NFC West: 2013 NFL schedule analysis
Breakdown: The Rams drew a Monday night home game against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8, a huge improvement from last season, when St. Louis spent Week 8 in London absorbing a 45-7 defeat to New England. This game against Seattle will mark the Rams' first Monday nighter at home since the 2006 season. That is clearly progress. The Rams went undefeated at home in the division last season. They were 4-1-1 overall against NFC West opponents. This can become a statement game for the Rams.
The Rams got two prime-time games overall, both at home against division opponents. The San Francisco 49ers visit the Edward Jones Dome in Week 4, a tough trip for the 49ers on a short week after they open against playoff teams Green Bay, Seattle and Indianapolis.
Complaint department: I suppose we could complain about drawing Steven Jackson in the Atlanta Falcons' home opener, when Jackson figures to be fresh as ever. But that would be a stretch. The Rams have no three-game road trips. Their bye falls at a good time. They have two home games on national television for the first time since 2004. They have that Monday night game at home. They bailed from the London trip that could have robbed another home game from fans. All in all, the Rams came out just fine, even if they could do without another Week 17 game at Seattle.
Familiar faces: Jackson, the Rams' career rushing leader, isn't the only familiar face on the schedule. The Rams face former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in Jeff Fisher's return to Tennessee on Nov. 3. That's one to circle on the schedule. Their date with one-time defensive coordinator candidate Rob Ryan falls on Dec. 15.
Rams Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at Dallas, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 26, San Francisco, 8:25 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Monday, Oct. 28, Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Chicago, 1:00 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at San Francisco, 4:05 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, New Orleans, 1:00 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, Tampa Bay, 1:00 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Breakdown: There's no easing into the schedule for the 49ers, but that was the case to some degree last season as well. This time, the 49ers open at home against Green Bay before visiting Seattle in a Sunday night game. A home game against Indianapolis follows, meaning the 49ers' first three games are against opponents that were playoff teams last season. A Thursday night game at St. Louis follows, a big challenge after the 49ers failed to defeat the Rams last season.
The opener against Green Bay is a rematch of the 49ers' divisional playoff game from last season. Can the Packers better contain 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who rushed for 181 yards against them last time? That will surely be a prevailing storyline for this one. The 49ers beat Green Bay at Lambeau Field in the opener last season, so this one becomes a double rematch for teams with playoff pedigrees.
The 49ers will spend Week 8 in London for their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, with a bye to recover the following week. The Jaguars are the home team, which means the 49ers will still play their usual eight regular-season games at Candlestick Park.
The trip to Seattle should be better this year. Last season, the 49ers visited the Seahawks following a draining road game against New England. The teams play at CenturyLink Field in Week 2 this season, with Seattle coming off a cross-country trip to Carolina for that one.
Complaint department: Nothing too egregious here. The 49ers have only one true 10 a.m. PT game on the schedule. (The London game kicks off at 10 a.m. PT, but the 49ers will have been in London for a while). They play in cold-weather markets early enough in the season to avoid frigid weather in most cases. If I had to single out one complaint, I'd point to back-to-back road games against the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins, the latter one falling on a Monday night.
Lights-out schedule: The 49ers play three of their five prime-time games on the road. It's tough to fault the league for steering clear of additional night games at Candlestick Park, where the lights went out on a Monday night game against Pittsburgh last season.
49ers Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Green Bay, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Indianapolis, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 26, at St. Louis, 8:25 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Houston, 8:30 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, at Tennessee, 4:05 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Carolina, 4:05 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at New Orleans, 4:25 p.m.
Week 12: Monday, Nov. 25, at Washington, 8:30 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, St. Louis, 4:05 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Monday, Dec. 23, Atlanta, 8:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Breakdown: The Arizona Cardinals were the only NFC team left off the "Monday Night Football" schedule. That was understandable after Arizona lost 11 of its final 12 games last season. The Cardinals did draw a prime-time home game against the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 17, a Thursday night matchup on NFL Network. That's the only night game on the schedule.
The Cardinals open at the St. Louis Rams before playing their home opener against the Detroit Lions. The Rams have a young team that could still be finding its way offensively that early in the season. The presence of a new coaching staff in Arizona will make it tougher for the Rams to prepare, a potential plus after Rams coach Jeff Fisher and staff proved to be well prepared for division opponents in 2012.
Having a bye week between home games in the middle of the season should let the Cardinals recover from a difficult start to the season.
Complaint department: The Cardinals play four of their first six games on the road, including three of their first four. Once the damage is likely done, Arizona returns home for games against Seattle, Atlanta and Houston. That's a brutal start to the season for first-year coach Bruce Arians. The Cardinals will not play a road game between Oct. 14 and Nov. 16. They get eight home dates, same as everyone else. But that start is rough. The Cardinals also play three of five December games on the road.
Circled on the calendar: The 58-0 defeat Arizona suffered at Seattle in last December rocked the organization. General manager Steve Keim pointed to that game as an experience that will stick with him in a "never again" way. You can bet the Cardinals will play a much more competitive game when they visit Seattle on Dec. 22 this season. That one should be circled on the calendar. It's important for the Cardinals to put forth a respectable effort this time around, win or lose.
Cardinals Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 8, at St. Louis, 4:25 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, Detroit, 4:05 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Carolina, 4:05 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Thursday, Oct. 17, Seattle, 8:25 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, Atlanta, 4:25 p.m.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Houston, 4:25 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Indianapolis, 4:05 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at Philadelphia, 1:00 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, St. Louis, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Seattle, 4:05 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Breakdown: The Seahawks' games against the San Francisco 49ers are of paramount interest for both teams. The teams play in Seattle on Sept. 15 in Week 2, in the Sunday night game on NBC. They play again at Candlestick Park on Dec. 8 in a Fox game. That one could be attractive for flexing into prime time. The Seahawks play twice on Monday night, first at St. Louis in Week 8 and later at home against New Orleans in Week 13. But neither game against the 49ers is a Monday nighter, a mild surprise.
Seattle played its 2012 divisional road schedule early in the season. The team plays three of its first four division games on the road this season before finishing with Arizona and St. Louis at home.
The Seahawks finished 11-5 last season and have been hyped considerably since making high-profile offseason acquisitions. The league gave Seattle four prime-time games. Three of those four fall against NFC West opponents, perhaps a sign of divisional strength. The prime-time schedule features the San Francisco game in Week 2 on NBC, and back-to-back road games against Arizona (Oct. 17) and St. Louis (Oct. 28), with the Cardinals game on a Thursday night. Seattle also faces New Orleans at home on ESPN (Dec. 2).
Complaint department: The Seahawks play five games scheduled to kick off at 10 a.m. PT, but at least they are good enough now to handle the time change more respectably. Still, five of the six games eligible for a 10 a.m. PT kickoff are kicking off at that early hour, a challenge for any West Coast team. The Monday night matchup against the Rams is the lone exception. Seattle plays at 10 a.m. PT three times in its first five games, including in successive games against Houston and Indianapolis beginning in Week 4. The other early games are against Carolina in the opener, at Atlanta and at the New York Giants.
Finishing kick: Seattle plays four of its final six games at home, with one of the road games taking the Seahawks on their shortest trip, to San Francisco. There's also a bye week during that stretch. That means the Seahawks should be in good position to finish strong for a second consecutive season.
Seahawks Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, at Carolina, 1: p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Jacksonville, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 29, at Houston, 1:00 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, Tennessee, 4:05 p.m.
Week 7: Thursday, Oct. 17, at Arizona, 8:25 p.m.
Week 8: Monday, Oct. 28, at St. Louis, 8:40 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, Tampa Bay, 4:05 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, Minnesota, 4:25 p.m.
Week 12: BYE
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 2, New Orleans, 8:40 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at N.Y. Giants, 1:00 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, St. Louis, 4:25 p.m.