Patriots

NFL strength of schedule rankings 2019: Did the Patriots get a gift?

NFL strength of schedule rankings 2019: Did the Patriots get a gift?

The NFL strives for parity. So, there's no way they'd give the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots one of the easiest schedules in the league this season, right?

Well...

The NFL's full 2019 schedule came out Wednesday night, and if you use opponents' 2018 win percentage as your gauge, the Patriots actually have the second-easiest schedule in the league this year.

Here's the full list, ranked from hardest (highest opponent win percentage) to easiest (lowest opponent win percentage) schedule:

1. Oakland Raiders (.539)
2. Denver Broncos (.537)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (.531)
4. Houston Texans (.527)
T-5. Chicago Bears (.520)
T-5. Kansas City Chiefs (.520)
T-7. Indianapolis Colts (.518)
T-7. Atlanta Falcons (.518)
9. Tennessee Titans (.514)
10. Minnesota Vikings (.512)
11. San Francisco 49ers (.510)
T-12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (.508)
T-12. Arizona Cardinals (.508)
T-14. Green Bay Packers (.504)
T-14. Dallas Cowboys (.504)
T-16. Carolina Panthers (.502)
T-16. Los Angeles Chargers (.502)
18. Miami Dolphins (.500)
T-19. Pittsburgh Steelers (.496)
T-19. Baltimore Ravens (.496)
T-19. Detroit Lions (.496)
22. New Orleans Saints (.488)
23. Cleveland Browns (.484)
24. Buffalo Bills (.480)
25. Seattle Seahawks (.479)
26. Philadelphia Eagles (.477)
T-27. Cincinnati Bengals (.473)
T-27. New York Jets (.473)
T-27. New York Giants (473)
T-27. Los Angeles Rams (.473)
T-27. New England Patriots (.473)
32. Washington Redskins (.469)

Before Patriots haters accuse the NFL of playing favorites, New England's cushy schedule is mostly the product of good fortune. Each NFL division matches up with a full AFC and NFC division every year, and the AFC East drew the AFC North and NFC East this season, meaning the Patriots get to face models of futility like the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals.

It also helps that New England plays in one of the worst divisions in football; the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills all had sub-.500 records in 2018 and show no real signs of improvement.

Of course, past results don't necessarily predict future performance, as the revamped Cleveland Browns won't be the 7-8-1 club it was last year.

It's still a pretty good barometer, though, so Patriots fans can take extra pleasure in seeing the AFC rival Kansas City Chiefs in the top five of hardest schedules.

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Patriots Talk Podcast: Training camp position battles to watch

Patriots Talk Podcast: Training camp position battles to watch

Finally, the New England Patriots are back on the field at Gillette Stadium.

The new-look Pats had their first practice of 2020 on Wednesday, which means training camp position battles are officially underway. The obvious position battle in camp will be at the quarterback position between Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham, but there are many more intriguing battles to keep an eye on.

In a brand new Patriots Talk Podcast, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry break down the positions where these battles will take place.

Patriots Talk Podcast - Training Camp Preview: Burning Questions. Bold Predictions | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

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Perry named the Patriots' three most notable position battles, starting with the QB position. While it's technically a battle between Newton and Stidham, some believe it's a foregone conclusion Newton will be the Week 1 starter.

"You have the quarterback spot with Cam vs. Stidham. Let's move past that, we've talked enough about that, we both think Cam is going to win the job. Not a real battle, per se," Perry said.

"Let's go back to the outside linebackers. This is a four-way cage match between Chase Winovich, Anfernee Jennings, Shilique Calhoun, and Brandon Copeland. My guy is going to be Anfernee Jennings, but I do think that's a battle. Whatever that opposite John Simon edge spot is called, somebody's got to fill it.

"Number three, let's talk special teams ... who is your returner? Is it Kyle Dugger, your first draft pick in this year's draft? Is it J.J. Taylor? Fun as hell to watch, would be fun as hell to watch in the kicking game. Or is it last year's guy, Gunner [Olszewski]? They don't want to give it to Julian Edelman, we know that, so one of those three guys I think will win it."

For Curran, it's a newly-added safety who will have his attention in camp.

"I'm going to head over to the secondary for the position battle that I'm interested to watch," Curran said. "I have a good feeling of who's going to shine there and it's my defensive dark horse for this camp and this season -- it's going to be Adrian Phillips at the safety spot holding off a young Kyle Dugger.

"I think Adrian Phillips is going to be an absolute eye-opener at the safety position ... Adrian Phillips is a talented player, he's closer to [Patrick] Chung than he is Devin McCourty. He's going to be a really good player for the Patriots this year. But I'm going to be real interested to see how Dugger competes ... he's an athletic unicorn."

Curran and Perry also discuss the burning questions surrounding the Patriots, why the Pats should explore using the triple option, bold predictions for the 2020 season, and much more.

Check out the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or on YouTube.

Patriots' 2020 draft pick Dustin Woodard retires before rookie season

Patriots' 2020 draft pick Dustin Woodard retires before rookie season

One of the New England Patriots' 2020 draft picks has decided to retire before his rookie season began.

The team announced Thursday it has placed offensive lineman Dustin Woodard on the reserve/retired list.

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Woodard, who played college football at the University of Memphis, was selected by the Patriots in the seventh round (230th overall) of April's draft. The 22-year-old center/guard was one of three offensive linemen taken by the Patriots in the 2020 draft, along with guard Michael Onwenu (sixth round) and tackle Justin Herron (sixth round).

Why is Woodard retiring? ESPN's Mike Reiss reported additional details:

The Patriots signed center Tyler Gauthier on Wednesday in a move that adds some depth to the position following Woodard's retirement. Woodard had a chance to make the roster as the backup center behind starter David Andrews.