With the end of one season, what else to do but . . . look ahead to the next?
Yes, yes, there's the little matter of the playoffs -- and a possible trip to Houston for Super Bowl 51 -- still to come. But the Patriots' 2017 schedule, at least in terms of who they're playing and where they'll play them, is set. And here it is:
PATRIOTS 35, DOLPHINS 14
- First impressions: Edelman helps Pats nail down No. 1 seed
- Tom E. Curran's Best and Worst
- Blount on Suh: 'He's always been a dirty player
- For Bennett, Pats' winning ways 'like having sex for first time'
(Quick aside: It was actually set last week, when the Texans and Steelers clinched their respective divisions.)
HOME: Buffalo, Miami, N.Y. Jets, Kansas City, San Diego, Atlanta, Carolina, Houston
AWAY: Buffalo, Miami, N.Y. Jets, Denver, Oakland, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh
(Italics: Team qualified for playoff this year.)
There can be no complaints about a soft schedule this time around. The Pats are playing six 2016 playoff teams next year, and two other opponents (Carolina and Denver) were in the Super Bowl in 2015.
The Pats' out-of-division foes are from the AFC West and NFC South (in addition to the division champs from the AFC North and AFC South), which explains why they're playing the Broncos in the regular season for the seventh straight year, and the ninth time in 10 years. Normally both New England and Denver win their respective divisions, which makes them automatic opponents the following season, but next year it's because their divisions are slated to meet.
One interesting note: If the Chargers follow through on their rumored move to Los Angeles, the Pats will play an L.A. team for the second straight year. They played the Rams, who moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles in the 2015-16 offseason, last month.