NFC North: 2013 NFL schedule analysis
It doesn't get much easier from a travel standpoint. The Vikings' home opener comes in Week 3 against the Cleveland Browns, followed by a "home" game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in London. You would hope the Vikings could handle the Browns at home, but Minnesota will have to work hard to avoid going into its Week 5 bye with a non-losing record. Overall, it'll play twice at the Metrodome over the first seven weeks of the season.
Last year's playoff run, along with tailback Adrian Peterson's historic season, did propel the Vikings into three prime-time games -- including two in a row. They'll have a Monday night game at the New York Giants in Week 7 and a Sunday night matchup at home against the Green Bay Packers in Week 8.
The last regular-season game at the Metrodome will be in Week 17 against the Lions. The stadium, opened in 1982, is scheduled to be razed to make room for the team's new stadium. The Vikings will move to the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium for 2014 and 2015.
Complaint department: The Vikings went 7-1 at the Metrodome last season and are 164-89 there all time. This season, however, they'll have one fewer game in the building thanks to their entrance into the London rotation. The Vikings were eager volunteers, given their limited local revenues at the Metrodome, but let's face it: Playing the Steelers outdoors at Wembley Stadium is a lot different than hosting them in the Metrodome. The Vikings will technically be the home team but won't have a traditional home-field advantage.
Minnesota West: Week 11 will bring the Vikings' grudge match against the legions of former players now on the Seattle Seahawks' roster. When they travel to play the Seahawks for a Nov. 17 game, the Vikings will see receivers Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice and cornerback Antoine Winfield, among others. Former Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will also be calling the Seahawks' plays.
Vikings Regular-Season Schedule (all times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Monday, Oct. 21, at NY Giants, 8:30 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, Green Bay, 8:30 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, at Dallas, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Thursday, Nov. 7, Washington, 8:25 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, at Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Detroit, 1 p.m.
Breakdown: New coach Marc Trestman will benefit from a relatively rare start to the schedule: two consecutive home games. The Chicago Bears haven't received that gift from the schedule makers since 1999.
Overall, however, Trestman's first month on the job will be tough. He'll open against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1 followed by the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2 before making consecutive road trips to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions.
The Steelers game will be one of four prime-time matchups for the Bears. The others include a Week 6 game against the New York Giants at Soldier Field, Week 9 at the Green Bay Packers and Week 14 at home against the Dallas Cowboys.
Trestman's first bye week will come almost exactly at the midpoint of the season, in Week 8.
Complaint department: The Bears will pay for their favorable opening schedule with a tough stretch at the end. They'll play four of their final six on the road, which among other things limits the home-field advantage they like to think they have in bad weather/field conditions at Soldier Field. After Nov. 17, their only home games are that Cowboys prime-time game and the regular-season finale against the Packers. Generally speaking, the Bears aren't going to want to count on a big second-half surge to get them into the playoffs.
Bengals beware: The Bengals are projected as a playoff team by many prognosticators, but history tells us they will have their work cut out for them against the Bears. Overall, the Bears have more victories in season openers at home (53) than any other NFL franchise. All told, they are 53-35-5 in those games. They have won their last five opening-day contests and are 17-3 in their past 20.
Bears Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 8, Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 15, Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 22, at Pittsburgh, 8:30 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sep. 29, at Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 10, NY Giants, 8:25 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Monday, Nov. 4, at Green Bay, 8:30 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Monday, Dec. 9, Dallas, 8:30 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Breakdown: The Detroit Lions' 4-12 season last year apparently has reduced their national appeal. Their schedule includes only one prime-time game, a home date on "Monday Night Football" in Week 15 against the Baltimore Ravens.
Frankly, with the number of nationally known playmakers on this team -- from quarterback Matthew Stafford to receiver Calvin Johnson to running back Reggie Bush -- I thought the Lions would get more than one night game. And it's a bit surprising that it would come so far into the season.
If the schedule makers are convinced the Lions won't be a team with high national interest in 2013, why wait until almost the end of the season -- when they presumably would be out of the playoff chase -- to showcase them? Who knows.
The Lions will see a familiar sight on Thanksgiving Day. They will host the Green Bay Packers in that game for the fourth time in seven years and the sixth time in 13. The Packers have won the past three matchups and four of the past five.
Complaint department: The Lions will play four of their first six games on the road -- traveling to Arizona, Washington, Green Bay and Cleveland over that stretch -- and won't play their third game at Ford Field until Oct. 20. That will make it tough to effect the kind of fast start that propelled them to the playoffs two years ago. On the plus side, of course, the Lions will play a stretch of four home games in five weeks between Weeks 12 and 16.
Schedule oddity: The Lions will open and close the season against the Minnesota Vikings. The teams will play at Ford Field in Week 1 and at the Metrodome, for what will be the last regular-season game ever in the facility, in Week 17. Somebody out there, or some computer, likes symmetry if nothing else. It will be only the second time in franchise history that the Lions have hosted the Vikings in their season opener. The other came in 1971.
Lions Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, at Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, Dallas, 1 p.m.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 28, Green Bay, 12:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Monday, Dec. 16, Baltimore, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, N.Y. Giants, 4:05 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at Minnesota, 1:00 p.m.
Breakdown: The Packers' 2013 schedule has a familiar ring. They open with the San Francisco 49ers for the second consecutive season, a quirk that also affords a rematch with the team that knocked them from the 2012 playoffs. They'll play the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day for the fourth time in seven years. They once again have a prime-time game against the New York Giants and will have four (out of a maximum of five) night games overall.
Two of them will come at home, in Week 9 against the Chicago Bears and Week 14 against the Atlanta Falcons. Their road night games will come at the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8 and at the Giants in Week 11.
It's worth wondering whether the Packers will face quarterback Robert Griffin III or backup Kirk Cousins in their Week 2 game against the Washington Redskins; Griffin is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery and isn't a lock to be ready for the start of the season. But perhaps most interesting is that the Packers won't play back-to-back road games, the first time that has happened in team history. By definition, that makes it a balanced schedule.
Complaint department: I guess I know why the NFL prefers divisional matchups on Thanksgiving Day -- television ratings and attendance -- but this Packers-Lions thing is getting comical. The Packers will have played in this game six times in 13 seasons: 2001, '03, '07, '09, '11 and now '13. Thursday games are a scramble to prepare for, and it would be fair to spread the wealth a bit more evenly.
579: According to coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers have made that number their offseason mantra. It refers, of course, to the total yards their defense gave up to the 49ers in a divisional-round playoff loss three months ago at Candlestick Park. The Packers sent their defensive staff to Texas A&M this spring for a coaching clinic as part of an organization-wide effort to respond to the debacle, and we're expecting that push to continue through the draft. The timing of this game means the "579" story will carry nicely -- and eventually ad nauseam -- through training camp and the preseason.
Packers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, Cleveland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m.
Week 9: Monday, Nov. 4, Chicago, 8:30 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at N.Y. Giants, 8:30 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 28, at Detroit, 12:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Atlanta, 8:30 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at Dallas, 4:25 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, Pittsburgh, 4:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at Chicago, 1 p.m.