After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 en route to their worst finish of the millenium, the New England Patriots decided to bring back quarterback Cam Newton on another one-year deal, despite the 31-year-old having one of his worst passing seasons last year.
They also addressed the situation under center by drafting Mac Jones with the No. 15 overall pick, marking the first quarterback selection in the first round by the team since 1993.
In fairness to the quarterback, though, the Patriots have beefed up their offense in the offseason with an array of free-agent talent. Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry will slot into a group that also includes running back Damien Harris as a headline returner.
The Patriots did their work in the offseason to make themselves more competitive in their second year without Tom Brady, and it's a good thing they did considering the schedule they'll be up against.
Here's a look at what the Patriots will have to face in 2021.
Patriots 2021 Schedule
The Patriots had the NFL's hardest schedule in 2020, according to analysis from CBS Sports' John Breech. Things are different heading into this year, with the team holding the league's 12th-easiest schedule, according to rankings from the NFL released in April.
New England's upcoming opponents posted a .489 winning percentage in 2020.
Luckily for the Patriots, they'll face their toughest opponents at home. While fans will be allowed back into Gillette Stadium for the first time since 2019, the home-field advantage could also be compounded by typical New England weather.
The road slate is significantly easier, with only three teams who posted winning seasons in 2020: the AFC East champion Buffalo Bills, the Miami Dolphins and the Indianapolis Colts. With two of those opponents being division regulars, the new-look Patriots should have little trouble on the road.
All eyes will be on the Week 4 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when Brady returns to New England.
A visit from the defending Super Bowl champions would be appointment viewing regardless, but when the 43-year-old and tight end Rob Gronkowski are on the other side of the line for the first time, things become even more intriguing.
Speaking of homecomings, Newton will get the chance to revisit his former team in Week 9 when New England travels to the Carolina Panthers. The quarterback spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Panthers, who drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011.
New England will also host some of the top rookie quarterbacks, with Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars coming to town in Week 17 and the New York Jets bringing No. 2 pick Zach Wilson along for the ride in Week 7.
Following a rare finish in the bottom half of the AFC East, the inter-division matchups against the Bills and the Dolphins—who finished above them—will take on new meaning for the Patriots in 2021.