AFC East: 2014 AFC schedule analysis
Breakdown: Rex Ryan must have done something to upset the folks in the league's scheduling department. Ryan's beloved defense, which struggled against the pass last season, will face five of the NFL's top six passing offenses from 2013 in rapid succession, Weeks 2 to 6. And that doesn't include the New England Patriots, which finished 10th. It's a Murderer's Row of quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The challenge wouldn't be as daunting if the Jets had made significant improvements in the secondary, but all they've done is replace Antonio Cromartie with journeyman Dimitri Patterson. It might be a good idea to draft a cornerback or two. A year ago, the Jets allowed 3,947 passing yards, the most since 1986. Assuming they seek help in the draft, they will be trying to rebuild part of the secondary, but it'll be tough to accomplish that on the fly, especially with no breathers over the first half of the season. On the bright side, they get to open against the Oakland Raiders.
Complaint department: For the second straight year, the Jets' road game against the Patriots is on a Thursday night -- a tough turnaround under the best of circumstances. That the Jets face the Denver Broncos the previous Sunday makes it an extraordinarily difficult back-to-back. They go from Manning to Brady, two of the all-time greats, in a span of four days, conjuring up memories of when they beat Manning and Brady in the 2010 playoffs. But at least they had a full week to prepare for Brady and New England that year. Ryan, speaking to reporters Wednesday night, didn't sound thrilled. "It isn’t ideal, but, hey, we’ll be up for it," he said. The Jets got hammered in similar fashion in 2011, when they lost to the Patriots at home and played four days later in Denver, falling to Tim Tebow in the final seconds. We'll know a lot about the Jets by Week 7, that's for sure. Their trip to Foxborough, of course, will be spiced by the showdown with former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis.
On the bright side: The good news is the Jets play three of their first four games at home, increasing their chances of getting off to a good start. Historically, they're a fast-starting team under Ryan, whose September record is 11-6, far and away his best month. The downside is that three of the last four games are on the road, and that's not a good thing. The Jets were a pitiful 2-6 on the road last season, with many of those blowout losses. This year, they close at the Minnesota Vikings, at the Tennessee Titans and at the Miami Dolphins. This marks the third time in four years they've finished in Miami. The Vikings will be outdoors in 2014, so that could be a frigid day. If the Jets don't play better as a road team, they will have no shot at the playoffs.
Strength of schedule: 9th, .520 | Vegas over/under : 6.5
Jets Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Oakland, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Green Bay, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Monday, Sept. 22, Chicago, 8:30 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at San Diego, 4:25 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Denver, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Thursday, Oct. 16, at New England, 8:25 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 1, Miami, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Tennessee, 4:05 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, New England, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Miami, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: The Dolphins will begin this season with playoff expectations after last year’s 8-8 finish. But in order to make the postseason, Miami must get through a competitive schedule that includes six games -- Broncos, Chiefs, Packers, Chargers and Patriots (twice) -- against playoff teams from a year ago. It also will be interesting to see how the Dolphins handle their long trip to London to face the Oakland Raiders in Week 4. But perhaps Miami’s biggest hurdle is within the AFC East. The Dolphins have been a disappointing 4-8 against division opponents the past two seasons. Miami opens its season against the New England Patriots at home in Week 1 and on the road against the Buffalo Bills in Week 2. Miami was 2-4 last year against AFC East teams. That cannot happen in 2014 if the Dolphins aim to end their five-year playoff drought.
Complaint department: Miami does not play back-to-back home games until the final two games of the season. That means the Dolphins must really be on their "A" game on the road this year in order to put together any kind of significant winning streak. I also thought the Dolphins would get more than two prime-time games. Miami is a young team with a young quarterback and missed the playoffs by one game. The Dolphins will play on Thursday night against Buffalo in Week 11 and on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" against the Jets in Week 13.
Bevy of reunions: The 2014 season will be the year of reunions for Miami's players and coaches. The biggest reunion will be in Week 6 when Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin hosts his former team, the Green Bay Packers, for the first time. Philbin came up the ranks in Green Bay as a longtime assistant and eventually became a successful offensive coordinator. In terms of players, new Dolphins left tackle Branden Albert will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3. New Dolphins running back Knowshon Moreno also will make a return trip to Denver in Week 12 to face the Broncos after leading the Super Bowl runners-up in rushing last season.
Strength of schedule: 12th, .508 | Vegas over/under : 7.5
Dolphins Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, New England, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Kansas City, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at Oakland, 1 p.m. (in London)
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, San Diego, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 13, Buffalo, 8:25 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Denver, 4:25 p.m.
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 1, at NY Jets, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at New England, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: The Buffalo Bills will open their 2014 season on the road in Chicago, the third time in the last four seasons that they'll open on the road. The Bills will open with three road games in their first five contests and will play each of their division opponents once before their bye week. After having the NFL's latest possible bye week last season, it is favorably placed this season, coming in Week 9. The Bills' only prime-time game comes in Week 11, a Thursday night contest on the road against the Miami Dolphins. The Bills haven't played a "Monday Night Football" game since 2009 and haven't played on Sunday night since 2007. Those two streaks will continue. If the Bills want to make the playoffs, they'll have tough sledding late, ending their schedule at the Denver Broncos, at home against the Green Bay Packers, at the Oakland Raiders, and at the New England Patriots.
Complaint department: The Bills often savor opportunities to play cold weather teams late-season at Ralph Wilson Stadium. That won't happen this season. Three of their final four games are the road, while their lone home contest in December is against another northern team, the Packers. The Bills will also host two other cold weather teams in November: the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets. It's worth noting, however, that the Bills hosted the Dolphins in late December last season, a shutout win for Buffalo. It's fair that the NFL scheduled the Dolphins' trip to Buffalo in September this time around. Still, the Bills can't be too happy with their late season schedule, which includes tilts against Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady as possible barriers between the Bills and the playoffs -- if they're still in the hunt.
Bye, bye Toronto: The Bills announced this last month, but for the first time since 2007 the Bills will not play in Toronto. The Bills will have eight home games, making it even harder for the Bills to sell out their home slate. They struggled to sell out last season, with late owner Ralph Wilson stepping in twice to prevent a blackout, while their home finale against the Dolphins was blacked out. This year, the Bills will almost surely sell out their first three games: against the Dolphins, Chargers, and Patriots. They have four home games after their bye week that may create a challenge for their ticket office, but if the Packers come into Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 14 still in the playoff hunt, it will help the Bills' chances that day.
Strength of schedule: 14th, .500 | Vegas over/under : 6.5
Bills Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 7, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 14, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 21, San Diego, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sep. 28, at Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, New England, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 13, at Miami, 8:25 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Denver, 4:05 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at New England, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: The Patriots have a well-placed bye in Week 10, on Nov. 9. That is the first thing that catches the eye when looking at the schedule. Add in that the bye comes the week after another Patriots-Broncos showdown (Nov. 2 in New England at 4:25 p.m.), and the week before the Patriots visit the Colts for a Sunday night tilt (Nov. 16), that looks like the sweet spot of the schedule. Ending the year with three straight AFC East opponents is also notable, potentially increasing the odds that the division title will still be up for grabs at that point. We also like almost the entire month of October is spent at home, one of the great months for football in New England with the foliage providing a picturesque backdrop at Gillette Stadium.
Complaint department: Not much to bicker with here, but back-to-back road games against the Packers (Nov. 30) and Chargers (Dec. 7) looks like a tough draw, especially with the game in San Diego coming on a Sunday night. Also, this is the fourth straight year the Patriots will open the season on the road.
Preseason conditioning will be a focus: Opening the season at Miami, as the club did in 2011 in a convincing win, creates a natural storyline on preseason conditioning as preparing for the heat and humidity in South Florida will be a focus. It will be an early chance for the Patriots to get a jump on the division as they won't see another AFC East foe until Weeks 6 and 7 -- at the Bills and at home on Thursday night against the Jets.
Strength of schedule: 10th, .516 | Vegas over/under : 10.5
Patriots Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Oakland, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Monday, Sept. 29, at Kansas City, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Cincinnati, 8:30 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Thursday, Oct. 16, NY Jets, 8:25 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Denver, 4:25 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Indianapolis, 8:30 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Green Bay, 4:25 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at San Diego, 8:30 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Buffalo, 1 p.m.