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Path back to the Super Bowl for Patriots, Seahawks

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One version of the Super Bowl "curse" involves how difficult it becomes for teams to repeat as champions -- often referred to as the Super Bowl hangover.

The last team to cure that hangover happens to be the one stepping to the plate: The New England Patriots.

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have scaled almost every NFL Mountain, including the elusive back-to-back titles, which came in 2003 and 2004. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the only NFL franchise to win back-to-back Super Bowls twice (1974-75, 1978-79).

The path back for the losing team appears even more daunting. While the Seattle Seahawks became the first team since the '04 Pats to return to back-to-back Super Bowls, they are climbing a steeper hill against history this season. Not since the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII and XXVIII has a losing team returned to the championship game -- that is also the last time a team made three straight Super Bowls.

In a sport in which parity reigns, returning to the scene of glory is an intimidating task. With the schedule newly released, let's take a look at the path each of our squads must take in 2015:

Patriots' path to repeating

With Belichick running the show and Brady under center, the Patriots will remain favorites in the AFC East and to return to the AFC Championship Game. Still, their roster turnover provides plenty of question marks, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

The schedule makers did the Pats a favor by kicking off the season with New England facing a likely Le'Veon Bell-less Pittsburgh Steelers. Bell is the most versatile running back in the NFL and not having to scheme for him will take some pressure off the Pats' defense. Yet, facing Ben Roethlisberger while trying to revamp a secondary is no picnic.

The Pats then face Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills on the road. While with the Jets, Ryan gave Brady some of his toughest games, and he will steer another dominating front. New England can struggle in Western New York at times, but facing Ryan early -- while he's still getting to know his personnel -- is another nice break for the defending champs.

An early Week 4 bye precedes visits to 2014 playoff teams in the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts, the latter being a rematch of the AFC championship.

The Patriots' toughest stretch will come during a November-December swing that sees them face Ryan a second time, travel to Denver to face Peyton Manning, host Chip Kelly's Eagles and visit J.J. Watt's Houston Texans.

The AFC East spent its offseason stockpiling assets to knock the Pats off their pedestal so it won't be an easy path to repeat for Belichick and Brady. Then again, it never is.

Seahawks' route to returning

Pete Carroll's squad will continue to boast one of the best secondary units, despite it being pilfered yearly. Adding Jimmy Graham as a red-zone target for Russell Wilson solidified the Seahawks' most glaring offensive need. The combo will put Seattle as a favorite with the Green Bay Packers to come out of the NFC and to reach a third-consecutive Super Bowl.

The path, however, is cluttered with rocks and boulders.

Seattle begins their road with back-to-back away games to start the season: at St. Louis, where the Seahawks haven't played well recently, and into Green Bay, where the Packers are seething from the NFC championship loss.

Prior to a Week 9 bye, Carroll's squad will take on five teams that made the playoffs in 2014 (at Packers, vs. Lions, at Bengals, vs. Panthers, at Cowboys). Squeezed in is also a Thursday night matchup with rival San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara. That's five road games in eight to open up the schedule.

Coming out of the bye is another tough stretch, but luckily the Seahawks face the Cardinals, 49ers and Steelers at home during that run.

The back end of the schedule is lighter, with the Browns and the Rams in Week 15 and 16, which could be pivotal if the Seahawks are fighting for home field advantage at that stage.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast delves into the 2015 NFL schedule, grading the prime-time games and highlighting the Week 1 matchups. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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