Welcome to a new era of New England Patriots football, where the regular season actually matters.
Two decades with Tom Brady under center meant Patriots fans only had to worry about two things: whether the Patriots would get a first-round playoff bye, and who they'd face in the AFC Championship Game.
But that will likely change in 2020, as second-year (former?) backup Jarrett Stidham leads a rebuilding team that may be challenged to even reach the playoffs.
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The silver lining? Each regular season game should be a lot more interesting in 2020 as the Patriots battle to remain relevant.
Since we already know who New England will play and where -- we should get the full schedule by May 9 -- let's break down each of the team's 16 games in 2020, beginning with what should be the easiest matchup and ending with its toughest test.
16. vs. New York Jets
Intrigue Rating (scale of 1 to 10): 2
Sure, it's an divisional matchup, but the Jets are still in rebuild mode after taking massive offensive tackle Mehki Becton among its nine picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. Their offense is still a major work in progress, so this should be a low-scoring affair.
Storyline to watch: Can the Patriots' defense spook Sam Darnold?
The last time Darnold faced the Patriots, he saw ghosts. Several "Boogeymen" are no longer in New England, though, so you can bet the 22-year-old QB will be out for revenge.
Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 21, Jets 10
This isn't going to be a pretty game to watch. New England edges the Jets at home on the strength of its defense.
15. at New York Jets
Intrigue Rating: 1
See above. The Jets occasionally have given New England problems in the Meadowlands, but don’t expect this game to be on prime-time television.
Storyline to watch: Will Jarrett Stidham benefit from extra "experience" vs. the Jets?
Stidham appeared in three games last season. Two were against the Jets, and he got yanked in one of them after throwing an interception. Stidham has a score to settle here, too.
Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 17, Jets 13
This should be another ugly contest, but Bill Belichick relies on the run game and defense (expect to see plenty of that) to grind out a win. He hates losing to the Jets.
14. at Los Angeles Chargers
Intrigue Rating: 4
Depending on when in the season this game is, the Chargers could have Justin Herbert under center, giving the Patriots a chance to see what they passed up in the No. 6 overall pick.
Storyline to watch: Can the Patriots’ offensive line protect Stidham?
The Chargers are mediocre, but they have two premier pass-rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Assuming Patriots tackles Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon are healthy, they’ll have their hands full in this one.
Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 24, Chargers 17
West Coast road games are no picnic, but we can't see a Chargers offense without Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon scoring enough points to win this one.
13. vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Intrigue Rating: 3
This game would have a lot more juice if it was in Vegas. Still, the Patriots haven't played the Raiders since 2017 and will get a look at young offensive weapons Josh Jacobs and Henry Ruggs.
Storyline to watch: How fast is this Patriots defense?
The Raiders prioritized speed with Ruggs, who ran a blazing 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and the Patriots' secondary have wheels, but they're not getting any younger.
Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 27, Raiders 21
The Raiders haven't beaten New England since 2002. The Patriots aren't going 12-4 this season, but there still are plenty of worse teams in the AFC, and Las Vegas is one of them.
12. vs. Miami Dolphins
Intrigue Rating: 6
Foxboro South comes to Foxboro, as Patriots cast-offs Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Ted Karras get a crack at their former club under ex-Patriots assistant Brian Flores. Oh, and Tua Tagovailoa could start in this game, which would be awesome.
Storyline to watch: Is Tua the heir apparent in Miami?
You heard the rumblings about the Patriots' pre-draft interest in Tagovailoa. There's a chance he's not starting at this point, but if he is, it will be fascinating to see if he's the real deal.
Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 21, Dolphins 14
Miami beat New England in New England last year for the first time since 2008. Bill Belichick won't let that happen two seasons in a row, as teacher defeats pupil.
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11. at Los Angeles Rams
Intrigue Rating: 5
The Rams' stock is plunging, but it'll be the first meeting since Super Bowl LIII, and they'll be playing in the brand-new SoFi Stadium, assuming it opens on time.
Storyline to watch: How hard are the Rams tanking?
Todd Gurley was just part of a Rams fire sale that included Brandin Cooks, Clay Matthews and Dante Fowler Jr. Can they tread water in 2020 after going 9-7 last season -- or will they sink to the bottom?
Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 30, Rams 21
This Rams defense ain’t what it used to be. Stidham and the offense find their groove in L.A. to hit the 30-point threshold for the first time in the post-Brady era.
10. vs. Denver Broncos
Intrigue Rating: 5
The Broncos are another team the Patriots don't see much these days (last meeting: 2017), and they have a pretty exciting wide receiver group after drafting Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler.
Storyline to watch: Did John Elway find his franchise quarterback ... or Brock Osweiler 2.0?
Drew Lock is one of just four AFC starting quarterbacks (Stidham included) who isn't a first-round pick. The Broncos apparently think he's the real deal, but a trip to New England to face Belichick will be a steep challenge.
Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 20, Broncos 17
We'll take the experienced head coach over the young QB. The Patriots ride their defense to another home win despite Denver limiting Stidham and Co. to just two touchdowns.
9. at Miami Dolphins
Intrigue Rating: 6
The Patriots' annual visit to Miami is usually late in the season, and this time around, there actually could be a playoff berth on the line for New England.
Storyline to watch: Will the Patriots' Miami woes continue in the post-Brady era?
The Patriots have won in just two of their previous seven trips to Miami. Will that trend continue in the Stidham era, or can the young QB somehow find success where the GOAT failed?
Way-too-early prediction: Dolphins 27, Patriots 21
The Dolphins are too young and hungry (and have too many former Patriots) to get swept by their now-vulnerable AFC East rival. Make that six losses in New England's last eight trips to Miami.
8. at Houston Texans
Intrigue Rating: 5
Time to find out just how dumb the Texans are for replacing Carlos Hyde and DeAndre Hopkins with David Johnson and Brandin Cooks. At least Cooks is a familiar face for Patriots fans.
Storyline to watch: Deshaun Watson's mood
Yes, the Texans picked up Watson's fifth-year option, but he can't be happy with Houston trading away his top receiver, and there's been some scuttlebutt that he could be a future Patriot. Might Bill Belichick give him a wink during their postgame handshake?
Way-too-early prediction: Texans 28, Patriots 24
The Texans snapped an eight-game losing streak against New England last December, and their defense is solid enough to keep Stidham and the Patriots offense in check.
7. vs. Arizona Cardinals
Intrigue Rating: 8
Kyler Murray, Kenyan Drake and DeAndre Hopkins in a Kliff Kingsbury-run offense? Yeah, we'll watch this one. Oh, and Chandler Jones gets his first crack at his old teammates since the teams' last meeting in 2016.
Storyline to watch: Will the Cardinals actually be good in 2020?
The Cardinals made moves this offseason by lucking into Hopkins and drafting talented linebacker Isaiah Simmons at No. 8 overall. Their offense looks stacked on paper, but New England's stout defense will be a great litmus test.
Way-too-early prediction: Cardinals 31, Patriots 23
The Patriots' secondary keeps Hopkins in check, but Drake gashes New England in the run game as the Cardinals squeeze out a road win.
6. vs. Buffalo Bills
Intrigue Rating: 7
Josh Allen finally has a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Stefon Diggs, and you know the Bills are eager for revenge after Brady held them back for so many years.
Storyline to watch: Is there a new bully in the AFC East?
Everyone is predicting Buffalo to dethrone New England in the division (including some Buffalo players). Will the Patriots allow the Bills to come into Foxboro and push them around, or will they rally behind the challenge?
Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 21, Bills 17
The Bills are the better team, but we just can't see them sweeping the season series (more on that in a second) against Belichick's club. The Patriots pull off one of their "How did they do that?" wins.
5. at Buffalo Bills
Intrigue Rating: 7
See above, but with the added juice of 70,000 raucous Bills fans (assuming fans are allowed at games, that is) jumping down the Patriots' throats at every miscue.
Storyline to watch: How will Stidham handle a hostile environment?
Buffalo will be the toughest place Stidham will play in 2020. We know Brady was ice-cool when it was so loud his offense couldn't hear him; what about a 23-year-old kid?
Way-too-early prediction: Bills 21, Patriots 10
New England's defense holds its own, but Stidham and the offense just can't get anything going against Buffalo's stout D.
4. at Seattle Seahawks
Intrigue Rating: 7
Allegiances aside, Russell Wilson is one of the most exciting QBs in football to watch. Oh, and you know Pete Carroll still thinks about Belichick staring him down in the final seconds of Super Bowl XLIX...
Storyline to watch: Can the Patriots' defense contain an elite QB?
The last time Wilson faced the Patriots (2016), he racked up 348 passing yards and three TDs. New England lost important box defenders Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts this offseason, so containing Wilson could be a challenge.
Way-too-early prediction: Seahawks 28, Patriots 17
Seattle doesn't lose many home games, and we can't see Stid the Kid leading the Patriots to an upset of one of the NFC's stronger teams.
3. vs. Baltimore Ravens
Intrigue Rating: 8
The Ravens haven't won a regular-season game in Foxboro in the Belichick era. You'd best believe they have their first game against the Brady-less Patriots circled on their calendar. Oh, and there are few QBs more exciting than Wilson. Lamar Jackson is one of them.
Storyline to watch: Can the Patriots even stay on the field with an elite team?
These are uncharted waters for the Patriots, who no longer feel like a team to beat. But can they even remain competitive against the class of the AFC? Matchups like this one could determine how far New England has fallen without Brady.
Way-too-early prediction: Ravens 31, Patriots 14
Our answer to the above question: No. Even if Belichick devises a plan to limit Jackson, Baltimore's other weapons like running back Mark Ingram and speedy wideout Marquise Brown should find success. And there's no way the Patriots score more than two touchdowns.
2. vs. San Francisco 49ers
Intrigue Rating: 10
Welcome back, Jimmy G! Jimmy Garoppolo's first game against his old team is in the House That Tom Brady Built. Time to see what could have been, Patriots fans.
Storyline to watch: A tale of two succession plans
Garoppolo was supposed to be Brady's heir apparent. Four years later, that successor looks like Stidham. So, how wide is the gap between the two ex-Brady backups?
Way-too-early prediction: 49ers 28, Patriots 13
Don't let the QB storyline distract you from the fact that San Francisco is a very good football team. Garoppolo tosses a couple TD passes and the 49ers put the clamps on Stidham to cruise to victory.
1. at Kansas City Chiefs
Intrigue Rating: 9
Patrick Mahomes vs. Jarrett Stidham doesn't quite have the same juice as Mahomes vs. Brady, but this is still your chance to see the defending Super Bowl champions in these teams' second matchup since the 2018 AFC Championship Game.
Storyline to watch: How wide is the gap between the Patriots and the top of the AFC?
Kansas City is the prohibitive favorite to win the AFC and return to the Super Bowl, so New England should stand no chance at Arrowhead Stadium. But if the Patriots hang around, there's a moral victory to be had here.
Way-too-early prediction: Chiefs 35, Patriots 17
Yeah, the Patriots stand no chance in this one. Mahomes does his thing as the Chiefs remind the Patriots there's a new king of the AFC.