New England Patriots’ 2021 opponents and strength of schedule

Who are the New England Patriots’ 2021 NFL opponents as they look to bounce back from a disappointing performance in the 2020 season? Let’s look at who the Patriots are set to play in 2021, and what that means in terms of their strength of schedule ranking compared to other teams.

Who do the Patriots play in 2021?

The Patriots’ list of 2021 opponents will see them play the regular six games against the AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets. As is customary, the Patriots will face each of those three teams both at home and on the road during the 2021 season.

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In addition, the 2021 season will have the AFC East compete against the AFC South and NFC South for another eight games. The traditional schedule’s final two games will see the Patriots face the two teams that finished in third place of the AFC North (Cleveland Browns) and AFC West (Los Angeles Chargers).

What about the Patriots’ 17th game in 2021?

The 2021 season is expected to introduce a 17th regular season game for all NFL teams. Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport reported on that plans are in place to expand the regular season, although their report has yet to be officially confirmed by the NFL. With that in mind, who would be the opponent for the Patriots’ 17th game in the 2021 season?

Reports suggest that a decision has been made on how the 17th game opponent will be decided. The matchup will be an interconference matchup based on standings on a rotational basis.

Albert Breer reported that the divisional alignments for the 2021 season had already been set. According to Breer, the AFC East will match up with the NFC East for the 17th game. Therefore, the Patriots’ opponent for their 17th game in 2021 would be the Dallas Cowboys.

The New England Patriots’ 2021 opponents

Here are the teams that the New England Patriots will play against in the 2021 NFL season:

Home: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns

Road: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Chargers

17th game (location TBD): Dallas Cowboys

New England Patriots’ strength of schedule for 2021

As we look ahead towards the 2021 NFL season, how does the Patriots’ strength of schedule for 2021 shape up? The strength of schedule rankings here are based on the 2020 records of the Patriots’ 2021 opponents.

The Patriots have a middle of the road schedule in 2021

The Patriots’ 2021 strength of schedule ranks tied for 19th in the league (tied with their division rival New York Jets). They have the 11th most difficult schedule in the AFC. However, along with the Jets, the Patriots have the toughest schedule in the AFC East.

The six games against their own division make a big difference to the way the Patriots’ schedule ranks. The games against the Bills and Dolphins see the Patriots face two teams who won 23 out of their 32 games within the division. However, the games against the Jets significantly ease the difficulty of their schedule. The Jets won just two of their 16 games last season.

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The remainder of the schedule includes a further five playoff teams. Those five teams are the Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns, and the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Including the Bills and Dolphins, that is nine games the Patriots will have against teams with winning records from 2020.

Yet, the Patriots’ schedule does get some respite. Facing the Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and Dallas Cowboys means they face six teams with an average of just 4.5 wins during the 2020 season.

How does their schedule at home compare to their schedule on the road?

The home and road breakdown of the Patriots’ 2021 opponents is interesting. In Gillette Stadium, they face five teams with a winning record from last season — four of those five teams made the playoffs. Overall, the Patriots’ home schedule ranks as the sixth-toughest in the NFL.

However, on the road, they face just three teams with winning records in 2020. The Patriots’ toughest 2021 road opponent is the Miami Dolphins. Depending on the timing of the game, matchups in Miami can be the toughest on the schedule. Early in the season, the weather in Florida is both hot and humid, making it tougher for teams from cooler weather cities to adapt. Despite that, the Patriots’ road schedule does not look to be all that intimidating.

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Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.