NFC East: NFL Schedule Analysis 2012

Breakdown: There's no easing into the NFL, but assuming Robert Griffin III is the next starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins, the opening stretch of the schedule of his first professional season offers a couple of breaks. The Redskins open with a road game in New Orleans against the Saints, who will be without several coaches and possibly several key defensive players as a result of suspensions from the NFL's investigation of their bounty program. Their second game is against the Rams in St. Louis, and after the home opener Sept. 23 against the Bengals, they go on the road to Tampa Bay. Not that the Redskins are guaranteed to beat any of those teams with a rookie quarterback, but the tougher-looking part of their schedule doesn't come until a bit later on.

The Redskins' only scheduled prime-time game to this point is the Dec. 3 "Monday Night Football" matchup at home against the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, but they will be in the spotlight at 4:15 p.m. ET Thanksgiving Day, when they take on the division-rival Cowboys in Dallas. And if Griffin is off to a strong start, the Redskins' Nov. 4 game at home against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers is likely to generate some advance hype.

The Redskins' bye comes in Week 10, and of the seven games that follow, a whopping five are against NFC East opponents -- one at home against the Giants and all of their matchups against the Eagles and Cowboys. They finish the season with a Week 16 trip to Philadelphia and a Week 17 home game against Dallas, so if they are in contention, they'll have their chances to pull something off. And Griffin can wait a while before finding himself in the heat of these NFC East rivalries.

Complaint department: If I were a Redskins fan, it would annoy me a bit that Griffin is scheduled to play only three home games prior to Nov. 4. A Dec. 16 trip to Cleveland has a chance to be pretty unpleasant, weather-wise. And having to play division games against the Eagles and Cowboys in a five-day stretch doesn't look like a lot of fun, either.

Week 2 in St. Lou: Lots of connections between the two teams that will play in St. Louis on Sept. 16. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and new Rams coach Jeff Fisher are close friends. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett served the Rams in the same role from 2006 to '08 and was the team's head coach for the final 12 games of that 2008 season. And of course, the Redskins wouldn't be in position to draft Griffin if they hadn't traded three first-round picks and this year's second-rounder to St. Louis for the No. 2 pick in this year's draft. It'll be interesting to follow, over the coming years, the progress of the players the Rams take with the picks they got from the Redskins. It's possible two of those players could play in this game.

Redskins Regular-Season Schedule (All times ET)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at St. Louis, 4:05 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Tampa Bay, 4:15 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Minnesota, 4:15 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, at Dallas, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 3, NY Giants, 8:30 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Dallas, 1:00 PM

Breakdown: The Eagles open on the road in the Midwest for the second year in a row, beginning their 2012 season with a ho-hum matchup Sept. 9 against the Browns in Cleveland. But things get intense pretty quickly. Six of their next seven games, beginning with the Sept. 16 home opener against the Ravens, are against teams that made the postseason in 2011. The only one that's not requires a long road trip to Arizona to play the Cardinals in Week 3.

Last season's disappointing record didn't keep the Eagles from being a target of the networks that put games in prime time. They'll appear twice on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" -- Nov. 5 at New Orleans, and Nov. 26 at home against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. They have two games (so far) scheduled for Sunday nights on NBC -- Sept. 30 against the Giants and Dec. 2 in Dallas. And their turn on Thursday night on the NFL Network comes Dec. 13, with a home game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

If they're in a race with the Giants for the NFC East title, the Eagles will get to play the defending champs head to head to possibly decide it. Their final regular-season game is against the Giants at MetLife Stadium. The Eagles have beaten the Giants in seven of their past eight tries, and they haven't lost at the Meadowlands since 2007.

Complaint department: Not a whole lot to complain about here. There's a stretch from Week 11 to Week 14 in which they play three road games, but their longest road trips are spaced out and nestled between home games. They don't go anywhere in December that's likely to be any colder than Philadelphia is. They have to play 10 games after the bye week as opposed to six before it, and that's not ideal, but even that could be worse. And the teams they play back to back on their short week are Tampa Bay and Cincinnati, which doesn't sound overly intimidating.

Annual victim: As every Eagles fan and many posts on this blog will spend the middle part of October pointing out, the Eagles are 13-0 in games immediately following bye weeks with Andy Reid as their head coach. This year's bye is Week 7, and the opponent who will come into Philadelphia to try to break that streak in Week 8 is the Atlanta Falcons.

Eagles Regular-Season Schedule (All times ET)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Arizona, 4:05 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, NY Giants, 8:20 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, at Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Monday, Nov. 5, at New Orleans, 8:30 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, Dallas, 4:15 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Monday, Nov. 26, Carolina, 8:30 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Dallas, 8:20 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Thursday, Dec. 13, Cincinnati, 8:20 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM

Dallas Cowboys schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
7:35
PM ET
Breakdown: The Cowboys are always a prime-time draw, and while they have only one "Monday Night Football" game on ESPN (Oct. 1 against the Bears), NBC is putting them on in prime time at least three times. In addition to the Sept. 5 opener against the Giants, the Cowboys play Sunday night prime-time games Nov. 4 (at Atlanta) and Dec. 2 (at home against the Eagles).

The Cowboys got an early bye -- Week 5 for the second season in a row. Players generally don't like the early bye, since it's the last break for a long time, and I wondered earlier today whether teams that got the early byes last season would get later ones in 2012. Not the case. The Cowboys will have played just four games before they take their week off.

And their first two games are on the road, as I will discuss in greater detail below, but that means the Cowboys' home opener won't be until Sept. 23, at 1 p.m. ET against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They don't see their traditional rivals from Washington until very late, but the first Redskins-Cowboys game of the year will be watched by a lot of overstuffed people, as it's the second game of the day on Thanksgiving, Nov. 22.

Complaint department: After their Week 4 home game against the Bears, the Cowboys begin a six-week stretch in which they will have just one home game. They're off in Week 5, then play at Baltimore, at Carolina, home against the Super Bowl champion Giants, at Atlanta and at Philadelphia. That's a long stretch of time without the home fans getting a chance to see their team in person, and if those teams perform as expected, it could be a pretty tough stretch of opponents as well. The payoff is that five of the Cowboys' final seven games will be at home, but they can't love ending the season with a road rivalry game against the Redskins in Washington.

A travel break: The Cowboys' longest road trip of the season is to Seattle, but they get about as good a break as they could get on that one. Their game against the Seahawks will be in Week 2, following 10 days off after the Sept. 5 season opener against the Giants in New Jersey. If you're a middle-of-the-country team and you have to play in New Jersey and Seattle in consecutive weeks, the best you can hope for is that the first game is a few days early.

Cowboys Regular-Season Schedule (All times ET)
Week 1: Wednesday, Sept. 5, at NY Giants, 8:30 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Monday, Oct. 1, Chicago, 8:30 PM
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, NY Giants, 4:15 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Atlanta, 8:20 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Philadelphia, 4:15 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, Washington, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, Philadelphia, 8:20 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Pittsburgh, 4:15 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Washington, 1:00 PM

New York Giants schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
7:20
PM ET
Breakdown: Hey, when you finish in first place, your schedule the next season is going to feature a lot of teams that also finished in first place. Add in the fact that the NFC East this season is playing the AFC North -- a division that sent three teams to last season's playoffs -- and the New York Giants have a schedule that would have been pretty challenging in 2011. After Week 5, every game the Giants play is against either a division opponent or a 2011 playoff team.

The Giants' bye week is late. It doesn't hit until Week 11 (the Sunday is Nov. 18), and while most players prefer the bye to come as close to the middle of the schedule as possible, a late one is generally preferred to an early one. Yeah, the Giants could be worn down by Week 11, but it will give them a chance to refresh for what could be a very tough closing schedule.

As for travel, there's not much to hate. The Giants leave the Eastern time zone only twice -- for trips to San Francisco and Dallas. Those trips are in Week 6 and Week 8, respectively, but each is positioned between a pair of home games. The Giants get their odd-day games out of the way early with a season-opening Wednesday nighter at home against the Cowboys, and a Week 3 Thursday night matchup against Cam Newton and the Panthers in Carolina. The only "short" weeks are Week 3, when they'll have three days between their Sunday home game and the Thursday nighter in Carolina, and Week 14, when they play the Saints at home following their only "Monday Night Football" game of the season, which is Dec. 3 in Washington.

Complaint department: I maintain that using last season's records to determine strength of schedule is a mistake, since we don't know who the good teams are going to be. But of the Giants' six games after their Week 11 bye, four are against the Packers, Saints, Falcons and Ravens (not just 2011 playoff teams, but perennial playoff teams), and the other two are at Washington and at home against the Eagles. While a division home game is a nice way to finish the season if you expect to be in contention for a division title, note that the Eagles have beaten the Giants in seven of their past eight meetings overall and haven't lost at the Meadowlands since Sept. 30, 2007.

Homecoming: Maybe you have to be a New Jersey guy to appreciate this one, but I am and so I do. Former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, now the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, returns to the Garden State in Week 2. This will create several easy column and sidebar angles for my old friends at The Star-Ledger.

Giants Regular-Season Schedule (All times ET)
Week 1: Wednesday, Sept. 5, Dallas, 8:30 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Thursday, Sept. 20, at Carolina, 8:20 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Philadelphia, 8:20 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at San Francisco, 4:15 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Dallas, 4:15 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Pittsburgh, 4:15 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, Green Bay, 8:20 PM
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 3, at Washington, 8:30 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, New Orleans, 4:15 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Philadelphia, 1:00 PM

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