AFC East: 2012 NFL schedule

Breakdown:The Patriots, coming off another Super Bowl appearance, are poised to make another deep run under head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. New England's schedule strength ranks 32nd in the NFL thanks in part to a weakened AFC East division and a fortunate draw this year against the struggling NFC West.

New England will play in four prime-time games, which was expected. Surprisingly, one of those prime-time games will not be against the Denver Broncos. But we will get to that later.

The Patriots will begin their journey on the road against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 9.

Complaint department: It's hard to pick out a particularly brutal stretch for the Patriots. There are back-to-back home games against Houston and San Francisco that will be a challenge. But otherwise, my biggest complaint about New England's schedule is it's too easy. The Patriots are the reigning AFC champs and do not need the easiest schedule in the NFL. Yes, the AFC East was a weak division last season. There's nothing the Patriots can do about that. It’s up to the New York Jets, Miami Dolphinsand Buffalo Bills to step up their game. But I'd like to see a talented New England team tested more next season. The Patriots play just four games against playoffs teams from 2011 -- and three of those games (Denver, Houston, San Francisco) are at Gillette Stadium. Barring significant injuries, New England could be a virtual lock for at least 11 or 12 wins again next season.

Manning versus Brady is back: One of the first things I did when New England's schedule was released was to check for its game against the Broncos. Week 5 will rekindle the Hall of Fame quarterback rivalry between Denver's Peyton Manning and New England's Tom Brady. Brady has struggled against the younger Eli Manning, but has had Peyton Manning’s number over the years. Brady is 8-5 against Peyton Manning, which included some huge playoff wins that led to Super Bowl victories. Manning missed all of 2011 with a neck injury. With both Manning and Brady reaching the tail end of their careers, football fans should appreciate these final meetings involving two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Patriots Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Arizona, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Baltimore, 8:20 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Denver, 4:15 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, NY Jets, 4:15 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, at NY Jets, 8:20 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Monday, Dec. 10, Houston, 8:30 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, San Francisco, 8:20 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Miami, 1:00 PM

Buffalo Bills schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
8:22
PM ET
Breakdown: The Buffalo Bills look to climb out of the basement in the AFC East with a favorable schedule. The Bills finished last in the division with a 6-10 record after being swept by the Miami Dolphins (6-10) last season.

The result was a last-place schedule that is ranked 29th in the NFL. Buffalo has a chance to make a jump but it must improve on the road, where the team is 3-13 the past two seasons. The Bills also are 2-10 against AFC East teams in that span.

Buffalo will look to ride a new-look defense to the top of the AFC East. The Bills defensive line, led by free-agent acquisition Mario Williams, should be one of the NFL's best.

Complaint department: Buffalo definitely got the short end of the league's early-season schedule. The Bills play six of their first nine games on the road. Ouch! As we mentioned earlier, Buffalo has been awful in recent seasons away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. This team will have to grow up fast or fall behind. The good news is Buffalo finishes the season with five of its last seven games at home. Therefore, if the Bills are in playoff contention down the stretch in November and December, their chances look good to get over the hump.

Williams Bowl: Williams will have to wait a while to seek revenge against his former team: the Houston Texans. The Bills travel to Houston in Week 9 to play the Texans. Williams was a former No. 1 overall pick in Houston, but didn’t return in free agency after Buffalo offered him $100 million. The Texans hope to prove they will be just fine without Williams, while the stud defensive end tries to take a new team to the next level.

Bills Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at N.Y. Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, New England, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, at San Francisco, 4:15 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Arizona, 4:05 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at New England, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 15, Miami, 8:20 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, N.Y. Jets, 1:00 PM

Miami Dolphins schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
8:01
PM ET
Breakdown: The Joe Philbin era gets underway for the Miami Dolphins in 2012, with a strength of schedule ranked 18th in the NFL.

The Dolphins will have an entirely new look under Philbin, who was the former offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. The Dolphins are in the process of implementing a new West Coast offense as well as principles of a 4-3 defense.

Miami is rebuilding but should give opponents trouble this season with a solid defense. The team also has a quarterback competition to settle in training camp, between veteran David Garrard and incumbent Matt Moore.

Complaint department: I have two complaints about the Dolphins' schedule. The bigger is that Miami received a very tough draw in the opening game at the Houston Texans. Houston should be very good season, a Super Bowl contender in the AFC. The Dolphins have to work out a lot of wrinkles under a new head coach and will be coming off a quarterback competition in training camp. This probably will be an awful start for Miami's new regime, which has to guard against losing confidence. The league could've helped by providing an easier opening opponent or at least a home game for Miami. Second, the Dolphins do not play the reigning AFC East champion New England Patriots until Weeks 13 and 17. Although I don't expect it, the Dolphins might surprise and find themselves in the wild-card hunt late in the year. But two December games against New England would quickly end those hopes.

Lone prime-timer: Every team is required to play in a prime-time game this year. I'm not sure how I feel about that rule. But Miami will get its only national game on Thursday night, Nov. 15, against the AFC East rival Buffalo Bills. With a pair of 6-10 teams, this feels kind of forced by the television networks. Things can always change via performance -- and Buffalo is my sleeper pick this season -- but right now Dolphins-Bills doesn't look like an attractive national game.

Dolphins Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Oakland, 4:15 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, N.Y. Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Arizona, 4:05 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at N.Y. Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 15, at Buffalo, 8:20 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, Seattle, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, New England, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at San Francisco, 4:05 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at New England, 1:00 PM

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