Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Patriots coach Bill Belichick talk after the teams played in 2012. The teams will meet again in the 2016 season opener at University of Phoenix Stadium on "Sunday Night Football."
If there was any question about how the Cardinals are viewed as a national product, it was answered with Thursday's release of the 2016 NFL schedule.
The Cardinals will open the season at home on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" against the New England Patriots on Sept. 11, the first time the Patriots will have played against the Cards in Arizona since the franchise moved into University of Phoenix
The Patriots, of course, have already played at University of Phoenix Stadium twice, in Super Bowls. It's a high-profile game on the league's opening weekend.
More proof of the Cardinals' growing reputation is the fact the Patriots' game is the first of four nationally televised regular-season games for the Cards in 2016. The other three come in a row: A Thursday night game in San Francisco Oct. 6, a Monday night game at home against the New York Jets Oct. 17, and then a Sunday night game at home against NFC West rival Seattle Oct. 23.
"The NFL schedule makers, they have really showed us a lot of respect," team president Michael Bidwill said. "They did it last year but again this year. Four nationally televised games, we're in a FOX national doubleheader Week 8 against Carolina, so we're excited."
The Seahawks will also be part of the Cardinals' holiday plans – the Cardinals will play in Seattle on Christmas Eve.
The rematch of the NFC Championship game in Carolina against the Panthers comes Oct. 30.
Like 2015, the Cardinals will begin the season with three of four at home. After the Patriots, the Cards will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sept. 18 and after a trip to Buffalo – which means the Cardinals should avoid the snow with their game against the Bills –NFC West play begins in Arizona against the Rams Oct. 2.
The Thursday game against the Niners starts the TV-game stretch plus the matchup in Carolina. That takes the Cardinals to a bye after eight games.
The second half of the schedule, which features five of eight on the road, starts with a home game against the 49ers Nov. 13. Back-to-back road games in Minnesota and Atlanta bracket Thanksgiving.
There was a possibility of the Cardinals staying back East for a week between games as they did in 2015 with their Greenbrier stay, but with the holidays involved in the lone such back-to-back situation, that may be unlikely.
December begins with a home game against the Redskins Dec. 4, then a game in Miami Dec. 11. The Saints visit University of Phoenix Stadium Dec. 18, before the Christmas Eve game in Seattle. The Cardinals finish the season New Year's Day in Los Angeles against the Rams.
Bidwill said he hoped Cardinals fans would be able to use the holiday weekend at the end of the year to drive to Los Angeles to watch the Cards in that game, adding that he hoped the Arizona State Sun Devils would make the Rose Bowl Jan. 2 so fans could watch both games.
PRESEASON SCHEDULE SET
The previously announced preseason schedule now has set dates. The Cards will host Oakland Aug. 12, play at San Diego Aug. 19, play at Houston Aug. 28 in a nationally televised game on FOX, and close with a home game Sept. 1 against Denver.