AFC South: 2013 AFC schedule analysis
Breakdown: Coach Gus Bradley and the Jaguars’ new regime kick off against the other team that won only two games in 2012 when Kansas City visits Jacksonville on the NFL’s opening Sunday. Like the Jaguars, the Chiefs are under new leadership, headlined by Andy Reid. But he inherited a team with more talent in place, and the Chiefs dealt for veteran quarterback Alex Smith. Although Kansas City earned the top pick in the draft, it’s likely to be favored in this one.
The Jaguars go on the road for back-to-back games three times, and they have a three-game homestand in December. Their Oct. 27 "home" game against the 49ers in London comes after a home game against the Chargers and is followed by a bye week.
Complaint department: I thought two games in 17 days between the Colts and Titans was unreasonable, so the even-faster turnaround for the Jaguars’ games against the Texans is utterly ridiculous. They play Nov. 24 at Reliant Stadium, and then again Dec. 5 at EverBank Field in a Thursday night showcase. Why not just put the games back-to-back?
I’m sure the scheduling puzzle is even more complicated and difficult than I imagine. But the NFL needs to implement a rule that rematches between division opponents must have at least two weeks in between them. It would produce far more intrigue than games played in quick succession where little is likely to change about either team.
Bonding opportunity: After that reasonable opening day home game against the Chiefs, the Jaguars get consecutive games on the West Coast, at Oakland and at Seattle, where Bradley was defensive coordinator before Shad Khan and David Caldwell hired him for the Jaguars' head job.
Back-to-back trips from the Atlantic to the Pacific don’t seem real fair. But I wonder if Bradley and the Jaguars won’t make a move to negate all that travel in a season when they will also play in London. They could do so by finding a place in or near Oakland or Seattle to stay and practice for the week between games. Since the team holds training camp at its facility, the week away would serve as an early season micro-training camp, offering a young team a chance to bond while away from home.
Jaguars Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at Denver, 4:05 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, San Diego, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, San Francisco, 1 p.m.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, Arizona, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, at Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 5, Houston, 8:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: A tough early season schedule resulted in a 1-4 start for the Titans last season. They’ll face another big challenge out of the gate in 2013 in what qualifies as a make-or-break season for coach Mike Munchak. Four of the first seven games are against tough teams, at tough road venues or both.
Those include the opener at Pittsburgh, a Week 2 game at Houston, Week 6 at Seattle and Week 7 against San Francisco. The Titans will probably need to fare well in a three-game homestand sandwiched between those two pairs of games -- against San Diego, the Jets and Kansas City.
The Titans play the Steelers for the sixth consecutive season. Tennessee has lost three of the past five matchups against Pittsburgh, including the 2009 Thursday night opener at Heinz Field, a 13-10 overtime loss.
Complaint department: The NFL continues to prove incapable of spacing out divisional rematches at a reasonable interval. The Titans face Indianapolis twice in a span of 17 days, in Weeks 11 and 13. It could, I suppose, wind up being favorable if they catch the Colts at a time of season when they are banged up. But that’s the point, really. The two games between division rivals should be spaced far enough apart that they see each other at different stages of the season and won’t benefit, or suffer, from the same injuries.
The Titans' game at Lucas Oil Stadium is sandwiched between long road trips to Oakland (where the Titans have lost three in a row, including the 2002 AFC Championship Game) and to Denver in what can be a very difficult stretch away from home for a young team.
Potentially big finale: The league has filled the final weekend of the regular season with all divisional matchups. If the Titans are going to surprise people and emerge as a playoff team, odds are it will require an upset in the last week of the season when they host the Houston Texans, the team that’s won the division the past two seasons.
Tennessee has lost three out of its past four against the Texans, winning only the 2011 season finale when the Texans had clinched their playoff positioning and went for, and missed, a 2-point conversion after a late touchdown to ensure there'd be no overtime.
Titans Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 8, at Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 15, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 22, San Diego, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sep. 29, NY Jets, 4:05 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, San Francisco, 4:05 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 14, Indianapolis, 8:25 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, at Oakland, 4:05 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at Denver, 4:05 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Arizona, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Houston, 1:00 PM
Breakdown: The Colts look to have a favorable start and finish to their 2013 slate. They open against Oakland, against Miami, at San Francisco and at Jacksonville. We know teams can make major jumps in one season, just as the Colts did last year. But our reference point is last season. And while the 49ers are the defending NFC champions, the other three teams combined for 13 wins in 2012 and certainly appear beatable.
Indianapolis’ final two games are at Kansas City and against Jacksonville. A road trip to Arrowhead Stadium in the dead of winter is never easy, and the Chiefs are likely to be far better at the end of their first season under Andy Reid than at the start. Still, they were the worst team in the league in 2012. The Jaguars were the other two-win team. The top two picks in the draft, providing neither team trades back, will be at the end of their initial seasons. They could be worn down or they could have found a rhythm.
Complaint department: The Colts get an unfair deal in advance of what may qualify as the NFL’s regular-season game of the year. Sunday night football On Oct. 20 should be a huge ratings game as Peyton Manning returns to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis with the Denver Broncos.
Indy will be recovering from a West Coast road trip on a short week for "Monday Night Football" at San Diego. The Broncos, meanwhile, will be coming off a home game against Jacksonville. It’s not exactly an even Week 6, but these sorts of things happen and the Colts will have to be ready even if they won’t be as well rested as the Broncos.
Favorable division rematches: The Colts’ second games against each of their AFC South opponents come in the final five weeks of the season and are all at home. Indianapolis hosts the Titans in Week 13, the Texans in Week 15 and the Jaguars in Week 17. That Texans game could be crucial for deciding the division crown and the Colts have a huge advantage. Houston has lost all 11 times it’s played in Indianapolis.
In all, five of Indianapolis’ last nine games are against AFC South teams.
Colts Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Oakland, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Seattle, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Monday, Oct. 14, at San Diego, 8:30 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, Denver, 8:30 p.m.
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at Houston, 8:30 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, St. Louis, 1:00 p.m.
Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 14, at Tennessee, 8:25 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, at Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: Houston plays four times in prime time, but only one of those games is at home. The Texans are at San Diego on opening weekend, at San Francisco in Week 5, against Indianapolis in Week 9 and at Jacksonville in Week 14’s Thursday night game.
The Texans' final five games are tough. The home games are against two of the AFC’s very best teams, New England and Denver, while the three road games are against their three division foes. The trips to the West are over after Week 10, so even though those can tire a team out, Houston won’t have to deal with any long travels as the playoffs approach.
Houston will play in five cities in which it's never won: Arizona (0-1), San Francisco (0-1), Baltimore (0-3), San Diego (0-1) and Indianapolis (0-11).
Complaint department: The Texans have a very tough road start. They open in the second half of the "Monday Night Football" doubleheader at San Diego. In Week 3, they are at defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore. And in Week 5, they head to the West Coast again to meet defending NFC champion San Francisco.
In exchange for a nationally televised opener against the Chargers, the Texans get a tough turnaround. Kickoff is at 9:20 CT in San Diego, so the team will get back to Houston around dawn Tuesday and have a short week to prepare for their home opener against Tennessee in Week 2.
The road schedule softens after the first three, with only Indianapolis threatening to provide a major obstacle.
Stacked up against tough quarterbacks: In Weeks 3, 4 and 5, the Texans face three of the best teams on their schedule that boast something Houston struggled with mightily in 2012 -- top-flight quarterbacks. They are at Baltimore against Joe Flacco, home against Seattle and Russell Wilson and at San Francisco against Colin Kaepernick. They have an even worse QB stretch late when they’ll be charged with slowing Tom Brady, Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning in a four-week stretch.
Perhaps the first run against good QBs will help them be more prepared for that late stretch.
Texans Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 9, at San Diego, 10:15 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at Baltimore, 1p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, Seattle, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, at San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, Indianapolis, 8:30 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, Oakland, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, New England, 4:25 p.m.
Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 5, at Jacksonville, 8:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, Denver, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.