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FOXBORO MA. – JANUARY 2: New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones is lifted up by David Andrews after throwing a touchdown pass during the 2nd quarter of the game against the ]Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on January 2, 2022 in Foxboro, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

The NFL’s schedule-makers apparently didn’t get the memo that the Patriots are going to struggle to get back to the playoffs this year.

Either that, or they have a huge case of Mac Jones fever, and are smitten with the Patriots’ Griddy-dancing quarterback. They have to be banking on Jones’ appeal to the masses.

Because, after a brief hiatus last year, the Patriots are back to being prime-time darlings.

Jones, whose stature grew after a stellar rookie year, has to have been the prime catalyst for the Patriots landing five prime-time dates on the just released 2022 schedule.

This comes after having just four in 2021, their fewest since 2016. While four nationally-televised games is an average number for most years, it marked a down year for the Patriots, who typically had five or more prime-time dates once the Super Bowl wins started piling up.

It made sense for the Patriots to have fewer prime-time games and not be in the spotlight as much riding without Tom Brady, and also having a losing season in 2020 with Cam Newton.

But they’re back in the spotlight, along with eleven other teams who hit prime-time at least five times in 2022.

Between their playoff appearance — albeit getting blown out by the Bills — and the emergence of Jones, the Patriots are once again a draw.

At least, they are in the eyes of NFL types putting out the schedule.

Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills admitted Thursday during a video call that the players have more than a fleeting interest in finding out about the prime-time games, along with the opponents on the other side.

He won’t be disappointed.

The Patriots have a stretch of four straight nationally-televised night games late in the season coming against the Vikings in Minnesota, the Bills, the Cardinals in Arizona and the Raiders in Las Vegas Weeks 12-15.

The Vikings game is the final one played on Thanksgiving, which is often considered the best game on the slate.

Whatever the case, those four games will be a Murderer’s Row of sorts for the Patriots and a pivotal stretch late in the year. It could be their make-or-break stretch in terms of being in the playoff hunt, or not, before hitting the final three games against the Bengals, Dolphins and Bills.

Their other nationally-televised game comes Week 7 as Jones will square off against fellow 2021 first-round pick Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears in a Monday Night showdown in Foxboro.

So the Patriots are definitely getting big-time exposure on the national stage this season along with other AFC heavyweights such as Kansas City and Buffalo.

Jones is the rising star, and together with Bill Belichick, a head coach who is generally despised outside of New England, the NFL probably figured they’d be a ratings grabber.

SiriusXM NFL analyst Solomon Wilcots agreed when reached by the Herald. He also pointed to Jones being the trigger.

“The second-year quarterback, that’s a big deal,” Wilcots said. “Think about what Joe Burrow did? It’s a copycat league, and I’d say the networks are hedging between Belichick and his genius, and the second-year quarterback thing, you usually make your biggest jump from Year 1 to Year 2.

“Peyton Manning did it. He led the league in interceptions his first year, the next year he was 13-3. Joe Burrow did it … so who was the best of the rookie quarterbacks a year ago? It was Mac.”

There’s also likely a curiosity about exactly who will be doing the play-calling on offense, and how all of that is going to work between Belichick, Matt Patricia, Joe Judge and Nick Caley now that former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is in Las Vegas.

Belichick has already said there wouldn’t be an “offensive coordinator” by name or title. So it remains a mystery how they’re going to help their prize quarterback make the Year 2 leap.

“Who’s calling the plays? Who’s coaching the kid,” ESPN analyst Damien Woody wondered in a recent conversation with the Herald. “There’s a lot of questions about what’s going on in New England.”

All of those will be answered by Week 1’s contest in Miami.

And even with that, Jones might be in the most stable situation outside of Jets second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, and 49ers second-year man Trey Lance, who didn’t see much action his rookie year.

Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence has a new head coach. So does Chicago’s Fields.

“The continuity is there with the Patriots,” said Wilcots. “The continuity isn’t there for Trevor Lawrence, the continuity isn’t there for Justin Fields … but with Jones having that continuity with Belichick, they’re leveraging what they know about a quarterback’s growth spurt from Year 1 to Year 2. If the league was going to bank on any of those quarterbacks, it would be Mac Jones.”

Unlike last year, however, the Patriots didn’t make a big splurge in free agency, not that one was expected. There was some thought the Patriots would give Jones more help, more explosive weapons in his arsenal. In some ways, they have with the addition of DeVante Parker, while shoring up the offensive line and running back room in the draft.

Still, Belichick had plenty of experts shaking their collective heads by seemingly over-drafting his first two picks, guard Cole Strange, and wideout Tiquan Thornton, who were both expected to go much later than the first and second rounds, respectively.

Whatever the case, it sure seems like the NFL once again loves the Patriots. More specifically, they’re infatuated with Mac Jones.

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