NFC West: NFL schedule analysis 2012

Top five Monday night games for 2012

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
11:01
PM ET
One man's opinion on the top five Monday night games for 2012:

1. Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions, Week 16. Call this one the Karma Bowl. The Falcons took offense when Ndamukong Suh allegedly celebrated Matt Ryan's ankle injury during an October game between the teams last season. Suh called the injury "karma" for the Falcons' allegedly dirty tactics. Good teams and bad blood should make for good theater.

2. Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons, Week 2. Peyton Manning's first post-Indy appearance on "Monday Night Football" takes him to Atlanta for only the third time in his career. The Falcons are a footnote in this matchup. Manning plays only one indoor game during the 2012 regular season. This is it.

3. Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles, Week 12. Neither team had a winning record last season, but who cares? This game presents a chance to see Cam Newton and Michael Vick on the same night in the same stadium for the first time -- assuming they're both healthy enough to play after running around, into and through defenses for two-plus months.

4. Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers, Week 11. Patrick Willis versus Matt Forte. Brian Urlacher versus Frank Gore. Expect a physical game and a big test for Jay Cutler on the road. The 49ers have arguably the NFL's best defense, and they'll be eager to show it in prime time.

5. Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks, Week 3. Two NFC West teams on the list? What is this, the NFC West blog? Yes, but this one's legit. Few venues can approach Seattle for atmosphere, especially in prime time. And this game marks Green Bay's lone appearance on Monday night. The Matt Flynn storyline adds interest.

Arizona Cardinals schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
8:11
PM ET
Breakdown: The Cardinals drew two prime-time games, both against division opponents, as part of a schedule that should let them avoid a second consecutive slow start.

Arizona, which rallied to 8-8 last season after a 1-6 start, plays three of its first four games at home, beginning with Seattle's visit to University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Seahawks and Cardinals played two close games last season, including a Week 17 matchup in Arizona that went into overtime. The 2012 season picks up where the 2011 season left off, in other words. That's a welcome early development for the division as these teams seek to close ground on the defending NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers.

Playing five of the first eight games at home sounds even better for Arizona knowing that two of the road games during that stretch fall against St. Louis and Minnesota, teams coming off difficult seasons. Of course, this presumes the Cardinals will put forth a more respectable effort in the Metrodome this time around.

Kevin Kolb has to be looking forward to a Week 3 home game against his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Complaint department: The Cardinals drew a division-high five games kicking off at 1 p.m. ET, the earliest possible time slot and one coach Ken Whisenhunt has lamented over the years. While the Cardinals finished strong last season in rallying to 8-8, question marks at quarterback made it tougher for Arizona to command additional prime-time games -- the surest way for a Western team to avoid the early starts. Overall, though, the Cardinals came out OK. They get a Week 10 bye between road trips to Green Bay and Atlanta, but that portion of the schedule does feature four of five games on the road.

Home sweet home: The Cardinals are opening at home for the second consecutive season and only the fourth time since the team relocated to Arizona for the 1988 season. They can thank their new stadium for providing relief from the scorching Arizona sun. More road games late in the season can be tough, but the Cardinals are home against Detroit and Chicago in Weeks 15 and 16, followed by their shortest road trip of the season, albeit to San Francisco, site of arguably their worst 2011 performance.

Cardinals Regular-Season Schedule (All times ET)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, Seattle, 4:15 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at New England, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Philadelphia, 4:05 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, Miami, 4:05 PM
Week 5: Thursday, Oct. 4, at St. Louis, 8:20 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Buffalo, 4:05 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Monday, Oct. 29, San Francisco, 8:30 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, St. Louis, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Seattle, 4:15 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Detroit, 4:05 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, Chicago, 4:15 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at San Francisco, 4:15 PM

Seattle Seahawks schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
7:49
PM ET
Breakdown: Matt Flynn's addition from Green Bay in free agency has paid off already, helping the Seahawks secure a Monday night home game against the Packers on Sept. 24. But Seattle drew just a cautious prime-time commitment overall, with an Oct. 18 game at San Francisco standing as the only other game scheduled for under the lights.

Sending the Week 15 game against Buffalo to Toronto could remove a cold-weather game from the schedule (the Bills play at the Rogers Centre, formerly the SkyDome, and the roof has been closed for three of the Bills' four games there). A Week 13 game against Chicago, scheduled for Dec. 2 at 1 p.m. ET, stands as the only likely deep-freeze opportunity. The Seahawks won at Chicago in each of the past two seasons, however, so they should welcome another opportunity.

Opening at Arizona feels right. The Seahawks and Cardinals played into overtime in Week 17 last season, with Arizona prevailing. Both teams were getting better late in the year. We've debated on the blog whether the Seahawks or Cardinals are best positioned to challenge San Francisco in the NFC West. This matchup will give us an early read.

Finishing with three of the final four games at home, all against division opponents, gives the Seahawks control over their divisional destiny late in the season.

Complaint department: The Seahawks play four road games during a five-game stretch beginning in Week 4, and the home game is against AFC champion New England. Time to buckle up, in other words, because the ride could get a little bumpy. The run begins with a trip to St. Louis, where the Seahawks have won consistently in recent years. But their defense faces tough tests at Carolina (Cam Newton), against the Patriots and at Detroit. Oh, and a trip to San Francisco on Oct. 18 falls four days after the New England game.

Favorable bye placement: The Seahawks' cross-country trip to Miami in Week 12 falls after a three-week stretch featuring two home games and a bye. That is a favorable arrangement for the Seahawks, who usually challenge for the most air miles from year to year. They should be rested, relatively speaking, heading into road games against the Dolphins and Bears in consecutive weeks.

Seahawks Regular-Season Schedule (All times ET)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Arizona, 4:15 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Dallas, 4:05 PM
Week 3: Monday, Sept. 24, Green Bay, 8:30 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, at Carolina, 4:05 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, New England, 4:05 PM
Week 7: Thursday, Oct. 18, at San Francisco, 8:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Minnesota, 4:05 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, NY Jets, 4:05 PM
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, Arizona, 4:15 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at Buffalo, 4:05 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, San Francisco, 4:15 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, St. Louis, 4:15 PM
Breakdown: The 49ers open the season against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, a marquee matchup reflecting San Francisco's improved standing following a 13-3 season. A Sunday night home game against Detroit in Week 2 is next, putting the 49ers in the national spotlight right away.

The 49ers drew five prime-time games overall, leaving them only three games kicking off at 10 a.m. PT, a lower number than usual. They're home against Seattle in an Oct. 18 game on NFL Network. Monday night games against Arizona on the road (Oct. 29) and against Chicago at home (Nov. 19) also jump out from the schedule. The final prime-time game, at New England in Week 15, falls on a Sunday night.

San Francisco plays five of six games at home in the middle of the season, with a Week 9 bye falling between games against Arizona (road) and St. Louis (home).

The 49ers made a statement last season by winning back-to-back matchups in the Eastern time zone and remaining in Ohio between those games. They will not have a similar opportunity in 2012, it appears, because their road games against the New York Jets (Week 4) and New England Patriots (Week 15) do not fall in consecutive weeks. Update: The team could conceivably stay on the road for games against Minnesota and the Jets, but no decision has been made, according to the team.

Complaint department: The 49ers played three of their final five games on the road every season from 2008 to 2011. The trend continues and actually gets worse this season. The 49ers play four of their final six games on the road, including games against New Orleans (Week 12), New England (Week 15) and Seattle (Week 16). That was one price to pay for playing so many home games near the middle of the season. Another price, of course, was opening the season with three of the first four on the road.

Bounty watch: The audio tapes that revealed former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams encouraging players to take out certain 49ers during the teams' playoff matchup will be the big story heading into the Nov. 25 rematch, to be played in the Superdome. Bounty-related punishments figure to leave the Saints at their weakest earlier in the season, when interim coach Joe Vitt and (presumably) some defensive players will be serving suspensions. Seems like playing this game earlier in the season would have been more favorable to the 49ers.

49ers Regular-Season Schedule (All times ET)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Green Bay, 4:15 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Detroit, 8:20 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Buffalo, 4:15 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, NY Giants, 4:15 PM
Week 7: Thursday, Oct. 18, Seattle, 8:20 PM
Week 8: Monday, Oct. 29, at Arizona, 8:30 PM
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, St. Louis, 4:15 PM
Week 11: Monday, Nov. 19, Chicago, 8:30 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, at New Orleans, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, Miami, 4:05 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at New England, 8:20 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Seattle, 4:15 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Arizona, 4:15 PM

St. Louis Rams schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
7:12
PM ET
Breakdown: Jeff Fisher's addition as coach raised the Rams' profile, but not enough for the team to secure a Monday night game. A Thursday night home game against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 4 will have to suffice in the prime-time department. That's what happens when a team goes 15-65 over a five-year period.

The Rams open at Detroit, a rough test for them on just about every front, but they return home to face the Washington Redskins -- and, probably, rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III -- in Week 2. Drawing Griffin early in the season, before he's had much seasoning, seems like a welcome development. But with two of the first three games on the road -- a trip to Chicago awaits in Week 3 -- the Rams do faces challenges early.

The NFL gave the Rams a home game against Green Bay on Oct. 21 before the team heads to London. The bye week naturally falls one week later, but then it's off to San Francisco for a tough test against the 49ers' defense on Nov. 11.

Complaint department: The Rams play three of their final four games on the road on opposite coasts, including a Dec. 9 trip to Buffalo and road games against Tampa Bay and Seattle in the final two weeks of the regular season. A Dec. 16 home game against Minnesota interrupts the road trip, but this will be a tough closing stretch for the Rams. They play only three games in the Edward Jones Dome over the final 10 weeks of the season, counting their Week 9 bye. That's the price of playing in London and getting a four-week stretch with three home games beginning in Week 2.

Heading overseas: Agreeing to play a game in London diminishes a favorable stretch of the schedule. The Rams have four home games during a five-game stretch beginning with a Week 4 game against Seattle, but the final game of that stretch falls against New England across the Atlantic. Being the "home" team against the Patriots in London renders no advantage.

Rams Regular-Season Schedule (All times ET)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Washington, 4:05 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, Seattle, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Thursday, Oct. 4, Arizona, 8:20 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, New England, 1:00 PM
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at San Francisco, 4:15 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, at Arizona, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, San Francisco, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Seattle, 4:15 PM

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