NFL Nation: NFC Schedule Analysis 2010

Washington Redskins schedule analysis

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
9:06
PM ET
Breakdown: It's not often that a 4-12 team lands three prime-time games and five on national television. But coach Mike Shanahan has made the Redskins relevant again. The Redskins will open the season by hosting the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, Sept. 12, on NBC. The only thing better would've been sending the Eagles to FedEx. But watching the Cowboys face a Redskins team that features quarterback Donovan McNabb is a pretty strong way to kick off the season. We'll find out immediately how much better the Skins are with McNabb and Shanahan.

But on Oct. 3, McNabb makes his highly anticipated return to Philadelphia. Something tells me the fans will give him a huge ovation before that game. The Redskins play four of their first six games at home, which should allow them to get off to a decent start. But hosting the Packers and Colts in back-to-back games in early October will be tough.

The Eagles, Redskins and Giants all received great bye weeks. Shanahan will have the Week 9 bye before the Eagles come to town. It's a pretty good scenario for the Redskins. The Redskins have the eighth toughest schedule in the league based on '09 records, but the schedule lays out pretty nicely in 2010. I just don't think they have a lot to complain about -- especially since they get the Colts, Packers and Vikings at home. I think the Redskins have the best schedule in the division. But now let's come up with something to complain about.

Complaint department: The other teams in the division don't have more than two sets of back-to-back road games. The Redskins weren't as fortunate. They travel to St. Louis and Philadelphia in Weeks 3 and 4. Then they have back-to-back road games in Chicago and Detroit in late October. The Skins will spend the Christmas holidays with back-to-back games in Arlington, Texas, and Jacksonville before hosting the Giants in Week 17. The Redskins only have back-to-back home games twice during the season. I don't think this is a huge complaint, but it's worth mentioning.

Facing Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers in back-to-back games in October won't be easy, but I see the Redskins emerging from the first six weeks with a 4-2 record. There, I said it.

Most-appealing matchup: It's not even close. That trip to Philly on Sunday, Oct. 3, will be one of the most anticipated games of the season. I may go ahead and book my flight. I think the second-best matchup might be that Dec. 19 game at Cowboys Stadium. The Redskins in a meaningful December game? It could happen.

Redskins Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, Dallas, 8:20 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, Houston, 4:15 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, at St. Louis, 4:05 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, at Philadelphia, 4:15 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, Indianapolis, 8:20 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, at Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, at Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Monday, Nov. 15, Philadelphia, 8:30 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, at Dallas, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, NY Giants, 1:00 PM

Philadelphia Eagles schedule analysis

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
8:38
PM ET
Breakdown: Let's be honest. There's only one game everyone is focused on. Donovan McNabb and the Washington Redskins visit the Linc on Sunday, Oct. 3. That will be one of eight nationally televised games for the Eagles. It's a 4:15 p.m. ET game on Fox. It's the only NFC East opponent the Eagles face until Week 10, when they will travel to play the Redskins on ESPN's "Monday Night Football." It's almost like the league wanted to feature these two games before the Eagles moved on to the rest of their schedule.

Like the other NFC East teams, the Eagles will face a brutal December. There are back-to-back road games against the Cowboys and Giants on Dec. 12 and 19. And that Cowboys game is on Sunday night. It seems like all the NFC East matchups are on prime time this season. Andy Reid has to like the Week 8 bye. It comes before playing the Colts at the Linc and an emotional trip to Washington. It's honestly the perfect time for the bye.

Complaint department: You never want to send an inexperienced quarterback on the road for two weeks early in a season, but you could do worse than trips to Detroit and Jacksonville. It's good to have the first McNabb reunion in early October. You don't want to backload that matchup because everyone would obsess about it too much. The week after that first matchup against the Skins, the Eagles have to travel across the country to play the 49ers. That's an NBC night game Oct. 10. And quite honestly, it seems like an odd prime-time matchup.

The Eagles have back-to-back NFC games on two separate occasions. That back-to-back at Cowboys Stadium and New Meadowlands Stadium is a brutal way to spend the weeks leading up to Christmas. It's great that the league has decided to have a home-and-home series between the Cowboys and Eagles in Week 17. It's a very nice little tradition and I'd have no problem with it continuing.

Most-appealing matchup: This schedule is all about the Oct. 3 game against the Skins. Sending McNabb to the Linc on a nice evening in early October seems perfect to me. You don't want to wait too long for it to happen. You think Fox is OK with that matchup? Probably so.

Eagles Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, Green Bay, 4:15 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, at Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, at Jacksonville, 4:05 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, Washington, 4:15 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, at San Francisco, 8:20 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, Indianapolis, 4:15 PM
Week 10: Monday, Nov. 15, at Washington, 8:30 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, NY Giants, 8:20 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, at Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Thursday, Dec. 2, Houston, 8:20 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, at Dallas, 8:20 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, Dallas, 1:00 PM

Breakdown: Think the Packers aren’t marketable? The NFL put them in its premier time slot -- on Sunday night -- three times. They also appear on ESPN’s "Monday Night Football" once and have a national slot on opening weekend, taking on Philadelphia on Sept. 12 at 4:15 p.m. ET.

I look at the Packers’ opening seven weeks and think they should expect nothing less than a 5-2 start, especially given the way they played the second half of last season. They should be favored to win home games against Buffalo, Detroit and Miami. I like their chances to win at Washington and I’m guessing they’ll be fully primed for the Oct. 24 game against Minnesota.

Barring a collapse, 5-2 or 6-1 will be enough to put the Packers in excellent playoff position.

Complaint department: Coming out of their bye, the Packers will play four of five games on the road. In fact, their only home game between Nov. 8 and Dec. 25 will be Dec. 5 against San Francisco. That’s a long time to be away from Lambeau Field.

Interesting note courtesy of Packers public relations: The Packers’ Week 10 bye is the latest allowed under NFL rules and is the latest bye in franchise history. The Packers have more games before the bye (nine) than they do afterward (seven). Take that to the house.

Packers Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, at Philadelphia, 4:15 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Monday, Sep. 27, at Chicago, 8:30 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, Minnesota, 8:20 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, at NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, Dallas, 8:20 PM
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, at Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, San Francisco, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, at Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, at New England, 8:20 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, NY Giants, 4:15 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, Chicago, 1:00 PM

Chicago Bears schedule analysis

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
8:10
PM ET
Breakdown: When I look at Chicago's schedule, I see an early storm followed by some calm seas. Oh yes, I am full of maritime references -- and many other things -- tonight.

The Bears play three of their first five games on the road, including tough matchups at Dallas, the New York Giants and Carolina. NFC North teams provide the opponent for their two home games in that stretch. So let's not rule out a 2-3 or even a 1-4 start for this team. (I know someone will throw that back in my face when the Bears soar to a 5-0 start, but what the heck.)

But if the Bears can weather that initial grouping of games, they have an opportunity to start their playoff run in mid-October. They have home games against Seattle and Washington, followed by their bye, a trip to Toronto to play Buffalo and a home matchup against Minnesota.

If the Bears are a playoff team, they're going at least 3-1 in that stretch and will be in contention for the final seven games of the season.

Complaint department: The Bears will have to travel to all three NFC North locales over the final five weeks of the season. Winning at a Black and Blue stadium is tough enough. Doing it in December (or January), with a possible playoff spot on the line, will be a particularly tough task.

Prime time: The Bears won't play on Thanksgiving as originally rumored. But they do have four prime-time games, including "Monday Night Football" matchups against Green Bay and at Minnesota. I know where I'll be those weeks.

Bears Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, at Dallas, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Monday, Sep. 27, Green Bay, 8:30 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, at NY Giants, 8:20 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, Seattle, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 18, at Miami, 8:20 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, at Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, New England, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Monday, Dec. 20, at Minnesota, 8:30 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at Green Bay, 1:00 PM

Breakdown: With the Buccaneers building with youth, there probably won’t be any overnight miracles. But look at the first three games on the schedule -- it’s at least possible the Bucs could start 2-1 or 3-0. They’ve got the Browns, Panthers and Steelers and it’s entirely possible Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could be suspended for that game. In a bit of irony, Byron Leftwich, who was traded from Tampa Bay to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, could be starting for the Steelers that day.

The schedule only gets more difficult after a Week 4 bye, but the Bucs could build some momentum with a fast start. It’s a well-known fact the Buccaneers have struggled in cold weather since the franchise started. They’ve got potential cold-weather games in Baltimore and Washington.

Complaint department: The Buccaneers do not have a single game in prime time. Then again, did you really expect the NFL to put a team that was 3-13 last year on national television?

Blackout time?: The Buccaneers have sold out every game at Raymond James Stadium since they moved there in 1998. Keeping that streak alive might have involved some creative accounting last year because there sure appeared to be a lot of empty seats. But the world’s best ticket-sales force might not be able to prevent local television blackouts this year. The Bucs might be able to sell out the first two games against Cleveland and Pittsburgh because a lot of Tampa Bay residents are transplants from Ohio and Pennsylvania. Plus, the champion Saints come to town Oct. 17 and that game should take care of itself. But the Rams are coming to town Oct. 24. I’m thinking the only way that one sells out is if the Bucs are 5-0 and Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Mike Alstott and Warren Sapp come out of retirement and sign with St. Louis.

Buccaneers Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, at Arizona, 4:15 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, at San Francisco, 4:05 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, at Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, Seattle, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM

New York Giants schedule analysis

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
8:07
PM ET
Breakdown: The New York Giants have the seventh toughest schedule in the league, but they have to like the way it lays out. The only back-to-back road games -- there's a bye in the middle of the other one -- comes at the end of the season. The Giants will finish with road games at the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins.

It's pretty impressive that a team that finished third in the division scored four prime-time games. It's pretty interesting that the Giants don't play a division opponent until Week 7. That's when they travel to Cowboys Stadium and play on ESPN's "Monday Night Football." It will mark the fourth straight season the two teams have played a night game in North Texas.

Since the Carolina Panthers closed Giants Stadium down with a beatdown, it's fitting that they'll travel to New Meadowlands Stadium in Week 1. That's a 1 p.m. ET game. I would have preferred seeing the Philadelphia Eagles open the new stadium. The Giants' first prime-time game comes in Week 2 on the road against the Indianapolis Colts. That's an NBC game and it's probably good to go ahead and get Manning vs. Manning out of the way early.

Coach Tom Coughlin hates the early bye, so I'm sure he's very pleased about the Week 8 draw. That will allow the Giants to recover from a big road game at Cowboys Stadium before they travel across the country to play the Seattle Seahawks.

Complaint Dept.: We've seen what happens when the Giants back load their schedule with division opponents. I'm not sure it's a great thing to only play one division game in the first nine weeks. I don't see a ton to complain about because the Giants don't have to stay on the road for long periods of time. But that's a brutal December, just like what the Cowboys drew. They open the month by hosting the Redskins and then they close the season on the road against Washington.

I know the league was trying to make the last two weeks more meaningful, but they may end up making us wait too long for some of the marquee games. Other than the trip to Indy, there's really not a great matchup until Monday, Oct. 25, when the Giants play Dallas on the road.

I just keep going back to that December stretch. You have the Minnesota Vikings and Packers sprinkled in between three division games.

Most-appealing matchup: Maybe the Redskins will have faded by Dec. 5, but I still think Donovan McNabb coming to New Meadowlands Stadium will be pretty special. I like Eli vs. Peyton in Week 2, but for whatever reason, seeing McNabb roll into the Meadowlands in Burgundy and Gold is very appealing to me. It's a real downer that the league sent the Panthers to open the new stadium. I'm sure most Giants fans were hoping for the Cowboys to arrive.

Giants Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, at Indianapolis, 8:20 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, Chicago, 8:20 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Monday, Oct. 25, at Dallas, 8:30 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, at Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, Dallas, 4:15 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, at Philadelphia, 8:20 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, at Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, at Green Bay, 4:15 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at Washington, 1:00 PM

Breakdown: The Saints are playing a franchise-record five nationally-televised games and the first two games will be at night. When a team wins a championship, the common saying is they become the biggest target on the schedule for every opponent and that’s probably true with the Saints.

The other nationally-televised games will be in prime time, but the Saints will play their first-ever Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas at 4:15 p.m. The Cowboys ended New Orleans’ shot at an undefeated season last year and this rematch has “huge audience’’ written all over it. So does the season opener against Minnesota, a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game and it gets even better if Brett Favre still is with the Vikings.

Complaint department: The Saints have a nicely placed bye in Week 9, but they’ll have to face the Seahawks at home after that and get ready for the Cowboys in a very short week. That’s never an ideal situation, but the Saints are used to dealing with adversity when it comes to the schedule. In recent history, they’ve had to pull off a trip to London and work their way around some hurricane warnings. December trips to Cincinnati and Baltimore might involve some cold weather.

Gift department: Sean Payton took it easy on his players last year, resting some starters late in the season. That was because the Saints had already clinched everything they could clinch. It might be a little tougher and take a little longer to do that this year, but the Saints are catching what appears to be a huge break as they host the Buccaneers in the regular-season finale.

Saints Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Thursday, Sep. 9, Minnesota, 8:30 PM
Week 2: Monday, Sep. 20, at San Francisco, 8:30 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, at Arizona, 4:05 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, Pittsburgh, 8:20 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 25, at Dallas, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, St. Louis, 4:05 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, at Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Monday, Dec. 27, at Atlanta, 8:30 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM

Breakdown: The NFL's schedule-makers, among many other people, seem to believe Brett Favre will be in a purple uniform for at least one more year.

The Minnesota Vikings will be featured in four prime-time games, including the regular-season opener Sept. 9 at the New Orleans Saints. They'll play on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" on Oct. 11 (at the New York Jets) and Dec. 20 (Chicago Bears). Finally, they'll play a Sunday night game Oct. 24 (at the Green Bay Packers).

Let's see. The Saints were Favre's boyhood team before pummeling him in the NFC Championship Game. His two previous teams are the Packers and the Jets. His history with the Bears speaks for itself. That Metrodome game could be flexed out if Favre retires. But no one seems to think that's a possibility. Favremania has given the Vikings the highest of high-profile schedules.

Complaint department: Three games before the bye? Most teams consider an ideal bye week at midseason, but the Vikings will have nowhere close to that luxury. Two early home games means the Vikings should probably be 2-1 entering their Oct. 3 bye. But playing the final 13 games in succession isn't ideal for a team that hopes to make a deep run into the playoffs.

Getting "chilly:" Coach Brad Childress will have another chance to defeat his close friend and mentor, Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, in a Dec. 26 game that could well carry significant NFC playoff implications. In four years, Childress is 0-2 against Reid. Both losses have been at the Metrodome.

Vikings Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Thursday, Sep. 9, at New Orleans, 8:30 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Monday, Oct. 11, at NY Jets, 8:30 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, Dallas, 4:15 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, at Green Bay, 8:20 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, at New England, 4:15 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, Arizona, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, at Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Monday, Dec. 20, Chicago, 8:30 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, at Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at Detroit, 1:00 PM

Breakdown: The 49ers drew four games in prime time, an indication expectations for the team are on the rise nationally.

Games against the Saints (Week 2), Eagles (Week 5), Cardinals (Week 12) and Chargers (Week 15) give 49ers fans -- and the nation -- a steady diet of San Francisco games this season. It's up to the 49ers to hold up their end. The 49ers play five of six games on the road beginning Nov. 29. This schedule should test them.

The season builds toward a Week 17 home game against the Cardinals, a game that could determine which team emerges with the NFC West title.

Complaint department: The 49ers open with three of their first four games on the road, and their only home game during that stretch comes against the Super Bowl champion Saints. Expectations will be huge for this team, but it's possible San Francisco could struggle some early. The 49ers couldn't win at Seattle last season when the Seahawks were horrible and San Francisco absolutely needed to win. The 49ers cannot assume they'll win the opener at Seattle this season.

Top of the morning to ya: The 49ers drew five games with 10 a.m. PT kickoffs. That's a typical number for them. Team president Jed York has complained about all the early games, but the league has shown no sympathy.

49ers Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, at Seattle, 4:15 PM
Week 2: Monday, Sep. 20, New Orleans, 8:30 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, at Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, Philadelphia, 8:20 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, Oakland, 4:05 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, Denver, 1:00 PM
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, St. Louis, 4:15 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, Tampa Bay, 4:05 PM
Week 12: Monday, Nov. 29, at Arizona, 8:30 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, at Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 15: Thursday, Dec. 16, at San Diego, 8:20 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, Arizona, 4:15 PM

Breakdown: The Panthers could be a sacrificial lamb of sorts as they open the regular season in the new Giants Stadium. But the good news is they follow that up with home games against the Buccaneers and Bengals. That could get John Fox off the hot seat, at least temporarily.

The Panthers could see their former quarterback Jake Delhomme when they go to Cleveland on Nov. 28, assuming of course Delhomme hasn’t already played his way out of the lineup. The Panthers will get to know the Ravens pretty well, traveling to Baltimore in the preseason and hosting the Ravens on Nov. 21. The Panthers also will face the Steelers in the preseason and regular season and both games are in Pittsburgh.

Complaint department: There’s a chance that the Panthers could be playing in cold weather, something they’re not particularly good at, in six of their final seven games. Weather in Charlotte in late November and December can go either way, but the Panthers also have to make late-season trips to Cleveland, Seattle and Pittsburgh. There also is only one prime-time appearance, which probably doesn’t sit too well with owner Jerry Richardson.

Welcome back Julius: Bank of America Stadium sometimes gets knocked for hosting a wine-and-cheese crowd. But I’m guessing it will seem more like the game’s being played in Philadelphia when the Chicago Bears come to town Oct. 10. They’ll be bringing Julius Peppers with them. He once could have been King of the Carolinas. But he never was comfortable in that role and forced the Panthers to get rid of him. Peppers also has been taking some pretty blatant shots at the Panthers since he signed with the Bears.

Panthers Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, San Francisco, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, at Seattle, 4:15 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, Arizona, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Thursday, Dec. 23, at Pittsburgh, 8:20 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM

Dallas Cowboys schedule analysis

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
7:32
PM ET
Breakdown: The Cowboys have five primetime games and will play on the road against the Cardinals on Christmas night. They open against Donovan McNabb and the Redskins at FedEx on Sunday, Sept. 12, on NBC. That is one of the most attractive opening-week matchups I can remember.

The Cowboys only have back-to-back games on the road twice this season. We already knew the Cowboys were going to have one of the toughest schedules in the league, but a brutal finishing stretch makes it even tougher. The Thanksgiving Day game will feature the defending Super Bowl champion Saints coming to Cowboys Stadium.

The Cowboys finally played better in December in '09, but it will be even tougher this season. It's a stretch that begins with the AFC champion Colts and includes three division games. You'd be hard-pressed to find a tougher schedule in the league.

Complaint department: Well, as we've already said, the Cowboys will be on the road for Christmas Day. That game will be on the NFL Network. I'm sure every Cowboys player (and their families) groaned after seeing that game. The aforementioned December stretch would be the biggest complaint for the Cowboys, though. You travel to Indianapolis to begin things Dec. 5 and then you host back-to-back games against the Eagles and Redskins.

After the Christmas game, you close on the road in Philly. The NFL schedule czar must laugh every time he gets to this matchup. This is the third straight season, so it looks like we've established a tradition. It's unbelievable that the Cowboys won't see the Eagles until December. How tough is that assignment? We'll have to see how Kevin Kolb starts out to answer that question. I'm sure the Cowboys hate having a bye in Week 4. You'd rather have that about two or three weeks later.

Most-appealing matchup: I love the opener against the Redskins, but the Saints Thanksgiving game is the most appealing in my book. Sending the Raiders to Cowboys Stadium on Thanksgiving was an absolute joke. Both of these teams should be in the Super Bowl conversation in 2010. It will also be interesting to see how the Cowboys fare in back-to-back road games against the Packers and Giants in November. That's a pretty salty two-week stretch.

Cowboys Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, at Washington, 8:20 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, Tennessee, 4:15 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, at Minnesota, 4:15 PM
Week 7: Monday, Oct. 25, NY Giants, 8:30 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, at Green Bay, 8:20 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, at NY Giants, 4:15 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 25, New Orleans, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, at Indianapolis, 4:15 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, Philadelphia, 8:20 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 25, at Arizona, 7:30 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at Philadelphia, 1:00 PM

Arizona Cardinals schedule analysis

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
7:31
PM ET
Breakdown: The Cardinals have come to count on opening the regular season against the 49ers. This season was different and Arizona will not complain after getting swept by San Francisco last season.

Opening at St. Louis gives Matt Leinart a chance to start against a weaker opponent. That was certainly better than opening against the Saints or on the road against the Vikings. The pressure will be on Leinart not to lose against a bad team, but opening the season against a weak opponent can also give him a chance to win early.

The Cardinals close the season with three games against NFC teams, with two on the road. Those games could be critical as teams fight for playoff positioning. Games against the Chiefs, Rams, Broncos, Panthers and 49ers are subject to flex scheduling.

Complaint department: The Cardinals open the season with three of their first four games on the road, including potentially tough matchups against the Falcons and Chargers. Life doesn't get much easier when Arizona returns home in Week 5. The Super Bowl champion Saints will be waiting. Arizona has proven to be a resilient team that responds well to challenges. The Cardinals might need to draw on some of that toughness.

Blackout watch: The Cardinals have worked hard to keep their sellout streak alive. The schedule sets up favorably to avoid blackouts early in the season. The home opener is against Oakland and the Raiders' fans tend to travel well. The Saints visit for the second home game. The third home game, albeit against Tampa Bay, falls in Week 8. A Christmas Day home game against Dallas should sell out well in advance.

Cardinals Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, at St. Louis, 4:15 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, Oakland, 4:15 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, at San Diego, 4:15 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, New Orleans, 4:05 PM
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, at Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, Tampa Bay, 4:15 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, at Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, Seattle, 4:15 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, at Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Monday, Nov. 29, San Francisco, 8:30 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, St. Louis, 4:15 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, Denver, 4:15 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 25, Dallas, 7:30 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at San Francisco, 4:15 PM

Detroit Lions schedule analysis

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
7:27
PM ET
Breakdown: After going 2-30 the past two seasons, the Lions won’t get a sniff of a primetime game despite a number of marketable young players -- most notably quarterback Matthew Stafford. The nation will see the Lions once: in their annual Thanksgiving Day affair, this year against New England. At this point, all 16 of their games are scheduled for early kickoffs (12:30 p.m. ET or 1 p.m. ET).

I think the Lions will be an improved team in 2010, but it might not show during a brutal six-game stretch before their bye week. Before the middle of October, the Lions will have played at all three NFC North rivals. Their two home games in that stretch are Philadelphia and St. Louis. Despite their improvement, the Lions could be 2-4 (or worse) heading into their bye.

That said, I’ll be interested to see what kind of team the Lions have entering the Thanksgiving game, one of three consecutive dates at Ford Field. In succession, the Lions will take on the Patriots, Chicago and Green Bay. Let’s measure improvement during that stretch.

Complaint department: (Sarcasm alert.) The Lions play consecutive late-December games in Florida. Anyone who would rather play at Tampa Bay (Dec. 19) and at Miami (Dec. 26) should have their NFL identification cards revoked. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather spend two winter weeks in the Upper Midwest, playing inside a dome. Bah humbug.

Week 17: Will the Lions be in position to impact the NFC North division title? That was the league’s intent in scheduling them to play Minnesota in the Jan. 2 season finale. (All Week 17 games are between division rivals.) I don’t know that the Lions will be in the midst of the race, but it’s not out of the question that the Vikings will need a victory to secure a playoff or seeding tiebreaker. What might normally be a schedule throwaway will certainly be more interesting from a Lions perspective.

Lions Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, at Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, at Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, at Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, at Dallas, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 25, New England, 12:30 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, Minnesota, 1:00 PM

St. Louis Rams schedule analysis

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
7:23
PM ET
Breakdown: The St. Louis Rams opened last season with three of their first four games on the road, a tough beginning to the Steve Spagnuolo era. The schedule falls more favorably this time with three of the first four at home. The Rams open with the Cardinals, followed by a trip to the Raiders and home games against the Redskins and Seahawks. Then comes a trip to Detroit, site of the Rams' lone victory last season.

The long losing streak to open last season drained the Rams. The 2010 schedule gives them a better chance to win a game early. They fared pretty well against Matt Leinart after Kurt Warner left the game in St. Louis last season. Getting Leinart in the regular-season opener could work in the Rams' favor because Leinart hasn't started much in recent seasons. The pressure will be on Leinart, not the Rams.

The Rams went without a prime-time game, again, and that was to be expected.

Complaint department: Those early home games came with a price. The Rams face a late-season stretch with consecutive road games against the Broncos, Cardinals and Saints. Good luck winning those. And it's not as though the Rams ease into that stretch. Far from it. They face the 49ers (road) and Falcons (home) before their three-game road trip. That means they'll play four of five on the road beginning Nov. 14, with all five games against teams that could be contending for playoff spots. Tough draw.

Closing push: The NFL mandated every team play a division opponent to close the season. The Rams are doubling up. They face the 49ers (home) and Seahawks (road) to end the regular season. It's unlikely the rebuilding Rams will be challenging for the division lead at that point, but they can play spoiler against teams they know well.

Rams Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, Arizona, 4:15 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, at Oakland, 4:05 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, Washington, 4:05 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, Seattle, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, at Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, San Diego, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, at San Francisco, 4:15 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, Atlanta, 4:05 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, at Denver, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, at Arizona, 4:15 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, at New Orleans, 4:05 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, San Francisco, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at Seattle, 4:15 PM

Breakdown: Drawing Tampa Bay twice and St. Louis once in less than a month should help the Falcons avoid the mid-year slump that hurt them so badly last year and closing the season with the Saints and Panthers at home could give the Falcons a real chance in the NFC South -- if the Saints don’t run away with it again.

The opener in Pittsburgh may look tough at the moment. But if there’s any suspension for Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger it will, at the very least, involve that game. That could get the Falcons off to a fast start.

Complaint department: Looks like the schedule-makers might have been trying to make things up to the Falcons after handing them such a brutal schedule last year and put them against four teams coming off byes. The bye week comes almost in the middle of the season, the final two games are at home and the Falcons got two prime-time games.

Revenge of the Birds? When the Eagles came to Atlanta last year, the Falcons were banged up with injuries and Philadelphia made it a point to showcase Michael Vick against his former team. The Atlanta brass was too classy to publicly complain about it. But there were plenty of people within the organization who were furious with Philadelphia coach Andy Reid. They’ll get a chance to pay him back Oct. 17 when they go to Philadelphia.

Falcons Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, at Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, Arizona, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, San Francisco, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, at Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Thursday, Nov. 11, Baltimore, 8:20 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, at St. Louis, 4:05 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, at Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 16: Monday, Dec. 27, New Orleans, 8:30 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, Carolina, 1:00 PM

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