Cam Newton

Cam Newton is coming back to the Patriots, and if he is the starter, he will be tested through the first four weeks with the Dolphins, Jets, Saints and Buccaneers. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

All within the first month of the season, the Patriots will confront their past and present before forging their future.

In Week 1, the Patriots and Dolphins will kick off at Gillette Stadium. Under Coach Brian Flores, Miami has remade itself into a disciplined, fundamentally sound team capable of pushing for a playoff spot. Thanks to Flores, a former Patriots assistant, the Dolphins know New England as well as any team in the NFL.

Consequently, they’ve split their last six meetings, and are now viewed as equals in the AFC hierarchy.

Then comes a trip to play the Jets, under the new leadership of head man Robert Saleh and rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. For all their faults, the Jets have annually boasted one of the league’s stingiest run defenses. As have the Saints, scheduled to visit Foxborough in Week 3.

Tom Brady and the Bucs will follow in Week 4, for a Sunday Night Football showdown certain to set regular-season viewing records. The media circus will never, ever have been crazier.

The future will hinge on how the Patriots combat that noise, Brady’s arm and brain, and Tampa Bay’s run defense, No. 1 in the league by yards per carry allowed for two straight years.

Since Brady left in March 2020, the Patriots have rebuilt themselves into a power-running, defensive outfit. They have chosen to zig in an era of prolific passing. Their highest-paid free agents were two tight ends, both capable blockers. More than half of their other additions were front-seven defenders.

In the draft, Belichick traded up for a second-round defensive tackle to add an edge rusher, then opened Day 3 by selecting the the largest running back he’s rostered since taking over.

All of the moves point to power; a plan to overwhelm opponents at the point of attack and bully their way back into contention. The Patriots believe they can rebuild around Cam Newton, the most prolific rushing quarterback of all time.

If they fail in Week 5, against the Texans, it could spell trouble. Like Miami, Houston knows the Patriots’ operations intimately, thanks to General Manager Nick Caserio. Under former interim head coach and Patriots assistant Romeo Crennel, the Texans upset Crennel’s old boss last year in November in a game that shook New England’s playoff hopes.

Houston is the last road trip for three weeks, with scheduled home kickoffs against the Cowboys and Jets to follow.

By Week 8, the Patriots will know who they are, and what they could be. Back-to-back trips to play the Chargers and Panthers should test this identity, with inventive defensive coaches testing their power-running attack. Los Angeles Coach Brandon Staley is among the sharpest in the game, while Carolina defensive coordinator Phil Snow slowed Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees last season.

It’s possible the Patriots will have turned to rookie quarterback Mac Jones at this point, but if not, Newton will surely be seeking some measure of revenge against the Panthers.

Over Weeks 10-12, with the Patriots host the Browns and Titans for 1 p.m. kickoffs around a Thursday Night trip to Atlanta on Nov. 18. That stretch leads into a pivotal Monday night showdown at Buffalo, the first of two games that could march the AFC East further into its new era or turn back the clocks.

The surest sign the Patriots had crossed into new territory last season was getting swept by the Bills, who had never beaten New England twice in a season during the Belichick era. In their last meeting, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen bludgeoned Belichick’s defense over a 38-9 blowout in prime time.

From there, the Patriots will have a bye in Week 14, the latest in the league. Then it’s Indianapolis in mid-December, followed by home games against Buffalo and Jacksonville. It ends at Miami, with potentially everything at stake.

All the way back to the beginning, to those who know them best, to see how far these new Patriots have come.

TOM BRADY SR. certainly has his opinions on Week 4. When the NFL released the schedule on Wednesday night, the biggest matchup of the year was revealed to happen in Week 4 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Gillette Stadium to take on the Patriots.

This game will mark the first time Tom Brady has played against Bill Belichick and the Patriots since signing with Tampa in 2020 and then winning the Super Bowl last season. Although the Brady family will always remember New England for the six Super Bowl championships won, it’s clear they will be rooting for the Buccaneers come Oct. 3.

Brady’s father, Tom Brady Sr., is so pumped up about the matchup that he called into the Zolak and Bertrand radio show in Boston to express his excitement and also talk a little trash.

“Coming back home to Boston, it’s our second home here. The Patriots are our second favorite team,” Brady Sr. said. “It’s a game where we get to root against nobody. We get to root for the Patriots, but our most favorite team, of course, is the Buccaneers, so we expect to beat the Patriots rather handily, frankly.”

The Patriots went 7-9 in their first season without Brady as the starter. Meanwhile, Brady added another Super Bowl ring with the Buccaneers. On top of that, Rob Gronkowski will also be returning for his first game against the Patriots after coming out of retirement and requesting a trade to Tampa Bay.

On Thursday, Brady tweeted about the Patriots matchup, saying “It’s like when your high school friends meet your college friends.” The quarterback might be playing it diplomatic, but his father certainly isn’t.

“I saw the schedule come out last night and I started salivating when I saw that we’re playing the Patriots in the fourth game of the season, and we’re coming up here to make our record 4-0 after the fourth game,” Brady Sr. said. “It’s a pretty fun time.”

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