NFC East: 2013 NFC schedule analysis
Breakdown: The questions about Robert Griffin III and his recovery from offseason knee surgery wasn't enough to deter the NFL and ESPN from scheduling the Washington Redskins for a "Monday Night Football" matchup in Week 1 against the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles. (That's an early-starting 7:10 p.m. ET Monday game, by the way, since there are two that night.) But the defending division champions' other four prime-time games don't come until after their Week 5 bye. The Redskins play at Dallas on Sunday night in Week 6, at Minnesota on Thursday night in Week 10 (in the ACL Bowl between Griffin and Adrian Peterson), host the defending NFC champion 49ers on "Monday Night Football" in Week 12 and then host the Giants on a Sunday night in Week 13.
The early bye week has to be viewed as a benefit by a team whose starting quarterback is recovering from major surgery. Even if Griffin is ready to return prior to Week 5, it'll be helpful for him to get a chance to rest his legs so early in the season. And if his recovery is still in progress in September and early October, it'll be helpful for the Redskins to get a week off while he's still working his way back.
There's only one time all season when the Redskins are scheduled to play road games in successive weeks. Even that comes with a helper, as they have 10 days between their Week 10 Thursday night game in Minnesota and their Week 11 Sunday game in Philadelphia.
Outdoor road games in Green Bay and Denver come early in the year, and the only outdoor road game the Redskins play in December is the Week 17 finale against the Giants.
The Week 8 game in Denver will be former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan's first game in Denver since becoming Redskins head coach prior to the 2010 season.
Complaint department: The stretch coming out of that Week 5 bye isn't super-fun, with four of six games on the road. Their first game out of the bye is a division title game rematch against the Cowboys in Dallas. Then they go home to play the Bears, on the road to Denver, home to play the Chargers and then play at Minnesota and Philadelphia in Weeks 10 and 11. The Minnesota trip comes on a short week, as it's a Thursday night game four days after the home game against San Diego.
Head-to-head: If the Redskins are going to defend their division title, they're going to get a chance to handle their closest division rivals themselves at the most crucial time of the year. Three of Washington's five December games are division games -- two against the Giants and one against the Cowboys. They host the Giants in Week 13 and the Cowboys in Week 16, then travel to play the Giants in New Jersey for the Week 17 season finale.
Redskins Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 9, Philadelphia, 7 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, at Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at Denver, 4:25 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, San Diego, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Thursday, Nov. 7, at Minnesota, 8:25 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Monday, Nov. 25, San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, NY Giants, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, Dallas, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: They aren't defending Super Bowl champions this year, but the New York Giants remain a prime-time darling with five nationally televised games in 2013. It all begins Week 1 in Dallas, when they play the Cowboys in a Sunday night matchup. They get a Thursday night game in Week 6 in Chicago against the Bears and a home game against the Vikings on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" in Week 7. They host the Packers on Sunday night in Week 11, then visit Robert Griffin III and the Redskins in Washington for another Sunday night game in Week 13.
The Giants get the bye week every team wants -- Week 9, smack in the middle of the season. And it begins the easiest part of their schedule from a travel standpoint, as their first three games after the bye are all home games. If the Giants are going to have another one of those "November swoons," it's going to be harder than ever for them to explain. They play only three games in the month of November, all at home right in a row after the bye against Oakland, Green Bay and Dallas.
One oddity is that only two of the Giants' final five games are division games, and both are against the Redskins. They'll be done with the Eagles before their bye week, done with the Cowboys in Week 12 and won't yet have seen the Redskins. The league likes when possible to pack the final few weeks with division games, and the Giants do close with a home game against Washington, but in the three weeks prior to that they play the Chargers, Seahawks and Lions.
Complaint department: Somehow, things look tough early and late. Three of the Giants' first four games are road games, and three of their final five games are road games. The Thursday night game in Chicago in Week 6 comes just four days after a division game against the Eagles. They'll get a well-rested Cowboys team twice, as they play them in Week 1 and then play them in Week 12 after Dallas' bye week. And if you buy the theory I've put through in every one of these schedule-analysis posts so far that it's better to get the Redskins early while Griffin is still recovering from knee surgery, then the fact that both of the Giants-Redskins games are in December doesn't do the Giants any favors.
Brother vs. brother: What's amazing about this schedule is that the Giants have those five prime-time games, but the game against the Denver Broncos isn't one of them. The prime-time networks must have tried to grab the game between Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his brother, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, but CBS instead snagged it for a late-Sunday afternoon showcase in Week 2. The game will be at MetLife Stadium at 4:25 pm ET.
Giants Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, at Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, Denver, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 10, at Chicago, 8:25 p.m.
Week 7: Monday, Oct. 21, Minnesota, 8:30 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Oakland, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, Green Bay, 8:30 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Dallas, 4:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at Washington, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at San Diego, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Seattle, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Detroit, 4:05 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Washington, 1:00 p.m.
Breakdown: Consecutive 8-8 finishes haven't dulled the TV networks' interest in the Dallas Cowboys, who are scheduled for four prime-time appearances in 2013. The Cowboys open the season at home on a Sunday night against the division-rival New York Giants. They host the Washington Redskins on Sunday night in Week 6, by which time it's possible Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will be back up to speed following offseason knee surgery. They travel to New Orleans to play the Saints on Sunday night in Week 10, right before their bye. And then they play the Bears in chilly Chicago on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" in Week 14.
One interesting change is the placement of the Cowboys' bye week, which has been early in recent seasons, but this year won't come until Week 11. Some had speculated (and the league had denied) that the Cowboys had been getting an early bye week because they play on Thanksgiving every year and are guaranteed extra rest later in the year. This year, though, the bye comes two weeks before the Thanksgiving Day game, in which the Cowboys will host the Oakland Raiders.
The rematches against the Redskins, who knocked the Cowboys out of the playoffs with a Week 17 victory in Washington last year, come in Dallas in Week 6 and in Washington in Week 16. And if the Cowboys are playing in an elimination game for the NFC East title for the third year in a row, they'll be playing at home against Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17.
Complaint department: Other than the relatively late bye week, there's not much for the Cowboys to complain about. They open at home. They close at home. They have road games on consecutive weeks only once -- Week 7 in Philadelphia and Week 8 in Detroit. Playing the Bears outdoors at Soldier Field in December isn't the best break, but even that comes with the benefit of extra rest as that is the game that follows their Thanksgiving game.
You could make the argument that you'd rather play the Redskins early in the season instead of late in the season because of the uncertainty about Griffin's injury. Even if he struggles to return in time for the start of the season, he should be rocking and rolling by Week 16 when the Cowboys return to Landover, Md. But again, there's little about the way this schedule lays out that doesn't look beneficial to the Cowboys.
Peacock darlings: Man, NBC loves them some Cowboys-Giants games, don't they? They flexed the Week 17 division title game into prime time two seasons ago, opened with Giants-Cowboys on a Wednesday night last year, and have picked the NFC East rivalry as their first Sunday night game of 2013. It's hard to blame them, as every time they do it they put out ratings saying it was among their highest-rated games ever. And Tony Romo and Eli Manning should be able to deliver on the anticipation this time around, as each team will emerge from a disappointing 2012 season hungry.
Cowboys Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, NY Giants, 8:30 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, at San Diego, 4:25 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Denver, 4:25 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, Washington, 8:30 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, at New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, at NY Giants, 4:25 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 28, Oakland, 4:30 p.m.
Week 14: Monday, Dec. 9, at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Green Bay, 4:25 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: The Philadelphia Eagles' only two prime-time games are in the first three weeks of the season -- their "Monday Night Football" opener in Week 1 against the Washington Redskins and their Week 3 Thursday night home game against Andy Reid's Kansas City Chiefs. Coming off a 4-12 season, the Eagles aren't automatically a big prime-time TV draw, but initial excitement over new head coach Chip Kelly and interest in the way his up-tempo offense is going to look could bring in viewers early in the season. Having the prime-time games in September guards against the possibility that the Eagles have a bad year and aren't the kind of team the networks want to showcase when the weather cools down. There remains the possibility of "flexing" one or more of the final six games to a Sunday night prime-time slot if the Eagles end up in the playoff race.
Playing Washington early could turn out to be a break, as Redskins star quarterback Robert Griffin III is recovering from offseason knee surgery and might not be ready to play in that game. Even if Griffin is cleared for Week 1, he's likely to have missed a good chunk of the offseason program and training camp and may not be at full strength.
The Eagles' final game of the season is a road game against the Dallas Cowboys, and if very recent history is any indication, that could be a good thing for Philadelphia. The Cowboys have played for (and lost) the division title in Week 17 in each of the past two seasons.
Complaint department: The first thing that jumps out is that the Eagles' first three games come in an 11-day stretch, thanks to the Monday night game in Week 1 and the Thursday night game in Week 3. Obviously, they get a couple of extra days of rest after that, but they're going to need them because the Week 4-10 stretch looks absolutely brutal.
It starts with three consecutive road games in Denver, New Jersey (against the Giants) and Tampa Bay. Home games against the division-rival Cowboys and Giants follow in Weeks 7 and 8, then the Eagles go on the road for two more in a row with long trips to Oakland and Green Bay. And all of this happens before the Eagles' bye week, which comes very late this year in Week 12. If they're going to play and practice at the speed Kelly's been talking about, there's a chance they could be pretty worn out by the time they hit their break.
Reid's return: The Week 3 storyline isn't hard to predict. Reid, who was fired in January after 14 seasons as the Eagles' head coach, is now the head coach of the Chiefs, who visit Lincoln Financial Field in the nationally televised Thursday night game Sept. 19. The run-up to that game will be packed with questions about how Reid will be greeted by Eagles fans who grew tired of him by the end of his tenure in Philadelphia. Reid surely will downplay it and talk about keeping the focus on the game and the players, but it's sure to be an emotional night for him so soon after his break with his former team.
Eagles Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 9, at Washington, 7:10 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, San Diego, 1:00 p.m.
Week 3: Thursday, Sept. 19, Kansas City, 8:25 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, at Denver, 4:25 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, at NY Giants, 1:00 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, Dallas, 1:00 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, NY Giants, 1:00 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at Oakland, 4:05 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, at Green Bay, 1:00 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, Washington, 1:00 p.m.
Week 12: BYE
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, Arizona, 1:00 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Detroit, 1:00 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at Minnesota, 1:00 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, Chicago, 1:00 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at Dallas, 1:00 p.m.