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Crystal ball: Projecting the upcoming NFL schedule

NFL Draft

FILE – In this Feb. 4, 2018, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady warms up before the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis. Brady, the centerpiece of the New England Patriots’ championship dynasty over the past two decades, appears poised to leave the only football home he has ever had. The 42-year-old six-time Super Bowl winner posted Tuesday, March 17, 2020, on social media “my football journey will take place elsewhere.” The comments were the first to indicate the most-decorated player in NFL history would leave New England. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Besides the draft, the other big event on April’s NFL calendar is the release of the regular-season schedule. Teams have known their opponents since late December, but Howard Katz and his scheduling department continue to parse through over 50,000 scenarios pumped out by nearly 1,500 computers across the world.

Now that most of the significant free agency moves have taken place, here are some AP projections (suggestions?) on how we see some of the significant scheduling questions being answered:

KICKING IT OFF

The easiest choice to oppose Kansas City during the Sept. 10 kickoff game would be New England because it would be the Patriots’ first game without Tom Brady since early in 2001. But three of the last seven opening games have been playoff rematches. If that trend continues it could be Houston.

New stadiums usually get the Sunday night treatment in Week 2, but with two facilities opening this season, does Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium get its debut on opening weekend? Or does it go to Las Vegas?

With the new coronavirus pandemic possibly leading to delays in LA and Las Vegas, the league could play it safe and show off both in Week 2. If that is the case, Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay debut at home against Drew Brees and New Orleans would be prime-time gold for the opening Sunday.

If the Rams are at home on Sept. 13, don’t be surprised if they are facing Dallas as a thank you gift to Stan Kroenke,

The “Monday Night Football” doubleheader on opening weekend has always been the most difficult, especially the early game. If the Rams are at home on Sunday night, ESPN could then get Brady’s debut. The early MNF game has been an interconference matchup three of the last four seasons. Because the Chiefs are instantly ruled out, that leaves the Chargers at Tampa. The late game usually trends toward an AFC West matchup, but it should go NFC West this year with conference champion San Francisco facing Arizona.

VIVA LAS VEGAS

The Raiders’ new home in Las Vegas should get a prime-time debut in Week 2 either on Sunday or Monday night. The intriguing opponents would be Denver (division game), Tampa Bay (if the Bucs don’t get a prime-time slot in Week 1), or Indianapolis, featuring longtime Raiders foe Philip Rivers, who signed with the Colts after 16 seasons with the Chargers.

PRIME-TIME BUCS

Brady’s arrival all of a sudden boosts Tampa Bay’s stock as a prime-time commodity. The Bucs last Sunday night appearance was in 2016 when their game against Dallas was flexed. They haven’t had Sunday and Monday night games in the same season since 2008. But this could be the first time in 17 years Tampa Bay gets four prime-time games.

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