The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots will enter this season with the challenge of replacing tight end Rob Gronkowski, a four-time first-team All-Pro who retired after nine seasons.

Gronkowski was part of the Pats’ Super Bowl-winning teams in 2014, 2016 and 2018 and looks like a surefire Pro Football Hall of Famer someday. His impact can’t be understated.

However, head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have been part of 10 AFC champions, with six Super Bowl wins. It’s unwise to doubt the Pats even with one of their best players no longer in the mix.

The Pats enter the season as Super Bowl favorites at 6-1 odds, per Vegas Insider, so the sportsbooks have some faith.

The schedule won’t be easy, though, with some tough games on the ledger.

Patriots Schedule 2019

Week 1 (Sunday, Sept. 8): vs Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)

Week 2 (Sunday, Sept. 15): vs Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Week 3 (Sunday, Sept. 22): vs NY Jets, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Week 4 (Sunday, Sept. 29): vs Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Week 5 (Sunday, Oct. 6): vs Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Week 6 (Thursday, Oct. 10): vs NY Giants, 8:20 p.m. ET (Fox, NFL Network and Amazon)

Week 7 (Monday, Oct. 21): vs New York Jets, 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Week 8 (Sunday, Oct. 27): vs Cleveland Browns, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)

Week 9 (Sunday, Nov. 3): vs Baltimore Ravens, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)

Week 10: BYE

Week 11 (Sunday, Nov. 17): vs Philadelphia Eagles, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)

Week 12 (Sunday, Nov. 24): vs Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox)

Week 13 (Sunday, Dec. 1): vs Houston Texans, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)

Week 14 (Sunday, Dec. 8): vs KC Chiefs, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)

Week 15 (Sunday, Dec. 15): vs Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Week 16 (Saturday, Dec. 21 or Sunday, Dec. 22): vs Buffalo Bills, time TBD (TV TBD)

Week 17 (Sunday, Dec. 29): vs Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Analysis

Here’s the good news: The Pats once again play six games against the AFC East, a division in which they have amassed a 76-20 record since 2003. The East doesn’t look formidable this year, with Vegas Insider listing the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins in the bottom 11 of the Super Bowl odds ledger.

Here’s the bad news: The rest of the schedule is brutal, most notably between Weeks 8 and 14.

A rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs, who finished 12-4 and went blow-for-blow in two games versus the Pats last season, awaits in Week 14.

Seven days earlier, New England will travel to Houston and face the tough Texans, who won the AFC South with an 11-5 mark. A Super Bowl LII rematch with the Philadelphia Eagles and a contest with the potentially explosive Cleveland Browns offense also loom. Games against the Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys, who both won their divisions last year, round out the stretch.

Still, the Pats have won 10 or more games every year since 2003 for two main reasons, and they’re both still with the team. Expect another good season until we see otherwise.

Matchups

Patriots vs Chiefs

If the two Patriots-Chiefs matchups last season are any indication, then we’re going to see plenty of points and a game that goes down to the wire.

The Pats held serve against the Chiefs at home, 43-40, in the regular season before taking down Kansas City, 37-31, in overtime in the AFC Championship Game.

Both games were among the most entertaining fans saw all season, and there’s little reason to believe that trend will change this year. Furthermore, this game could have massive implications for playoff seeding, and the December date only amplifies the drama as the playoffs draw near.

Patriots vs Cowboys

The dynasty of the 1990s faces off against the dynasty of the 2000s and 2010s in what could potentially be a Super Bowl preview.

The promising Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East with a 10-6 record and reached the NFC Divisional Round.

Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith broke through last season, and Cowboys wideout Amari Cooper proved to be a perfect fit for the Dallas offense as its No. 1 receiver. They’re all back this season and could give the Pats a stiff test.

Patriots vs Browns

You can cue a litany of “passing the torch” storylines prior to this game.

The Cleveland Browns are a candidate to take over as the next dynasty whenever the Patriots’ current one is finished.

Second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield looks to improve upon an exciting rookie season in which he led Cleveland to a 7-7 record under his command after the team won just one game in the previous two years combined.

Now the Browns have superstar wideout Odell Beckham Jr., who the New York Giants traded this offseason. The five-year veteran has amassed 1,000 or more receiving yards in four seasons.

This could be one of the more exciting late-afternoon games on the 2019 NFL slate.