NFC East: NFL Schedule Analysis 2011

Breakdown: The misery that Washington Redskins fans suffered through last season has resulted in the predictable reward for this coming season: a notably soft schedule. Washington will meet just two non-divisional opponents who had winning records in 2010 (the New York Jets and New England Patriots). They’ll also meet one divisional rival, the Philadelphia Eagles, after their bye week and another at home in the season-opener, the New York Giants. What also helps is a schedule that includes six teams that have questions at quarterback for the coming season.

Of course, the Redskins don’t know what they’re doing at that position just yet (and yes, the entire Donovan McNabb fiasco still baffles me). But if head coach Mike Shanahan is going to put his team on a positive path, these are the kind of advantages that will help the cause.

Complaint department: Whatever hopes the Redskins have for an improvement over last year’s woes might vanish in the final five weeks of the season. It’s bad enough that they’ll see the Jets and the Patriots in the first two weeks of December. But road games against the Giants and Philadelphia (in the season finale) aren’t going to be easy, either. At least the Minnesota Vikings are in town for Christmas Eve. That’s the only decent matchup the Redskins will see during the holiday season.

It’s about time: There’s always plenty of reasons to tune in for a Cowboys-Redskins game. On Sept. 26 -- when Washington travels to Dallas for a "Monday Night Football" contest -- there will be another storyline: Whether the Redskins actually can win in the palatial stadium Jerry Jones built two years ago. Washington is 0-2 in that building and this would be a great time to change their fortunes.

Redskins Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 11, NY Giants, 4:15 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 18, Arizona, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Monday, Sep. 26, at Dallas, 8:30 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16, Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 23, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 30, at Buffalo, 4:05 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 6, San Francisco, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20, Dallas, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 27, at Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4, NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11, New England, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 24, Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1, at Philadelphia, 1:00 PM

Breakdown: For a team that won the NFC East last season, the Philadelphia Eagles definitely received a nice break from the schedule-makers. Yes, Philadelphia does open the season with two road games (against the St. Louis Rams and Atlanta Falcons) before meeting the New York Giants at home. But they also get three straight contests against teams that didn’t make the playoffs before facing the Dallas Cowboys at home after the bye week. Don’t think that Eagles head coach Andy Reid isn’t grateful for that bit of good fortune.

Even the Eagles’ toughest games will come on their home turf. That’s where they’ll see the Chicago Bears, New England Patriots and New York Jets. Again, will somebody please explain that turn of events to me?

Complaint department: November is going to be the hardest month for Philadelphia. It opens with the Bears and Arizona Cardinals before traveling to face the Giants in New York. The Eagles return to host New England on Nov. 27. If the Eagles have any gripes about their schedule, they can air them then.

Welcome back: It won’t take much to hype the Eagles’ Sunday night game against the Falcons. We all know that Michael Vick's return to Atlanta will generate plenty of buzz from both supporters and haters alike. Even though that franchise has found another Pro Bowl quarterback in Matt Ryan -- while also making the playoffs in two of the three seasons since Vick’s involvement in a dog fighting scandal led to the team dumping him -- this game will be all about one thing: closure.

Eagles Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 11, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 18, at Atlanta, 8:20 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 25, NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2, San Francisco, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 9, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 30, Dallas, 8:20 PM
Week 9: Monday, Nov. 7, Chicago, 8:30 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13, Arizona, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20, at NY Giants, 8:20 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 27, New England, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Thursday, Dec. 1, at Seattle, 8:20 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18, NY Jets, 4:15 PM
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 24, at Dallas, 4:15 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1, Washington, 1:00 PM

Breakdown: The New York Giants better keep their bags packed early. They open the season with three of their first four games on the road (against the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals). Granted, New York will face only one team with a winning record in its first seven games but that’s still a rough way to start the season. Nobody wants to spend that much time on the road so soon.

If that isn’t bad enough, the Giants will have plenty of tests from their non-divisional opponents. They’ve got road games against the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and the New York Jets and they face the Green Bay Packers in the first weekend in December. Correct me if I’m wrong but don’t the toughest schedules go to the teams that actually make the playoffs? The Giants might want to remind the league’s decision-makers of that if New York’s fortunes go south this fall.

Complaint department: The Giants’ season will be heavily impacted by what happens in late November and early December. In that four-game stretch they’ll face the winners of the last two Super Bowls (New Orleans and Green Bay) along with divisional rivals Philadelphia and Dallas. Good luck with that one.

Revenge factor: The last time the Giants and Patriots met -- in Super Bowl XLII -- New York pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NFL history. This contest clearly won’t have the same drama hanging over it, but it is the first meeting between these teams since that day. That alone should give it a nice storyline heading into what should be a fun watch.

Giants Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 11, at Washington, 4:15 PM
Week 2: Monday, Sep. 19, St. Louis, 8:30 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 25, at Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2, at Arizona, 4:05 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 9, Seattle, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 30, Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 6, at New England, 4:15 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13, at San Francisco, 4:15 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20, Philadelphia, 8:20 PM
Week 12: Monday, Nov. 28, at New Orleans, 8:30 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4, Green Bay, 4:15 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11, at Dallas, 8:20 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18, Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 24, at NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1, Dallas, 1:00 PM

Breakdown: The good news is head coach Jason Garrett should get a nice opportunity to start fast in his first full season on the job. After opening the season with a Sunday night game against the New York Jets -- the first of their five prime-time contests this year -- the Dallas Cowboys can look forward to three straight games against teams that finished 2010 with losing records -- the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions. The bad news is that Dallas might be in big trouble late in the season if they’re trying to contend for a playoff spot. Road games at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Giants (in the season finale) don’t bode well. A Dec. 24 matchup at home against defending division champion Philadelphia Eagles could also be tough contest to pull out.

On the flip side, there is hope coming off the bye, especially since Dallas will have two weeks to prepare for a road trip to New England. The other opponents the Cowboys will meet outside the division also aren’t ominous, with seven of those failing to make the postseason last year. In fact, Dallas has way too much talent to not capitalize on such a weak schedule. The question, as usual, is whether they’re actually going to make good on that promise.

Complaint department: Dallas fans had better enjoy the first three months of the season because the anxiety will be flowing in December. Aside from a Dec. 4 road trip to Arizona (a team that could be dangerous again if they stabilize their quarterback problems from a year ago), the Cowboys face the Giants twice, the Bucs and the Eagles. This is the time of year we’ll learn everything we need to know about this team.

Opening statement: The season-opener against the Jets will be critical for Dallas setting the right tone for this season. Rex Ryan has taken his team to two straight AFC title games and he’ll be talking plenty of mess before this one ever kicks off. If Dallas wants to prove it’s ready to put itself back in championship contention, this is the best place to start sending that message.

Cowboys Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 11, at NY Jets, 8:20 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 18, at San Francisco, 4:05 PM
Week 3: Monday, Sep. 26, Washington, 8:30 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16, at New England, 4:15 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 23, St. Louis, 4:15 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 30, at Philadelphia, 8:20 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 6, Seattle, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 24, Miami, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4, at Arizona, 4:15 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11, NY Giants, 8:20 PM
Week 15: Saturday, Dec. 17, at Tampa Bay, 8:20 PM
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 24, Philadelphia, 4:15 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM

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