The 2017 NFL schedule was released last month, and the New England Patriots have a tough road ahead of them in their quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions. These are the five hardest games standing between the Patriots and another return to the postseason.
5. at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 5)
This could end up being the surprise difficult game of the year. The Bucs are a talented young team on the rise and they could end up making the playoffs in the NFC. Adding to the difficulty is that this is a Thursday night road game. Road games are never easy and adding a short week only amplifies the challenge.
4. vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Week 1)
Kansas City has made the playoffs two straight years thanks to the strength of their defense, and they will provide an immediate test for New England. With all of the Patriots' new pieces, they will need to be clicking all cylinders from day one. The Pats will still be favored, but it won't be an easy win.
3. vs. Atlanta Falcons (Week 7)
The Super Bowl rematch is only No. 3 on this list, in part because it's at home. This will be an extremely tough game for the Patriots, but the Patriots are tough to beat at home. This is a Sunday night matchup.
2. at Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 15)
Talk about a heavyweight fight. Two of the top teams in the AFC could be fighting for playoff positioning in this one and the Steelers have just as many offensive weapons as New England. It's a road game and this will be one of the biggest test for the Patriots' defense before the playoffs.
1. at Oakland Raiders (Week 11)
Both of these final two games could be AFC Championship game previews. The Raiders were thought to be the biggest threat to New England last year before Derek Carr's injury, and that's expected to be the case again if Oakland's young players stay healthy and the defense gets a little bit better. This game could will have an impact on home-field advantage for the playoffs. This game will be played in Mexico.