The New England Patriots paid their dues in 2008. With the NFL schedule announced Tuesday night, it looks like they're going to be paying more dues in 2009. New England has the third toughest schedule in the league despite already sacrificing so much in one year.
After losing Tom Brady in week one to a low hit in the Kansas City Chiefs game, the Patriots went from Super Bowl favorites to an afterthought in 2008. Matt Cassel rallied the team and saved the season by guiding the team to 11 wins. Despite their best efforts, the Patriots were eliminated from the postseason due to a series of tiebreakers, which allowed the 8-8 Chargers in, but shut out the 11-5 Patriots.
The revamped Patriots - with Brady back at the helm and Cassel in Kansas City - will try to return to the postseason, but the path will be a difficult one.
After starting off the year playing a retooled Buffalo Bills team featuring Terrell Owens on Monday night in Foxboro, the Patriots play their second division opponent the following week when they go to New Jersey to play the New York Jets. Their next division opponent doesn't show up on the schedule until one Sunday after the week eight bye when New England hosts the Miami Dolphins.
Mixed in before the bye are games against three playoff teams; Atlanta Falcons (week 3), Baltimore Ravens (week 4) Tennessee Titans (week 6). Fortunately those games are in Foxboro. Week 5, the Patriots get to face former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels without Jay Cutler at the helm, in Denver. The other road game in that stretch is the trip over the big pond to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London's Wembley Stadium.
After the Patriots bye and their game against Miami, things get tougher. New England has three road trips - all prime time games - against the Colts (week 10), Saints (week 12) and the Dolphins (week 14). The Saints game is on Monday night while the other two are Sunday night games. Sandwiched in the middle is a division matchup against the Jets in their final meeting of the season (week 11).
The home stretch for New England isn't much easier. The Patriots play a pair of games at home against the Carolina Panthers (week 14) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (week 16) and a pair on the road; at Buffalo (week 15) and at the Houston Texans in the season finale.
Seven games are against a playoff opponents.
Thirteen games are against opponents with .500 or better records
Opponents hold a 151-105 (.590) winning percentage (3rd hhighest for any 2009 schedule)
Four games are in prime time
The prime time opponents held a 38-26 (.593) record in 2008.