Mon, 24 Jan 2022

Patriots finalize their 2022 opponents

New England Patriots
10 Jan 2022, 19:34 GMT+10

Erik Scalavino

The 2021 NFL regular season might be over, but New England still has at least one playoff game to look forward to this month. However, with the conclusion of the first-ever 17-game regular season in league history, we now have clarity on where every team ranks in their respective divisions.

This information is vital to identifying the three to-be-determined opponents the Patriots will face during the 2022 regular season. We won't know exactly when they'll play these teams until the dates and times of the entire schedule are established in the spring and unveiled by the league, likely in early May, following the NFL Draft.

In the meantime, armed with the complete list of teams on New England's 2022 itinerary, let's examine in more detail which foes they'll face, where the games will be played (with one potentially overseas), and how the slate is determined.

ANNUAL ACQUAINTANCES: SIX AFC EAST MATCHUPS

Because the National Football League has been utilizing a rotating schedule formula since the last realignment of divisions 20 years ago, the overwhelming majority of each team's opponents are knowable several years in advance. One aspect of the schedule that never changed with the updated formula is the home-and-away series between teams within any given division.

For the Patriots, that means six of their 17 games are guaranteed to be with the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets. New England will host each of their American Football Conference (AFC) East Division partners at Gillette Stadium while also taking road trips to all three.

Eight of the remaining 11 opponents are comprised of two entire divisions - one from each conference - outside the AFC East. These groups are subject to the aforementioned rotating schedule formula, designed to ensure that every NFL club in both the AFC and National Football Conference (NFC) plays each of the other 31 franchises at least once every four years, with the venues alternating between home and away games.

DUE NORTH: A DOUBLE DOSE EQUALS EIGHT

The way the formula worked out this past season, New England faced all four teams from both of the South divisions. In 2022, that quirk will see them take on both the AFC and NFC North teams.

Green Bay might be the most intriguing of these eight opponents at the moment, not simply because it is scheduled to host the Patriots at historic Lambeau Field for the first time since Thanksgiving Weekend 2014. The Packers also currently own the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed, while the future of Most Valuable Player candidate Aaron Rodgers remains the biggest question mark the Pack must answer this coming offseason.

The Patriots also must travel to Minnesota this fall, since, as the rotating schedule formula dictates, the Vikings came to Foxborough last go-round in 2018. Both the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, whom New England visited four years ago, will journey to Gillette in 2022.

Meanwhile, the rotating schedule formula also applies on the AFC North side. The Bengals and Ravens must venture up to Massachusetts because the Patriots played in Cincinnati and Baltimore three seasons ago, when New England last faced that entire division. As a result, the Patriots are bound for Cleveland and Pittsburgh in 2022 after having hosted the Browns and Steelers during the '19 season.

SOUTH-WEST TRIO DETERMINED

All three of the remaining opponents are slotted in part based on the final division standings of 2021. Thus, we had to wait until Week 18 completely wrapped up before knowing for certain which teams they'd be.

What we already knew was that two of the three final Patriots opponents of 2022 would come from each of the two AFC divisions that New England doesn't face in their entirety. In this case, that's the South and West, and the venues from three years ago will flip-flop.

As a result, in 2022, the Patriots will host (because they played in Houston in 2019) their AFC South opponent, the second-place Indianapolis Colts and travel (since Kansas City came to Gillette in 2019) to face their West opponent, the Las Vegas Raiders. This will mark New England's first-ever trip to Las Vegas, which kicked its way into the playoffs with an overtime thriller over the Chargers. Had the Chargers won that game, the Patriots would have been headed to L.A. in 2022.

Finally, with the advent of a 17th game on the regular season schedule this past season, that spot is the third and final TBD matchup and also subject to the rotating schedule formula. For the Patriots, the opponent will always come from the NFC, with the division and location changing from year to year.

In 2022, the Patriots are the road team for the 17th game and will visit the playoff-bound Arizona Cardinals, who finished in second place in the NFC West, the same position in their division as New England did in the AFC East. The Patriots last paid a visit to Phoenix in 2016.

Having a pair of road games in the southwest, New England might request that those games be scheduled in consecutive weeks, so they can spend the time in between training somewhere in the area rather than fly back to the East Coast on separate occasions. They've successfully petitioned the league for this in the past, most recently in 2020, when they had back-to-back games in Los Angeles and stayed in the city for a week.

A DATE IN DEUTSCHLAND?

In 2021, the National Football League declared its intention to expand its popular International Series of regular season games, currently in London and Mexico City, into Germany. Three German cities are under consideration to play host to future International Series games, possibly as early as 2022.

Furthermore, league officials unveiled an initiative called home marketing areas (HMA), where teams assigned to a specific international country or countries are granted exclusive rights to promote their franchises in those places. New England is one of four NFL clubs designated for Germany (Carolina, Kansas City, and Tampa Bay being the others).

For years prior to this announcement, the Patriots had been establishing a solid fan-base foundation in Germany, giving them a head-start on their competitors in this regard. With the league-sanctioned HMA now in hand, the Patriots have positioned themselves to be leading candidates to play one of the first NFL regular season games in Germany, either this coming season or in years to come.

New England last took part in the International Series when it defeated the then-Oakland Raiders in Mexico City in 2017. The Patriots have previously notched regular season victories in London over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2009) and then-St. Louis Rams (2012).

Even if the Patriots remain Stateside in 2022, the list of teams they'll face is enticing. Stay tuned for the full schedule release later this year.

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