AFC South: 2014 NFL schedule analysis

NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: Could you ask for a better season opener for the Colts, Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning Part II in a nationally televised game on Sept. 7? I didn’t think so. The Colts have not won a road opener since 2006. They happened to win the Super Bowl that same season with Manning under center. Back-to-back 11-win seasons and Luck’s emergence has allowed them to appear in prime time five times, including playing their home opener in Week 2 on "Monday Night Football" against the Philadelphia Eagles, next season. Indianapolis’ other three prime-time games are at Houston on Oct. 9, at the New York Giants on Nov. 3 and they come out of their bye week at home against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Nov. 16.

Complaint department: The schedule makers didn’t do the Colts any favors when they put them in the position to have a short turnaround on their Thursday night game. They host the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 5, then go on the road to face the Texans on Oct. 9. The Colts could have at least had a home game if they weren’t going to have a bye week before playing on Thursday night. Luck vs. Robert Griffin III with a 1 p.m. game on Nov. 30? You would have thought that would have at least been a 4:25 p.m. game since it’s the first time the first two players chosen in the 2012 draft are facing each other. The Colts end their season with back-to-back road games at Dallas and Tennessee.

Reunion games: Something tells me that linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, defensive lineman Arthur Jones and receiver Hakeem Nicks looked at their season-opening opponent then shifted their focus to other games on the schedule. Jackson will face his former team, the Cleveland Browns, in Week 14. Jones goes up against the Ravens in Week 5 and Nicks will have his shot at getting back at the Giants in Week 9. Mike McGlynn, who should have been the Colts' starting center last season, comes back to Lucas Oil Stadium with the Redskins on Nov. 30.

Strength of schedule: 32nd, .430 | Vegas over/under : 9

Colts Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Denver, 8:30 p.m.
Week 2: Monday, Sept. 15, Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 9, at Houston, 8:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Pittsburgh, 4:25 p.m.
Week 9: Monday, Nov. 3, at NY Giants, 8:30 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, New England, 8:30 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Dallas, 4:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: We already knew the Texans were going to have the third weakest strength of schedule in the NFL before the schedule release, and that they were to face only one road opponent that had a winning record in 2013. Last season figured to be perilous, as the Texans faced a first-place schedule and the daunting NFC West. This season, a last-place schedule and the less formidable NFC East will offer a smoother road for new head coach Bill O'Brien and his staff. There aren't any major road trips on this schedule; the longest the Texans will be on the road is back-to-back, which happens twice -- with the Raiders and Giants in Weeks 2 and 3, then the Steelers and Titans in Weeks 7 and 8. If anything is at stake late in the season, the Texans will be in a good position to take advantage of it. They have two home games, against Baltimore and Jacksonville, to finish the season.

Complaint department: Don't have too many complaints here, but those back-to-back road games against Pittsburgh and Tennessee could be tough considering the Texans will be playing on Monday night against the Steelers. As usual, their schedule is backloaded with divisional games. Four of the Texans' five final games will be against AFC South teams, including two against the Jaguars in December.

Reunited: Former Texans who might have chips on their shoulders get to face the Texans in Weeks 2, 11 and 16. First, quarterback Matt Schaub, traded away after losing his starting role, and defensive end Antonio Smith, who departed in free agency after being told he'd be used as a third-down rusher, get to host the Texans in Oakland in Week 2. In Week 11, the Texans will visit Cleveland, where they'll see running Ben Tate, who left Houston in free agency to a contract that pays him $6.2 million over two years to be a starter. In their second-to-last game of the season, a home game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Texans will see Gary Kubiak, the coach who was fired last December. He'll bring with him former Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, now the Ravens' quarterbacks coach, and former Texans tight ends coach Brian Pariani. Also returning that day will be former Texans tight end Owen Daniels. When Daniels was asked by reporters in Baltimore what it will be like to return to Houston, he said, "What Steve Smith said," to laughs. Here's to blood and guts!

Strength of schedule: 30th, .441 | Vegas over/under : 8.5

Texans Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at Dallas, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 9, Indianapolis, 8:25 p.m.
Week 7: Monday, Oct. 20, at Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: Remember a year ago, when the consensus was the Tennessee Titans had a brutal start and would probably do well to go 1-3? Well, they went 3-1. That should console Tennessee fans as they look at this first month -- at Kansas City, Dallas, at Cincinnati and at Indianapolis. Tennessee will have some element of surprise early as not much will be known about how Ken Whisenhunt and his staff will deploy their people. But that's three 2013 playoff teams on the road right at the start. We'll quickly get a measure of how the Titans stand against teams that were good. Three out of four in the stretch after that could offer some relief, as they feature opponents with major quarterback questions.

Complaint department: That start is the biggest story -- and the biggest thing to complain about -- on initial observation. Whisenhunt immediately looked for a silver lining. "The good thing is maybe it will create a sense of urgency with our team in the offseason workouts and training camp," he said in the team's schedule release. "We know what faces us and we must come together and create those bonds." Having two stretches with three of four on the road seems difficult. The second trips feature Baltimore, Philadelphia (on a short week) and Houston. But the road trips also mean there will be stretches of three out of four games at home.

Big finish: The Titans hosted the defending AFC champion Texans at home in the final week last year and they host the defending AFC champion Colts at home in the final week this year. I like it. I don't expect the Colts to tumble the way the Texans did and if the Titans are any sort of challenger for the division, they'll finish with an important game. If the Colts run away with it and the Titans are contending for a Wild Card berth, they could get a team more concerned with resting than with winning. The Titans should be rested for that finale, as they play Thursday in Jacksonville in Week 16.

Strength of schedule: 31st, .438 | Vegas over/under : 6.5

Titans Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Dallas, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Monday, Nov. 17, Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, NY Jets, 4:05 p.m.
Week 16: Thursday, Dec. 18, at Jacksonville, 8:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: If the Jaguars are going to get off to a good start in 2014, they’ll have to do it against some pretty tough competition. They play three of their first four games against teams that made the playoffs last season, including two on the road (Philadelphia to open the season on Sept. 7 and San Diego three weeks later). In fact, the Jaguars play five games against four teams (Indianapolis twice) that made the playoffs last season and four of those games come within the season’s first nine games. In addition to Philadelphia and San Diego, the Jaguars play host to Indianapolis on Sept. 21 (home opener) and play at Cincinnati on Nov. 2. If the Jaguars are going to challenge the .500 mark this season, they can’t afford to play like they did in the first half of the 2013 season when they lost all eight games by double digits.

Complaint department: The Jaguars have just one home game in the season’s first month and play four of their first six games on the road for the second consecutive season. It’s not as bad as it was in 2013, when they played at Oakland and Seattle in Weeks 2-3, but it still robs the team of gaining a little momentum from an attendance boost because of the new scoreboards and amenities at EverBank Field. There’s also a stretch in which the Jaguars don’t play a game at EverBank for nearly a month because of the annual Florida-Georgia game, the game against Dallas in London, a bye week and the Great Jacksonville Agricultural Fair.

Secondary concerns: We’ll quickly get a chance to see how much cornerback Dwayne Gratz and safety Johnathan Cyprien have improved in their second season and whether the pass rush is any better. The Jaguars start the season by facing a run of pretty darn good quarterbacks in the season’s first five games: Philadelphia’s Nick Foles, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger. The Jaguars finished the 2013 season tied for 25th in pass defense (247.6 yards per game) and tied for last in sacks (31). The addition of defensive end Chris Clemons and linebacker Dekoda Watson, plus a potential high draft pick, should improve the rush.

Strength of schedule: 29th, .453 | Vegas over/under : 4.5

Jaguars Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Dallas, 1 p.m. (in London)
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Thursday, Dec. 18, Tennessee, 8:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Houston, 1 p.m.

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