AFC East: 2013 NFL schedule analysis
Breakdown: The Buffalo Bills are a team in transition. They claim they are not rebuilding and want to win now. However, Buffalo has significant changes at head coach, quarterback and offensive and defensive coordinator this upcoming season.
Fortunately for the Bills, they have the 26th-ranked strength of schedule, which is the easiest schedule in the AFC East. But Buffalo must get a lot of things together internally this offseason before it feels confident to succeed in the regular season. The biggest challenge will be settling the quarterback competition between veterans Kevin Kolb, Tarvaris Jackson and a potential top rookie draft pick.
Complaint department: I thought it was cruel of the NFL to give Buffalo rookie head coach Doug Marrone his first assignment against the New England Patriots in his first game. Marrone was hired from Syracuse and now has to match coaching strategies against Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. It is a chance for Marrone to make a huge statement in his NFL debut. But there is also the likelihood that the Marrone era could get off to a losing start in Week 1.
Not prime time: After the Bills made a splash in free agency last season and flopped, you had a feeling television networks would not have much interest in putting the Bills on in prime time this season. Buffalo has just one national game, against the Cleveland Browns, on Thursday, Oct. 3. The Bills have one of the most electric players in the NFL in tailback C.J. Spiller, but a national audience will get a chance to see Spiller just once this season.
Bills Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, New England, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at NY Jets, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Thursday, Oct. 3, at Cleveland, 8:25 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, at Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 12: BYE
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, Atlanta, 4:05 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at New England, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: It’s only fitting that the circus begins right away for New York. The NFL, with a cruel dose of irony, scheduled a home game for the Jets against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. These are the same two teams in heavy trade talks for star cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Would the Jets trade Revis to Tampa Bay only to face their best player in the first game of the season? An already interesting situation just became more compelling. The Jets would like to get off to a fast start to a new era under general manager John Idzik in addition to a must-win year for coach Rex Ryan. Shipping your best player to a Week 1 opponent is not a formula for success.
The Jets are a rebuilding team in need of confidence after back-to-back losing seasons. New York has the 19th-ranked strength of schedule. That’s not bad, but considering the team is struggling on offense and at quarterback and could lose Revis, the Jets are not a lock to win against any opponent this season.
Complaint department: The NFL really stuck it to the Jets to start the season. Not only did the league schedule the possibility of facing Revis to open the season, but New York also travels to play the rival New England Patriots on Thursday night in Week 2. The Jets will have a short week of preparation against their biggest division rival. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Jets 0-2 just five days into the regular season.
Wild card: Although it’s hard to top a potential “Revis Bowl” in Week 1, New York also must face former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine twice this season with the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 22 and Nov. 11. Pettine left the Jets to take over the play-calling duties on defense with Buffalo. The Bills will run a similar scheme and it will be fun to watch Pettine match his skills against former mentor Ryan, who also will be calling the defensive plays in New York.
Jets Regular-Season Schedule (all times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Thursday, Sept. 12, at New England, 8:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Buffalo, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, at Tennessee, 4:05 p.m.
Week 5: Monday, Oct. 7, at Atlanta, 8:30 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, New England, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at Cincinnati, 4:05 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Oakland, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at Carolina, 4:05 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at Miami, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: The Patriots had some roster turnover this offseason. However, the reigning AFC East champions remain hot with television networks and landed five prime-time games. That is the most in the division in 2013.
New England has been a dominant force in the AFC East for the past dozen years. The Patriots have another opportunity to establish their division dominance right away by starting with two rivalry games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. A 2-0 start within the division could set the good tone for New England.
But it's rarely about the regular season for the Patriots. This is a team that routinely wins double-digit games. The key will be winning enough in New England to position itself for another deep playoff run.
Complaint department: It’s hard to complain about the schedule when you’re the Patriots. Sure, New England has a respectable 14th-ranked strength of schedule this year. But you never get the sense that any stretch is too overwhelming for a team that has played in back-to-back AFC title games. The biggest complaint I have for New England is the late bye, which doesn’t come until Nov. 10. This is a veteran team that’s struggled with injuries the past few seasons. New England could be an ailing bunch playing every week straight until mid-November. Keep an eye on injuries with the Patriots in the first two months of the season.
Welker returns to Foxborough: Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker will make his much-anticipated return to Gillette Stadium on Nov. 24 as a member of the Denver Broncos. This will be a prime-time game on NBC's "Sunday Night Football." Welker left the Patriots in free agency amid controversy. New England low-balled Welker on a contract extension, and Denver was able to land the receiver with a modest two-year, $12 million contract. The Patriots, in turn, signed younger replacement Danny Amendola. Both teams are Super Bowl contenders, and Welker will be motivated to play well against his former team. This is also another clash between future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in what should be one of the year's best matchups.
Patriots Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 8, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Thursday, Sep. 12, NY Jets, 8:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 22, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sep. 29, at Atlanta, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, New Orleans, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, Pittsburgh, 4:25 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Monday, Nov. 18, at Carolina, 8:30 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Denver, 8:30 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at Houston, 4:25 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Baltimore, 8:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: The Miami Dolphins loaded up in free agency -- and for good reason. This is a 7-9 team expected to make the jump into playoff contention this season. But in order to do so, the Dolphins must be good enough to survive the eighth-toughest strength of schedule in the NFL.
That explains the signings of quality free agents such as receiver Mike Wallace, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, tight end Dustin Keller and cornerback Brent Grimes. The Dolphins needed to add playmakers on both sides of the football if they wanted to compete with the top teams on their schedule.
The television networks have taken notice. Miami will have three prime-time games this season. The Dolphins will play road games against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 30 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 11 on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” in addition to playing the Cincinnati Bengals on “Thursday Night Football” on the NFL Network.
Complaint department: How good are the Dolphins? We will find out right away in the month of September. Miami plays three of its first four games on the road. The Dolphins will play at the Cleveland Browns in Week 1, at the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2, home against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3, and at the New Orleans Saints in Week 4. This is a rough way to begin the season. Miami’s pass defense struggled last season, and the Dolphins will face quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees in consecutive weeks.
Wallace and Ellerbe Bowls: Wallace will play against his former team -- the Pittsburgh Steelers -- on Dec. 15 at Heinz Field. This is an interesting matchup for two AFC teams expected to be playoff contenders this coming season. Wallace signed a $60 million contract, the Dolphins' biggest free-agent signing this offseason. Wallace was a former third-round draft choice in Pittsburgh in 2009. Ellerbe will face the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 6 in Miami. Ellerbe won a Super Bowl with the Ravens last season before signing a $35 million contract with Miami.
Dolphins Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, at Cleveland, 1:00 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Indianapolis, 1:00 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Atlanta, 4:05 p.m.
Week 4: Monday, Sept. 30, at New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Baltimore, 1:00 p.m.
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, Buffalo, 1:00 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at New England, 1:00 p.m.
Week 9: Thursday, Oct. 31, Cincinnati, 8:25 p.m.
Week 10: Monday, Nov. 11, at Tampa Bay, 8:30 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, San Diego, 1:00 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Carolina, 1:00 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at NY Jets, 1:00 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at Pittsburgh, 1:00 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, New England, 1:00 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Buffalo, 1:00 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, NY Jets, 1:00 p.m.