AFC North: 2013 AFC schedule analysis
Breakdown: The Cincinnati Bengals will open on the road for the fourth straight season when it plays at the Chicago Bears, who are beginning the Marc Trestman era. In an unusual trend, this marks the fifth time in eight years that Cincinnati opens against a team that is in its first year with a new coach. The Bengals beat Herm Edwards and the Chiefs in 2006, lost to John Harbaugh and the Ravens in 2008, fell to Josh McDaniels and the Broncos in 2009, and beat Pat Shurmur and the Browns in 2011.
Cincinnati plays two of its first three games at Paul Brown Stadium and its last two games at home, which might not be a big advantage if the Bengals duplicate last season. The Bengals were 4-4 at home in 2012 and 6-2 on the road. The Bengals will play their last two games at home -- against two playoff teams from last season in Minnesota and Baltimore -- for only the second time in the last 16 seasons.
The Bengals have the latest bye week in the division. Their off week comes in Week 12.
Complaint department: Smack in the middle of the season, the Bengals play four road games in five weeks. This might not be a problem because, as noted earlier, the Bengals were one of the best road teams in the league last year. Cincinnati also catches a break because three of those road trips come against teams that had losing records last season (Buffalo, Detroit and Miami). The fourth road game is at defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore. This grueling road stretch comes after the Bengals play the New England Patriots at home.
Ready for prime time? After making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, the Bengals are getting more respect, receiving three prime-time games. Two of those national television matchups are against the Steelers. The other is a Thursday night game at Miami on Oct. 31. Cincinnati now has to prove it's ready for prime time. Since the start of the 2007 season, the Bengals are 1-9 in the national spotlight. This ties the Jacksonville Jaguars for the worst record in prime time during that stretch.
Bengals Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Monday, Sept. 16, Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, New England, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, NY Jets, 4:05 p.m.
Week 9: Thursday, Oct. 31, at Miami, 8:25 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 12: BYE
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at San Diego, 4:25 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: The schedule-makers believe the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to bounce back from a disappointing 8-8 season. The Steelers play four prime-time games, including two in the first three weeks of the season. After opening at home against the Tennessee Titans -- the first home game to start a season since 2010 -- Pittsburgh is at the Cincinnati Bengals for "Monday Night Football" and home against the Chicago Bears for Sunday night.
The other national TV games are at Baltimore on Thanksgiving night, which will hardly be a family affair, and home against the Bengals for Sunday night on Dec. 15. Barring a flex situation, the two meetings between the Steelers and Bengals are in prime time. The Steelers go from the national spotlight to the international one, when they face the Minnesota Vikings in London on Sept. 29.
The reunion with Mike Wallace is Dec. 8, when the wide receiver returns to Heinz Field for the first time since signing his five-year, $60 million deal with the Miami Dolphins. Will Wallace be able to break a long one against his former team? The Steelers ranked first in pass defense last season and allowed two passes more than 40 yards, the fewest in the NFL.
Complaint department: The Steelers really can't complain about getting another early bye. Pittsburgh has to take off in Week 5 because that follows its trip to London. But the Steelers can't be too happy with what follows the bye. Pittsburgh plays three out of four games on the road, including a trip to New England a week after a cross-country flight to Oakland (where the Steelers always seem to have problems). The only home game in October is against the Ravens, who have won three straight times at Heinz.
Looking for a fast start: Pittsburgh has had sluggish starts in three of the past four seasons. The Steelers began 2-3 in 2012, 2-2 in 2011 and 1-2 in 2009. It will be a challenge to get off to a better start in 2013. The Steelers begin against the Titans, who beat Pittsburgh last season, and then play at the Bengals, who have been to the playoffs the past two seasons. Pittsburgh's next two games are against the NFC North's Bears and Vikings, who were a combined 21-11 last season.
Steelers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 8, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Monday, Sep. 16, at Cincinnati, 8:30 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 22, Chicago, 8:30 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sep. 29, at Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, Baltimore, 4:25 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at Oakland, 4:05 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at New England, 4:25 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 28, at Baltimore, 8:30 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Cincinnati, 8:30 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Green Bay, 4:25 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Breakdown: The defending Super Bowl champions are in demand, playing four nationally televised games this season. It starts with the expected Thursday night opener at Denver, where the Ravens won an epic, double-overtime AFC divisional playoff game last season. The other three prime-time games are in the final five weeks of the season. The highlight is a Thanksgiving night game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers in Baltimore. The Ravens are also on national television twice in December with games at Detroit and home against New England in a rematch of the past two AFC Championship games.
The two-time defending AFC North champions face one division team in the first six weeks of the season. That's the home opener against Cleveland on Sept. 15. Half of the Ravens' final 10 games are against AFC North teams, including a regular-season finale at Cincinnati for the third straight season.
The Ravens got lucky in terms of potential bad-weather games. Baltimore plays at Denver and Buffalo in September and at Chicago in November.
Complaint department: The biggest complaint will always be starting the season on the road. The Ravens become the first defending Super Bowl champion to open away from home since 2003, because of a scheduling conflict with the Orioles.
The other trouble spot is a stretch in which the Ravens play four times on the road in a five-game stretch. Baltimore plays at Buffalo, Miami, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. None of those teams made the playoffs last season. The only home game in that span is against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Of course, the Ravens are helped by the fact that they have a Week 8 bye during this road stretch.
Return of Reed: The Ravens never had to face Ray Lewis or Jonathan Ogden. But, on Sept. 22, the Ravens will go against safety Ed Reed and his new team, the Houston Texans. This will be a surreal homecoming for Reed, who is regarded as the third-best player in franchise history. When he returns to M&T Bank Stadium, it will be about seven months removed from his helping Baltimore win the Super Bowl. Reed signed with the Texans after the Ravens declined to beat Houston's three-year, $15 million offer. It will be a challenge for Reed to force a turnover out of Joe Flacco, who threw five interceptions at home last season.
Ravens Regular-Season Schedule (all times Eastern)
Week 1: Thursday, Sept. 5, at Denver, 8:30 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, Cleveland, 1:00 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Houston, 1:00 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, at Buffalo, 1:00 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, at Miami, 1:00 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, Green Bay, 1:00 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, at Pittsburgh, 4:25 p.m.
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at Cleveland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Cincinnati, 1:00 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at Chicago, 1:00 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, NY Jets, 1:00 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 28, Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Minnesota, 1:00 p.m.
Week 15: Monday, Dec. 16, at Detroit, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, New England, 8:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at Cincinnati, 1:00 p.m.
Breakdown: The Cleveland Browns play two of their first three games on the road, which isn't ideal for a team learning a new offense and defense under first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski. After opening against the Miami Dolphins at home, the Browns play at Baltimore and at Minnesota, two playoff teams from a season ago. The Browns were 1-7 on the road last season.
Cleveland's most favorable part of the schedule comes after those road games, when the Browns play three straight at home against Cincinnati, Buffalo and Detroit. While the Bengals have gone to the playoffs for the past two seasons, the Bills and Lions were last-place teams from a season ago.
The Browns only get one national TV game, a Thursday night game on Oct. 3 against the Buffalo Bills. This was expected for a franchise that has had four different head coaches and a 23-57 record since 2008.
Complaint department: For the second straight season, the Browns get a brutal finish to the regular season. Cleveland plays three of its final four games on the road. This stretch features games at the Patriots, Jets and Steelers.
In fact, the Browns have just four home games in the final 11 weeks of the regular season. Last season, Cleveland was forced to end the season with road games at Denver and Pittsburgh.
Home sweet home?: The Browns open at home against the Dolphins, but that has never been a great kickoff to the season. Since rejoining the NFL, the Browns have opened the season at home in 14 of 15 seasons. Their record in those home season openers: 1-13. Their lone victory was over the Ravens in 2004. In last season's opener, the Browns lost to the eventual last-place Philadelphia Eagles 17-16. Perhaps renaming the home field FirstEnergy Stadium will cause a change of fortune.
Browns Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Thursday, Oct. 3, Buffalo, 8:25 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, at Green Bay, 4:25 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, Baltimore, 4:25 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at New England, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.