NFC West: Schedule

A few more notes on the recently released 2013 NFL schedule after offering initial thoughts and encouraging discussion late last week:
  • Divisional distribution: The chart shows every regular-season matchup for each NFC West team. Shading identifies games involving two division teams. There are no division games from Week 9 through Week 12. Weeks 14 and 17 feature only division games. Every NFC West teams plays three division games in the first eight weeks and three in the final five weeks.
  • Bye distribution: All four NFC West bye weeks fall from Week 9 through Week 12.
  • 4-0 possibilities: The NFC West has four chances to go 4-0 in the same week. Week 5 might provide the best chance with three of four NFC West teams at home. It happened in Week 2 last season when Arizona upset New England, St. Louis defeated Washington, San Francisco defeated Detroit and Seattle defeated Dallas. Three of those four games were at home for NFC West teams.
  • No three-game trips: Philadelphia and Tennessee were the only teams to draw three-game road trips in 2013. No NFC West team has had one since the 2011 Cardinals visited Philadelphia, San Francisco and St. Louis in consecutive weeks. Arizona went 2-1 during that stretch.
  • Predicting records: One quick way to predict season records is to assume a certain number of home victories -- seven-plus for really good teams, fewer for not-so-good teams -- and then conservatively count seemingly "winnable" road games. Using that method, I wind up with more projected victories for the 49ers than for any other team in the division, even with a defeat at home.
Schedule strength isn't always a reliable indicator as teams improve or worsen from one season to the next.

We should keep that in mind while discussing how the 2013 schedule could shape expectations for teams nearly five months before the regular season.

I do think it's interesting to note that the 2013 schedule could work against the Seattle Seahawks on two fronts while favoring the San Francisco 49ers on at least one.

Could these differences help decide the NFC West race in 2013? Lets walk through them.

Kickoff times

Having five kickoffs at 10 a.m. PT works against the Seahawks simply because it's tougher playing so early in the day immediately after traveling West to East. We've discussed this subject several times over the years, usually pointing to won-lost records for road games based on start times. I'm not sure that's a great way to measure the impact of travel. Anyone who has traveled West to East knows it's tougher, and that should be enough whether or not on-field results appear to line up.

In the Seahawks' case, they've been outscored by 4.6 points per game in the first halves of 10 a.m. PT kickoffs since 2001, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The deficit was 2.1 points per game in first halves of road games kicking off between 1 p.m. PT and 1:25 p.m. PT.

I've singled out first halves on the theory that a team traveling West to East for an early game could need a half or so to get going. Some thought the Seahawks appeared to play that way when falling behind by 20 points to the Atlanta Falcons in an early kickoff during the playoffs last season. They were much better after halftime.

The deficits after halftime for Seattle in these games were much smaller (1.6 points per game in the early kickoffs, and a half-point per game in the later ones).

The chart at right breaks down the won-lost record by kickoff time for the five teams either on Pacific time or, in Arizona's case, aligned with Pacific time part of the year.

Again, I'm not certain that type of evidence is compelling. There aren't very many games. Many other factors could come into play for specific games. However, I do know traveling West to East can be tough on the mind and body. Seattle has five of these 10 a.m. PT games. The 49ers have one of them. Advantage, 49ers.

Schedule strength by venue

Seattle went 8-0 at home last season and 3-5 on the road. The Seahawks' home opponents for 2013 had a combined .438 winning percentage last season. That sounds great for Seattle, but it's not like the team can improve upon 8-0. There's nowhere to go but down regardless of which teams visit CenturyLink Field.

The flip side for Seattle is a much tougher-looking road schedule (.594). The difference between those home-road records -- plus-156 percentage points from .438 to .594 -- is tied with Denver for largest in the league.

The 49ers, meanwhile, generally have their tougher opponents at home, where San Francisco might be expected to win regardless. Their home-road disparity -- minus-172 percentage points from .605 to .434 -- is the largest in the NFL.

Nik Bonaddio and Keith Goldner of numberFire recently pointed to the 49ers' home schedule as one reason San Francisco enjoys one of the NFL's five easiest paths to the playoffs Insider.

One more time: There's a fair amount of subjectivity and uncertainty here. As a general rule, however, I think the 2013 schedule favors the 49ers while lengthening the odds for the Seahawks.

The St. Louis Rams also face a tougher schedule on the road than at home. The gap between winning percentages for home and road opponents -- .465 at home to .613 on the road, or .148 -- is tied for second-largest in the NFL behind those for Seattle and Denver. The Arizona Cardinals' home-road disparity lines up closely with that of the 49ers.

Arizona Cardinals schedule analysis

April, 18, 2013
NFC schedule analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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.

A perfect storm took down the Arizona Cardinals in 2012: worst-case-scenario injuries at running back, shoddy quarterback play, questionable planning for the offensive line, unexpected quarterback developments elsewhere in the division and a brutal schedule.

That last one came into focus while checking out a chart Paul Kuharsky ran on the AFC South blog. I've reproduced the chart below. This chart shows strength of schedule minus how each team's own game outcomes affected results.

The results are pretty similar to standard strength-of-schedule results. The Atlanta Falcons played the easiest schedule even when their own 13 victories and three defeats were removed from their opponents' results.

Note that Arizona and St. Louis ranked among the top three in toughest adjusted schedules. Each had to face two playoff teams from their own division. Each also faced New England, Green Bay, Chicago and Minnesota.

The won-lost-tied records displayed in the chart are the unadjusted records. The final column shows the adjusted percentage. For the Cardinals, the adjusted won-lost-tied record would be 130-106-4 (.550) once we removed their opponents' 11-5 record vs. Arizona from the unadjusted record of 141-111-4 (.559).

Thoughts on 2013 NFC West opponents

December, 31, 2012
The 2012 NFL season has finished, which means the 2013 opponents are set for each team.

The league will not provide a schedule with dates and times until April. In the meantime, here's a look at 2013 opponents for NFC West teams:

San Francisco 49ers

Home: Arizona, Seattle, St. Louis, Atlanta, Carolina, Houston, Indianapolis, Green Bay.

Road: Arizona, Seattle, St. Louis, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington.

Thoughts: The 49ers have seven games against 2012 playoff teams (underlined). They play three games in the Eastern time zone and three more on Central time. San Francisco is the only team in the NFC scheduled to face 2012 rookie phenom quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. The 49ers have four games against those three, two at home and two on the road. The Packers are visiting San Francisco, a welcome reversal from recent seasons. Another trip to New Orleans awaits.

Arizona Cardinals

Home: St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Carolina, Houston, Indianapolis, Detroit.

Road: St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Philadelphia.

Thoughts: The Cardinals play seven games against 2012 playoff teams, including five at home. They play three games in the Eastern time zone and three more on Central time. Arizona's defense generally fared well against top quarterbacks this season. That trend will need to continue. The Cardinals face Colin Kaepernick, Wilson, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Matt Schaub, Luck, Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees next season. Sam Bradford is on the list twice as well. He went 2-0 against Arizona this season.

Seattle Seahawks

Home: Arizona, St. Louis, San Francisco, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Minnesota.

Road: Arizona, St. Louis, San Francisco, Atlanta, Carolina, Houston, Indianapolis, New York Giants.

Thoughts: The Seahawks play six games against 2012 playoff teams, four of them on the road. The schedule features four games in the Eastern time zone, plus Central time games against St. Louis and Houston. Another trip to Carolina awaits, as does another home game against Minnesota. Seattle will visit the Giants for the second time in three seasons. Wilson goes from facing Griffin in the postseason to facing Luck in the regular season. The Saints visit Seattle for the first time since the teams' memorable playoff game following the 2010 season.

St. Louis Rams

Home: Arizona, Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Chicago.

Road: Arizona, Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta, Carolina, Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas.

Thoughts: The Rams play seven games against 2012 playoff teams. They play five of those teams on the road. That looks like a tough road schedule on the surface. The Rams went 5-2-1 this season against the teams scheduled to visit St. Louis in 2013. That included 4-1-1 against the NFC West, plus a victory over Tampa Bay and a defeat to Chicago. None of the non-division opponents for 2013 faced the Rams this season. The Rams play three road games against quarterbacks drafted first overall (Ryan, Newton, Luck).

Programming note: The plan for Week 17

December, 30, 2012
Good morning and welcome to Week 17 on the NFC West blog.

I'll be heading over to CenturyLink Field in a bit for the third divisional game there in the last four weeks. Seattle played no division games at home in the first 13 weeks of the season.

The Seahawks are looking to post an 8-0 record at home while possibly improving their position in the NFC playoffs. St. Louis is looking to finish the season with a 5-0-1 record against NFC West opponents and an 8-7-1 record overall.

The chart uses bold lettering and underlining to show which NFC West games I've attended. The count works out to nine San Francisco 49ers games, eight Seahawks games, four Arizona Cardinals games and three Rams games.

Week 17 provides an opportunity to do something I haven't done enough this season: watch the Rams in person.

Special circumstances too often led me away from the Rams. Those included Russell Wilson's Week 1 debut, the Lions-49ers rematch featuring handshaking head coaches, a couple Monday night games featuring other division teams, the Rams moving one of their most attractive games to London, the Cardinals' surprising fast start and Colin Kaepernick's unexpected emergence as the 49ers' starter.

There won't be any last-minute itinerary changes this time. Rams and Seahawks it is.

Thoughts on 49ers-Seahawks in prime time

December, 10, 2012
The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are headed for prime time in Week 16.

As suspected, the NFL and NBC targeted the Week 16 game between the teams for showcasing on Sunday night. That means the game between the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets will move from prime time on NBC to a 1 p.m. ET kickoff on CBS. The 49ers and Seahawks, previously scheduled to play at 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox, are now set for 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC.

The NFL also moved the New York Giants-Baltimore Ravens game from an early kickoff into the 4:25 p.m. ET slot, replacing the 49ers and Seahawks. Fox will carry that game.

The 49ers and Seahawks already played in prime time this season. San Francisco scored a 13-6 victory at Candlestick Park on NFL Network in Week 7. Flexing the Week 16 game between the teams will give San Francisco six prime-time games this season, the most rules allow a single team to play.

The 49ers are 4-0 in prime time. They allowed 35 points in those games. They beat Detroit, Seattle and Chicago at home. They also won at Arizona.

The prime-time challenge grows for San Francisco over the next two weeks. The 49ers visit New England on Sunday night in Week 15. The Patriots have a 39-2 home record in Tom Brady's last 41 regular-season home starts. Arizona is the only team to beat New England at Gillette Stadium this season. Seattle is 6-0 at home and coming off a 58-0 victory over the Cardinals.

Seattle and San Francisco provide an obvious prime-time upgrade over the Chargers and Jets. NBC's options for flexing games were limited, however. Fox had exercised its right to protect the Giants-Ravens game from flexing. CBS had done the same for the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game. That left New Orleans-Dallas, Minnesota-Houston and St. Louis-Tampa Bay as remaining games that could feature two teams with playoff hopes at that point in the season.

We're down to two NFC West games in Week 9 as byes factor into the schedule for the first time this season.

I'll be spending Sunday at CenturyLink Field for the Seattle Seahawks' game against the Minnesota Vikings. I'm also booked for the San Francisco 49ers' home game against the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football" in Week 11.

The chart accounts for NFC West game-day coverage to this point. So far, there have been four trips to Candlestick Park, three to University of Phoenix Stadium and one apiece to the Edward Jones Dome and CenturyLink. I've set in bold and underlined the games I've attended or almost certainly will attend.

It's looking like the Week 8 trip to Arizona for the 49ers-Cardinals game could mark the final trip to University of Phoenix Stadium this season. The Cardinals play five of their final eight games on the road.

Seattle still has three division games at home, so it's looking like I'll spend much of December there.

The guys will be in Seattle this weekend. I'm hoping to meet up with them there. We recently got together in San Francsico for the Seahawks-49ers game. Here's their video account from that game.

Around the NFC West: Non-division slump

October, 23, 2012
After a sizzling start, NFC West teams stand 12-8 against opponents outside the division.

That's not bad. It's much better than the division has fared in the recent past. But the NFC West has gone 1-5 against non-division opponents since going 11-3 against them to open the season.

NFC West teams were 18-22 outside the division last season and 13-27 in 2010.

The current 12-8 record marks an improvement, but it has the potential to slip further in Week 8. Seattle visits Detroit. St. Louis faces New England in London. The Seahawks are 4-0 outside the division and 0-3 inside it. The Rams are 2-0 inside the division and 1-4 outside it.

NFC West teams are 1-5 outside the division over the past two weeks. Arizona has lost at home to Buffalo and on the road to Minnesota. San Francisco lost at home to the New York Giants. The Rams lost at Miami and at home to Green Bay. Seattle's victory over New England in Week 6 stands as the exception lately.

The Seahawks play a string of five non-division games beginning with their trip to Detroit. From there, they face the Minnesota Vikings (home), New York Jets (home), Miami Dolphins (road) and Chicago Bears (road).

A victory over the Lions would leave Seattle in strong position to finish with a winning record. The team would have five victories with five home games remaining, plus a game against Buffalo in Toronto.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Good morning and welcome to Week 6 on the NFC West blog.

I'll be heading over to Candlestick Park shortly to cover the San Francisco 49ers' NFC Championship Game rematch against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

The plan will be to watch the St. Louis Rams' early kickoff at Miami on one of the monitors inside the Candlestick press box. The Buffalo-Arizona and New England-Seattle games will begin about 20 minutes before the Giants-49ers game, so there should be a chance to watch those games begin, at least.

Things get a little tricky once all three games are running simultaneously. I'll be watching the Giants-49ers game and participating in a related chat while trying to monitor the other games from afar. You can expect the usual "wrap-up" items to post once the games are completed, provided they finish before the Giants-49ers game, which seems likely in the absence of overtime.

The chart shows NFC West schedules. I've bolded and underlined games I've attended, expect to attend or hope to attend. Plans can change based on factors such as how the teams are playing, what's at stake, whether ESPN has others assigned to the game, etc.

It's tougher picking which game to attend now that the division has four teams above .500. The next week will be a busy one as I'm headed back to San Francisco for the Seahawks-49ers game Thursday night, followed a couple days later by a trip to St. Louis for the Green Bay Packers-Rams game in the Edward Jones Dome. This will mark my first Rams game of the season; it feels overdue.

From the fairness in scheduling department

September, 21, 2012
Got a scheduling complaint from Lou, a Seattle Seahawks fan going by @seehawk80 on Twitter.

"Isn't it funny how Green Bay gets 11 days rest between games and Seattle gets eight?" he writes. "Couple more days for players to get healthy. That's fair."

Here's what is even more fair about it, Lou: Seattle's most recent opponent, Dallas, was also coming off an 11-day layoff. The Cowboys opened the season with a Wednesday night game against the New York Giants on Sept. 5. They were then off until visiting Seattle on Sept. 16. Not that it seemed to matter; Seattle won, 27-7.

The Packers last played Sept. 13, a Thursday. They face Seattle on Monday, Sept. 24.

Seattle does get to play at home for these games against the Cowboys and Packers. The Seahawks also have one of the NFL's younger rosters. We're early in the season, too. Throw those factors together and the Seahawks shouldn't be at a great disadvantage based on their opponents' layoffs.
Each NFL team played eight regular-season road games in 2008, same as every season.

The Seattle Seahawks traveled 29,912 air miles for their road games. The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled 5,682 air miles for theirs.

Grantland's Bill Barnwell explores what those disparities can mean for NFL teams. He does not directly address how kickoff times compound travel issues for Western teams, but his research is welcome to those hoping to affect positive change in that area. It's good to have someone without an NFC West address carrying the conversation.

Of course, there is no remedy beyond franchise relocation for some of the travel headaches. As Barnwell writes, "Pittsburgh accrues about 1,122 miles in traveling to and from its divisional rivals, while Seattle's round-trips to their NFC West brethren clock in at a whopping 7,024 miles."

The San Francisco 49ers have fought the mileage deficit by remaining on the road between two-game swings. They did it last season and plan to do so again in 2012, this time between visits to the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets. They won close games against Cincinnati and Philadelphia during their two-game trip in 2011.

NFC West teams appear to be improving, particularly on defense. That should help them become more competitive at any time or place.

Note: I'm told is working to restore functionality to the comments sections.
A few notes after the NFL announced its preseason schedule for the 2012 season:
  • The San Francisco 49ers face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in a nationally televised game in the third week. The third week is generally when teams play their starters the longest.
  • Matt Hasselbeck and the Tennessee Titans face the Seahawks in Seattle, Hasselbeck's first game against his former team. That means Matt Flynn makes his Seattle debut against Hasselbeck.
  • Seattle travels to Denver for what will be Manning's first home game with the Broncos.
  • All four NFC West teams are home in the fourth week of preseason. That's a bonus heading into the regular season. Every AFC West team finishes the preseason on the road, with three of those games against NFC West teams.
  • Two of the Arizona Cardinals' five games are televised nationally, beginning with their matchup against New Orleans in the Hall of Fame Game. The Aug. 23 game at Tennessee falls on a Thursday night.
  • The St. Louis Rams open the Jeff Fisher era against Indianapolis, the worst team in the NFL last season. That's what we call easing into things. The Rams should welcome the arrangement as they rebuild.
  • The NFL wasn't about to schedule another 49ers game against Oakland after violence marred the 2011 preseason game between the teams.
  • As miner49er4984 noted in the comments, the 49ers face the Minnesota Vikings in the preseason and again in the regular season. Two matchups with Mike Singletary in one season, then.

The chart shows each team's opponents.
The NFC West emerged from Week 13 better for the experience.

Going 2-0 against the NFC East upped the NFC West's non-division record to 15-19, better than non-division records for two divisions. NFC West teams own victories over current division leaders Baltimore, Dallas and New Orleans.

I've shared the sobering news with NFC East blogger Dan Graziano. He took it as well as could be expected. The NFC East did go 9-7 against the NFC West, including 4-0 against St. Louis.

Schedule delivers rough two-week stretch

December, 2, 2011
The St. Louis Rams face enough challenges as it is. They could do without a difficult two-week stretch featuring unfavorable scheduling.

  • Week 13 sends the Rams to the West Coast for a game against a San Francisco 49ers team coming off a 10-day break. The 49ers last played on a Thursday night.
  • Week 14 sends the Rams to the West coast for a game against a Seattle Seahawks team coming off an 11-day break. Seattle played Thursday night.

The Rams also face a slightly shorter week when they play a Saturday game at Pittsburgh in Week 16. But the Steelers will have it tough in some ways, too. They'll be coming off a Monday night road game against the 49ers. They'll return to Pittsburgh early Tuesday morning, then play four days later.