Something is ominous about the 2021 New England Patriots schedule.
There’s a lot, maybe six or seven opponents, to be mad about if you’re Bill Belichick. and a few other Patriots, too.
Sort of a Revenge Tour.
Yes, like the one in 2007, the season after Bill Belichick was “nailed” by the NFL for the Spygate Scandal, which was started by his former protégé, Eric Mangini, then with the Jets.
There was a theory that Belichick had an enemy’s list of those who publicly questioned the Patriots’ three Super Bowl wins and were going to make them pay.
The Patriots won their first 10 games by an average of 25+ points.
After that, the revenge apparently wore off and the wins were just wins.
This season has some teams that no doubt Belichick & Co. have circled. But guess what? There are teams that will be circling the Patriots, too.
Revenge, they say, is best when served cold. Well, we got about 10 servings this fall and early winter.
Miami, Sept. 12 @Miami, Jan. 9
Belichick has had issues with his former assistant Brian Flores. The Dolphins, then 4-11, win over the Patriots in the finale of 2019, 27-24, dropped Pats from No. 2 (and bye) to No. 3 and Wild Card, which they lost to the Tennessee Titans in Tom Brady’s last game. Last year, the Dolphins beat the Patriots in late December in an ugly, 22-12 game in which Tua Tagovailoa ran two fourth quarter TDs. It left a bad taste in Belichick’s mouth, though, in the end, helped the Patriots eventually get Mac Jones at No. 15 overall. There’s another guy in the mix, Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who was released by the Dolphins after paying him $15M for one year. He felt shunned. As for their finale on Jan. 9, winning in Miami is difficult every year and Belichick is very tired of that (truthful) narrative. That’s on the “revenge docket” too.
Tampa Bay, Oct. 3
Captain Obvious reporting for duty. Here’s my guess: Belichick has been working on this game plan, privately, since last February, maybe before he goes to bed. This is the Brady vs. Belichick game that will no doubt be the most watched regular season game in NFL history. Almost like a Super Bowl. Trust me on this one, the Bucs will be favored but the Bucs will also get Belichick’s best. These two, some day, will have beers together and thank each other. Not now. Not in 2021. Too soon.
Dallas, Oct. 17
The Patriots really don’t have anything against the Cowboys, other than the fact they own them. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have a bone to pick … at least their defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn, does. Quinn was the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons when the Patriots overcame that 28-3, late-third-quarter deficit in the Super Bowl to win in overtime. Quinn’s stock collapsed like the Internet stocks did in 1999. Quinn’s teams won 10, 7, 7 and 4 games before being let go in 2020
@L.A. Chargers, Oct. 31
Justin Herbert won NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award for his play in 15 games last year. There was one game he would rather not remember … until this upcoming Halloween. Herbert was embarrassed many times over by Belichick and the Patriots, 45-0. Herbert was abysmal, throwing two interceptions and getting harassed all game (sacked three times). Herbert went on to win his last four games after that loss. This will be a tough, tough game for the Patriots.
@Carolina, Nov. 7
The Panthers are one team that has caused Belichick and the Patriots a bit of a problem the last two decades. If you count the Patriots Super Bowl win nearly 18 years ago, the teams are 3-3 in Belichick’s reign. This is a winnable game and Belichick doesn’t want to hear about “problems with the Panthers” if they lose again and drop to 2-4 in regular season games. This is a “quiet” revenge game, which the Patriots should do well in as the Panthers new QB is ex-Jets dud Sam Darnold. The Patriots know him well. But their second-year coach, Matt Ruhle, is an outside-the-box coach and will probably make it interesting.
@Atlanta, Nov. 18
This will be huge for the Falcons, which will be in rebuild-mode. This will be for the fans, which despise having to hear about this game. It’s their “It gets through Buckner” game that will never be forgotten until they win a championship.
Tennessee, Nov. 28
This is going to be treated as a mini-playoff tilt for Belichick. His former star defensive end, who was turned into a cult hero of sorts by Belichick when he signed him as a free agent in 2001. Vrabel, who’s been a finalist in the Pats Hall of Fame the last five years, has been a thorn in Belichick’s side as a coach. The Patriots have suffered two debilitating losses to Vrabel’s Titans, 34-10 whipping in 2018, followed by a 20-13 Wild Card loss in January of 2020, which ended up being Brady’s last game. Vrabel has gone out of his way to rub it in a bit, too, with over-the-top celebrations in both wins over his former coach. Remember, his exodus from the Patriots as a player wasn’t pretty either. Belichick, I’m guessing, has this as his No. 2 game, behind the Brady matchup. Do you think Belichick wants to go 0-3 against Vrabel?
@Indianapolis, Dec. 19
This game seems vanilla-like , right? The Colts are no threat, right? Think again. There are “revenge” issues in play. Head coach Frank Reich was the offensive coordinator in the Eagles incredible offensive game in the Super Bowl win over the Patriots. He, along with head coach Doug Pederson, got a lot of credit for attacking the Patriots defense, which was abysmal that evening. Belichick will be ready for this one, trust me. The other key factor is Josh McDaniels, who turned down the head job at Indy after it was offered. Colts GM Chris Ballard, at a press conference announcing McDaniels’ decision, said “The rivalry is back on.”
Buffalo, Dec. 26
I do not have the first matchup, on Monday, Dec. 6 at Buffalo, included because the Bills should win that game. If the Patriots are the team I believe they’ll be, this game will mean something. But I believe the Bills will be too good under these circumstances, in Buffalo. The game three weeks later in Foxborough is a different story altogether. Belichick doesn’t like/appreciate getting swept by a team … two years in a row.
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.