AFC South: NFL Schedule Analysis 2012

Breakdown: The new-look Colts make their debut at Chicago in a rematch of Super Bowl XLI. But with a new GM, coach, staff and quarterback and with few players left from six seasons ago, Indianapolis will look hardly anything like the team that beat the Bears on Feb. 4, 2007.

Indianapolis draws just two division games in the first half of the season, hosting the Jaguars on Sept. 23 and playing at Tennessee Oct. 28. Then three of the Colts’ final four are against Tennessee and Houston.

The games outside the AFC South that appear most challenging at this stage are spread out, which should be a good thing. After opening at the Bears, they host the Packers on Oct. 7, travel to New England for a Nov. 18 game and visit Detroit Dec. 2. They get to prepare for Jay Cutler in the preseason, Aaron Rodgers after the Colts' super-early Week 4 bye, Tom Brady a week after they play against Blaine Gabbert at Jacksonville and Matthew Stafford after they host Buffalo.

Complaint department: Maybe a Week 4 open date seems like a favor to rookie head coach Chuck Pagano, who will be guiding a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck. But even as it can help the Colts brace for a visit from the Packers, it’s too early a break for a team that will be loaded with young guys and would benefit more from a later bye to catch their collective breath.

Twice in three weeks: Maybe the Colts will improve over the course of the season and have their best chance to knock off defending division champ Houston late in the year. If that’s the case, playing the Texans twice in the final three weeks of the season is a good thing. However, I suspect a young, inexperienced team will be running out of gas and searching for the final whistle in December, in which case playing two out of three against Houston at the end could seem almost unfair.

Colts Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at N.Y. Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Thursday, Nov. 8, at Jacksonville, 8:20 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at New England, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Houston, 1:00 PM
Breakdown: Mike Mularkey has a shot at a good start in his first season as coach of the Jaguars, with an opener at Minnesota and a Week 3 trip to Indianapolis sandwiched around a home game against defending division champ Houston.

Last year the Jaguars got a surprising three prime-time games, including two at home. This time they get the minimum of one, and it’s a Thursday night game that kills two birds with one stone for the NFL -- Nov. 8 at EverBank Field against the Colts.

This looks to me like a reasonably balanced schedule. But come Nov. 25, Jacksonville will have played all but one of its six AFC South games, with only a season finale at Tennessee left. That makes it tougher to make up ground late if the Jaguars are in the mix for the division’s top spot.

Complaint department: The Jaguars have only one set of back-to-back road games, but the schedule-maker did the team no big favors with the set up. Following a trip to Oakland, the farthest of the season, the Jaguars draw a trip to Green Bay for what could be their toughest road game of the year. At least that’s on Oct. 28, before Lambeau Field gets the most severe weather that provides the largest home-field advantage.

Quirky: Just as I struggle to understand why games between two teams in the same division can’t be separated by at least a month (see Colts-Texans this season), I would love an explanation why a team should play all four of the teams from a division in consecutive games. That’s what the Jaguars get with the AFC East in December with at Buffalo, Jets, at Miami and New England lined up.

Jaguars Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, Cincinnati, 4:05 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Chicago, 4:05 PM
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Oakland, 4:15 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Thursday, Nov. 8, Indianapolis, 8:20 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, New England, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM

Houston Texans schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
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Breakdown: The lone prime-time game in 2011 was on the road, and the AFC South champs didn’t feel like they had a sufficient chance to show off to a broad audience. They'll get that chance in 2012.

Five times they will play in the national spotlight, but only one of those games will be at Reliant Stadium -- Oct. 14 against Green Bay. That’s one of two games in the best of the prime-time slots, "Sunday Night Football" on NBC. The other is at Chicago on Nov. 11. Also nationally televised: at the Jets on Oct. 8 and at New England Dec. 10 on "Monday Night Football," and at Detroit on Thanksgiving.

From Oct. 14 through Nov. 4 the Texans won’t leave Houston, with three home games and their bye. That includes a Nov. 4 visit from the Buffalo Bills and defensive end Mario Williams, who left Houston for the Bills as a free agent.

Complaint department: The Texans drew two cold-weather games. They’ll play at Chicago on Nov. 11 and at New England on Dec. 10 in a couple of games that will be challenges. But if they can block for Arian Foster, they'll be able to handle the weather slowing down their precision, rhythm passing game. Four of the team’s final six games are on the road.

Major gift: No matter how good Andrew Luck gets in his first NFL season, the Texans have to love their final three games -- the Colts at home; the weakest team in the NFC North, the Vikings, at home; and at Indianapolis. Houston’s chances for a big finish look good on paper. (I renew my complaint over a major pet peeve. Games between division rivals should take place a minimum of one month apart.)

Texans Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Denver, 4:15 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Monday, Oct. 8, at N.Y. Jets, 8:30 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Green Bay, 8:20 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Chicago, 8:20 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, at Detroit, 12:30 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Monday, Dec. 10, at New England, 8:30 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM

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