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New England Patriots

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By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com

As the 2020 NFL season winds down, the 2021 slate is beginning to take shape. The NFL uses a predetermined scheduling format which factors into account conferences, divisions, and the previous year’s division standings. With that final piece now in place, each team has 16 games worth of opponents for next year.

For the Patriots, that entails two games against each division opponent, and one each against the four AFC South teams, four NFC South teams, and two remaining AFC third-place finishers. It should be an easier schedule on paper than in recent years, since the Patriots were normally facing the previous year’s division winners.

That template gives them a matchup with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a game that is scheduled to take place in Foxborough. Expect that one to be scheduled in primetime.

They’ll also face the Falcons in a Super Bowl LI 28-3 rematch, and a Saints team who could be in the first year of a post-Drew Brees era. There’s also a return trip to Los Angeles to play the Chargers, who were on the wrong side of the Patriots’ best performance of 2020, a 45-0 win back in Week 13.

Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots running back James White (28) scores the game winning touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in overtime during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A game that could end up being really interesting though, is the Jacksonville Jaguars visit to Gillette Stadium. Sure, it’ll be a chance to see projected top pick and generational quarterback prospect Trevor Lawrence, but the intrigue actually goes beyond that.

2021 will be the 25th anniversary of the 1996 Patriots team that went to Super Bowl XXXI. In order to do so, they beat the Jaguars in Foxborough in the AFC Championship game – the first time the team ever clinched a Super Bowl bid at home.

What better way to honor the silver anniversary of that team than to bring back the uniforms they wore in their final win? Rumors about the return of the ‘flying Elvis shoulder’ jerseys have popped up a few times over the last few years, but there’s no more logical time to break them out than against the Jags in 2021.

12 Jan 1997: Quarterback Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots in action during the AFC Championship game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots won 20-16. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart /Allsport

While in the past, these 13 teams would represent the Patriots’ entire 16-game schedule, that won’t necessarily be the case this year. In last year’s CBA negotiations, the league put in the option to expand to an 18-week, 17-game slate. With revenues down due to the COVID pandemic, it’s been reported that change could happen as early as next year.

In a major step towards implementing the 17-game schedule, the league voted last month on a format for choosing the extra opponent. The remainder of the formula will stay the same, with the addition of an interconference opponent who finished in the same place in their respective division.

If that were to kick in for 2021, the Patriots would add a game against either the Cowboys, Cardinals, or Vikings. It’s too early to know whether that game would be played at home or on the road.

Although (most of) the opponents are already set, the full NFL schedule with dates and times won’t be released for a few months. It’s usually revealed in early May.

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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.