NFC East: 2014 NFL schedule analysis
Breakdown: The Philadelphia Eagles will open the 2014 season at Lincoln Financial Field for the first time since 2010 as they host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 7. The following week, the Eagles travel to Indianapolis to battle quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts in the first of two Monday night matchups. In Week 3, the Eagles welcome the Washington Redskins and former wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Overall, the Eagles have four primetime games -- two on Sunday night (Oct. 12 against the New York Giants and Dec. 14 against the Dallas Cowboys). The Eagles play on Monday, Sept. 15 at Indianapolis, and Monday, Nov. 10 against the Carolina Panthers. It’s the second consecutive season the Eagles will open their road schedule on "Monday Night Football." The Eagles won their Monday night road opener last season at Washington. The Eagles will face six teams who held a winning record in 2013. Four of their opponents had 12 or more losses. If Philadelphia can stockpile enough wins through the first 13 games, it will help immensely with its final three games against NFC East foes.
Complaint department: The NFL didn’t do the Eagles any favors with an extremely difficult 11-day stretch in late November. On Nov. 16, the Eagles travel to historic Lambeau Field to battle the Green Bay Packers. That is never an easy task. One week later, the Eagles host the Tennessee Titans -- certainly a very winnable game. But Philadelphia must travel to Dallas four days later on Nov. 27 to play the rival Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. It’s the first Thanksgiving Day game for the Eagles since 2008. Three games in 11 days is daunting, especially later in the season when injuries become a real factor. It certainly will test the team’s mettle as it pushes for a second potential playoff berth.
Divisive December: The Eagles will finish their season with three straight games against NFC East teams -- Dec. 14 against the Cowboys, Dec. 20 at Washington and Dec. 28 at the New York Giants. These divisional games will likely decide whether the Eagles earn a playoff spot or not. It’s a fascinating subplot, especially the matchup against the Redskins. That will be the second meeting against Jackson, who will surely be anxious to perform well. Divisional games are usually mixed in a little more, so these final three games could be even more competitive than usual. It also means the NFC East title could be decided on the final week, just like last season when the Eagles defeated the Cowboys.
Strength of schedule: 20th, .479 | Vegas over/under : 9
Eagles Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Monday, Sept. 15, at Indianapolis, 8:30 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, NY Giants, 8:30 p.m.
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Monday, Nov. 10, Carolina, 8:30 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, at Dallas, 4:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 20, at Washington, 4:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: The Washington Redskins have a chance to get off to a good start with winnable games in the first two weeks before starting a potentially difficult stretch. They need to generate momentum in those first two games or another tough season could await. The final seven games after the bye week will be interesting as well. Tampa Bay could be a surprise team and that's followed by road trips against NFC heavy weight San Francisco and AFC contender Indianapolis. That means we'll go from a Colin Kaepernick vs. Robert Griffin III storyline to one about Andrew Luck vs. Griffin. And Griffin is not a fan of talking about such matchups. But at least the Redskins get to finish with consecutive home games. And the fact that they play all their prime-time games in the first eight weeks followed by six 1 p.m. games in the final eight weeks suggests the NFL isn't confident a hot start will equal a strong finish. Then again, they can always flex. But most teams coming off a 3-13 season do not get so many prime-time matchups. Griffin's potential re-emergence and an offense that could be high-scoring will make for entertaining viewing.
Complaint department: One thing that jumps out right away is playing Seattle on a Monday night followed by a West coast trip to Arizona. The Monday night games always take a little more out of players, as does a long trip. They also have four road trips in five games (with a bye mixed in), starting with a Monday night game in Dallas. And if you want to stretch it further, it's five road games out of seven. The brutal part is playing at San Francisco and then at Indianapolis. But the other road games are winnable. However, those two home games in that stretch, against Tampa Bay and St. Louis, could be tricky. Those teams might be better than people think.
Early success a key: Despite the complaint department, there's a lot to like about this schedule for Washington, starting with the opening two weeks and the closing two weeks. A chance for a good start and a strong finish. And that's especially true in the division. Washington did not win a game in the NFC East a year ago, but the Redskins have two divisional games in the first four weeks and then finish the year with three straight. Washington can not only get off to a good start overall, but also re-establish itself in the NFC East. And if they need to make up ground late, they should have that ability. While Philadelphia will enter the season as the divisional favorite, it's still hard to say how big the gap is between the Eagles and everyone else. Last season the Eagles rode a good start to a division title. The Redskins will have a chance for that good start. They must take advantage.
Strength of schedule: 17th, .490 | Vegas over/under : 7
Redskins Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 25, NY Giants, 8:25 p.m.
Week 5: Monday, Oct. 6, Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Monday, Oct. 27, at Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 20, Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Dallas, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: Despite not having made the playoffs since 2009, the Cowboys remain a popular national team with five prime-time games. But if they are to stop the playoff-less streak, they will have to start fast and hold the fort late in the season. Three of the Cowboys' first five games come against teams that did not make the playoffs last season: at the Tennessee Titans, at the St. Louis Rams and at home against the Houston Texans. The other two home games are against two of the best teams in the NFC in the San Francisco 49ers (Sept. 7) and New Orleans Saints (Sept. 28). Because of their Nov. 9 trip to London to play the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cowboys don’t have their bye week until Nov. 16, but the close of the season is particularly tough with four of their last six games coming on the road with trips at the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and finale at the Washington Redskins.
Complaint department: The schedule maker did not do the Cowboys any favors with their Thanksgiving matchup with a night game at the Giants. The Cowboys will not get back to Dallas until early Monday morning with a short week to get ready for the Eagles. The Cowboys shouldn't have to play a road game the week before the Thanksgiving matchup, and playing a night game is borderline unfair. The Cowboys will not get their customary 10-day break until after they play at the Bears on Dec. 4. The Cowboys had a similar Thursday-Thursday schedule in 2007 when they finished 13-3. They can only hope to be as fortunate in 2014.
Not safe at home: AT&T Stadium has not created the home-field advantage the Dallas Cowboys have craved since moving into the $1.2 billion facility in 2009, and the Cowboys will be tested at home in 2014. The Cowboys welcome four playoff teams from 2013 to Arlington: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Indianapolis and New Orleans. Plus Arizona won 10 games last year. The Cowboys have beaten the Giants just once at home since 2009 and Houston has more talent than its 2-14 record indicates. The Cowboys are 22-18 in the regular season at AT&T Stadium. The easiest formula to make the playoffs is to win your home games and split them on the road. That will be a tough case for the Cowboys in 2014.
Strength of schedule: The Cowboys have the second-toughest schedule in the NFC East based on 2013 winning percentage, following the Washington Redskins (No. 17, .490). The Philadelphia Eagles won the division last year and have the 20th-ranked schedule (.490).
Strength of schedule: 18th, .488 | Vegas over/under : 8
Cowboys Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, NY Giants, 4:25 p.m.
Week 8: Monday, Oct. 27, Washington, 8:30 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Arizona, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m. (in London)
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at NY Giants, 8:30 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m.
Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 4, at Chicago, 8:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Indianapolis, 4:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Washington, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: Well, opening on "Monday Night Football" on the road isn't awesome, if for no other reason than it makes your fans wait extra-long to start the season (and for the first home game). I would say the early part of the Giants' schedule looks tough, with road games in Detroit, Washington, Philadelphia and Dallas and a couple of potentially tough home games against the Cardinals and Falcons. But that's nothing compared to their schedule immediately after the bye, which includes three straight games against 2013 playoff teams, one of which is the Super Bowl champion. Things appear to ease out considerably after Week 11, but the concern after last year is of course whether the Giants can avoid being buried again by a rough start. Winning on the road in Detroit to open the season would ease a lot of concerns, obviously.
Complaint department: Not only do the Giants have to go on the road to play the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, they have to do it on a short week. They play the Colts at home on "Monday Night Football" on Nov. 3 and then have to be in Seattle for what at this time is a day game on Nov. 9 (though flex scheduling could theoretically change that if the Giants have a big first half). And even if they get through that game, they have to come back the next week for what could be their toughest home game of the year against the 49ers. The bye hits in Week 8 after a tough start, but the schedule for Weeks 9 through 11 is a whopper of a midseason test.
Divisional balance: The Giants' first three NFC East games of the year are all in the first seven weeks of the season and all on the road. Their final three NFC East games of the year are all in the final six weeks and all at home. So if they can steal one or two early and hang in contention through those tough NFC West matchups, the Giants could be in position to dictate some things in the division with a run of late home games against the Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles. And if the Eagles are as good as all of the way-too-early predictions say they are, who knows? Chip Kelly could be resting guys by Week 17, right?
Strength of schedule: 26th, .465 | Vegas over/under : 7.5
Giants Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 8, at Detroit, 7:10 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Arizona, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 25, at Washington, 8:25 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Dallas, 4:25 p.m.
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Monday, Nov. 3, Indianapolis, 8:30 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, San Francisco, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at St. Louis, 4:05 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Philadelphia, 1 p.m.