NFL right now, and Deshaun Watson might not be available. The Patriots have had their number in the past, so they should be able to take care of the Texans this year. Meanwhile, the Jaguars’ offense will be better with Lawrence at quarterback, but their defense is still a major work in progress while Urban Meyer may need time to get Jacksonville adjusted to his system. And he too may need some time to adjust to the NFL.
There will be two other teams to watch with new quarterbacks: the Jets and the Saints. The Patriots have a better roster than the Jets, so they should be able to handle them unless Wilson becomes a big-time playmaker early in his career. As for the post-Drew Brees Saints, that team is fairly thin and will be using either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill at QB. These games aren’t easy, per se, but if the new QBs for each team struggle, the matchups could turn into solid advantages for the Patriots.
Bottom Line: It’s hard to love the Patriots’ schedule this season just because there are so many questions about not only the teams they’re facing but about the Patriots themselves. Will Newton or Jones start at quarterback? Do they have enough wide receivers to make a difference against teams that cover tight ends well? Those will be important questions to answer.
The good news is that the team is facing three of last year’s worst run defenses (Texans, Cowboys, and Jaguars), so even if the Patriots have QB questions, they should be able to run to victory on several occasions. And despite a tough schedule and depleted roster last year, the team still managed to post a 7-9 record thanks to strong coaching.
Expect the Patriots to hover around the .500 mark. Will they finish similarly to last year, just below the mark, or with their additions, will Belichick take them to a winning record? More likely, we’ll see the latter — we’ll give Belichick the benefit of the doubt.
But will the Patriots be a playoff team? It’s too close to call.
Record Prediction: 10-7