- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Considerations as the NFL's regular-season schedule release nears Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET:
Calculating strength of schedule using records from the previous season has limitations. But as ESPN's John Clayton pointed out, significant swings in schedule strength from one season to the next do seem to influence team records. He sees the New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens as teams that might have to play better to avoid losing ground.
The Giants play the NFL's most difficult projected schedule, a first for a Super Bowl champion, according to Elias Sports Bureau. AFC champion New England plays the easiest one. The team with the easiest schedule has missed the playoffs in each of the last five seasons. That includes the Patriots in 2008, when they finished 11-5 without Tom Brady, who was injured. The Arizona Cardinals have missed the playoffs three times in the last five years while playing the NFL's easiest projected schedule. Last season, the Patriots went 13-3 against the second-easiest schedule.
This schedule marks the 11th since the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions, welcoming the Houston Texans as the 32nd franchise in 2002. Since then, 27 franchises have claimed at least one of the 80 division titles available. A reflection of parity's rise? Sorry. Twenty-seven franchises claimed at least one of the 60 division titles available from 1992-2001, when there were six divisions and between 28-31 teams.
OK, but has the distribution of those division titles changed significantly? Again, not really. Three teams won 30 percent of division titles from 1992 to 2001 (Pittsburgh, Dallas and San Francisco each have six). Three teams won 27.5 percent of division titles in the subsequent decade (New England has eight and Pittsburgh and Indianapolis have seven apiece).
The Patriots and Rams can expect bye weeks to recover from their overseas trips to face one another in London. That is reasonable, but consider this: The distance New England will travel for its game against the Rams -- 3,250 air miles each way -- only moderately exceeds the 2,720 miles Seattle will travel for its game against Miami.
This schedule features rematches for eight of 11 postseason games from last season: Giants-Packers, Steelers-Broncos, Giants-Falcons, 49ers-Saints, Broncos-Patriots, Ravens-Texans, Giants-49ers and Patriots-Ravens. The major differences this time around: Peyton Manning instead of Tim Tebow in Denver; no Sean Payton in New Orleans; the return of Matt Schaub to the lineup in Houston; and Randy Moss' reincarnation in San Francisco.
The three playoff games from last season without 2012 rematches: Giants-Patriots, Lions-Saints and Bengals-Texans. Note: Thanks to MemBirdman for the heads up on Giants-Packers.
Spending 42.1875 seconds analyzing each of the 256 games on the schedule would require three hours, or the time ESPN and NFL Network have set aside for their schedule announcement shows.
One matchup date is already set. The Cowboys and Giants open the regular season on Wednesday, Sept. 5, making this the ninth consecutive year that the Super Bowl champion has kicked off the season at home in prime time.