NFL Nation: 2012 NFL schedule

Tougher road ahead for the NFC West

October, 17, 2012
10/17/12
11:16
AM ET
Sometimes, it's not who a team faces, but when a team faces them.

As San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh likes to say, you're either getting better or getting worse; you never stay the same. An opponent looking formidable now might have significant issues in a month. A struggling one might be vastly improved by then.

That's important to keep in mind when looking at NFL strength of schedule. We're looking at a snapshot, not a full motion picture.

The chart shows NFC West teams with four of the six hardest remaining schedules by opponents' winning percentage, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The NFC West can partly blame itself for the difficult road ahead. It's the only division with multiple winning teams and no losing teams.

NFC West teams also face the AFC East, which has no losing teams (every team is 3-3), and the NFC North, which has only one losing team.

Denver (.339), Oakland (.355), Kansas City (.364) and San Diego (.393) have the easiest remaining schedules. There's no secret why. They play in the same division and also face teams from the mostly struggling NFC South. All four AFC West teams have played the 6-0 Atlanta Falcons already, another reason the remaining schedules appear easier.

The St. Louis Rams have played the fifth-toughest schedule to this point (.588). San Francisco (.543) has had the 14th-toughest, Arizona the 19th-toughest (.528) and Seattle the 20th-toughest (.471).

The three easiest schedules to this point belong to Atlanta (.353), Baltimore (.371) and New Orleans (.379). The four toughest to this point belong to Dallas (.679), Jacksonville (.643), Carolina (.607) and Green Bay (.606).
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.
The San Francisco 49ers traveled across the country on a short week to face the Baltimore Ravens in a Thanksgiving matchup last season.

Harbaugh
Harbaugh
The situation was a tough one, the 49ers were not happy about it and the NFL's schedule maker, Howard Katz, heard about it. Did he ever.

"At the league meeting last month, Katz was approached by Baltimore coach John Harbaugh and told he had to meet his brother," Judy Battista writes in the New York Times.

They met, alright. Jim Harbaugh used the occasion to complain about the holiday trip to Baltimore for a game the 49ers lost, 16-6.

"I talked to him, then I talked to him the next day, and then I talked to him the third day," Katz told Battista. "He said, 'Now that I've met you, I don't hate you quite as much.' His brother said to me, 'That’s as good as you’re going to do.' "

Battista's story details the scheduling process from Katz's perspective. We recently discussed one aspect -- short weeks -- for NFC West teams.

The 49ers won't be spending Thanksgiving in Baltimore this season, at least.

Note: Thanks to Kent Somers for pointing out Battista's story, as well as this fantastic one from Paola Boivin on the new life Pat Tillman's widow, Marie, is leading.
Breakdown: The new-look Colts make their debut at Chicago in a rematch of Super Bowl XLI. But with a new GM, coach, staff and quarterback and with few players left from six seasons ago, Indianapolis will look hardly anything like the team that beat the Bears on Feb. 4, 2007.

Indianapolis draws just two division games in the first half of the season, hosting the Jaguars on Sept. 23 and playing at Tennessee Oct. 28. Then three of the Colts’ final four are against Tennessee and Houston.

The games outside the AFC South that appear most challenging at this stage are spread out, which should be a good thing. After opening at the Bears, they host the Packers on Oct. 7, travel to New England for a Nov. 18 game and visit Detroit Dec. 2. They get to prepare for Jay Cutler in the preseason, Aaron Rodgers after the Colts' super early Week 4 bye week, Tom Brady a week after they play against Blaine Gabbert at Jacksonville and Matthew Stafford after they host Buffalo.

Complaint department: Maybe a Week 4 open date seems like a favor to rookie head coach Chuck Pagano, who will be guiding a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck. But even as it can help the Colts brace for a visit from the Packers, it’s too early a break for a team that will be loaded with young guys and would benefit more from a later bye to catch their collective breath.

Twice in three weeks: Maybe the Colts will improve over the course of the season and have their best chance to knock off defending division champ Houston late in the year. If that’s the case, playing the Texans twice in the final three weeks of the season is a good thing. However, I suspect a young, inexperienced team will be running out of gas and searching for the final whistle in December, in which case playing two out of three against Houston at the end could seem almost unfair.

Colts Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at N.Y. Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Thursday, Nov. 8, at Jacksonville, 8:20 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at New England, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Houston, 1:00 PM
Breakdown: The Bucs will make only one appearance in a nationally televised prime-time game (Oct. 25 at Minnesota) -- to be expected for a team coming off a 4-12 season. But that might be good news for new coach Greg Schiano and his squad because the Bucs won’t get a lot of attention and could sneak up on some opponents.

Tampa Bay catches an early break, opening at home for the fourth consecutive year. That game comes Sept. 9, against Carolina. The contest should give us an early indication of which NFC South team coming off a losing season could be on the rise.

The Bucs have a chance to get off to a fast start. Three of their first four games come against teams that didn’t have winning records and didn’t make the playoffs last season. The big exception is the Sept. 16 game -- on the road against the defending-champion New York Giants. The Bucs have a Week 5 bye, followed by a home game with Kansas City before the schedule starts looking difficult. By then, the Bucs might be getting used to their new coaching staff and offensive and defensive schemes.

Complaint department: Unlike Atlanta, which doesn’t have to travel in back-to-back weeks all season, the Bucs face consecutive road games in two different instances. One comes in September, at the Giants and at Dallas. There also are back-to-back road games at Minnesota and Oakland in the middle of the season. The first time shouldn’t be all that difficult, but the second round of trips involve much longer flights. But on the bright side, the Bucs aren’t likely to face many cold-weather games, and we all know Tampa Bay’s history when playing in the cold isn’t that pretty. Indeed, there are only two potential cold-weather games on the schedule. The first is Nov. 18 at Carolina; the weather in Charlotte can go either way at that time of year. The Dec. 2 game in Denver isn’t likely to be played in balmy weather and the thought of defending Peyton Manning doesn’t bring warm thoughts to anyone.

Raheem’s return: The Sept. 30 game with the Washington Redskins will be a homecoming for Raheem Morris. He spent three seasons coaching the Buccaneers but was fired after losing his final 10 games last season. Morris is now Washington’s defensive backs coach. That’s appropriate because Morris is at his best when he’s coaching just the secondary. He’s a nice guy, but the Bucs made him their head coach long before he was ready and it didn’t work. Morris needs to coach defensive backs for a year or two and move up to a defensive coordinator job for a bit. A few years from now, he might be seasoned enough to become a good head coach.

Buccaneers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, Carolina, 4:15 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Dallas, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, Washington, 4:15 PM
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 25, at Minnesota, 8:20 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Oakland, 4:05 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, San Diego, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Denver, 4:05 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Breakdown: The Patriots, coming off another Super Bowl appearance, are poised to make another deep run under head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. New England's schedule strength ranks 32nd in the NFL thanks, in part, to a weakened AFC East division and a fortunate draw this year against the struggling NFC West.

New England will play in four prime-time games, which was expected. Surprisingly, one of those prime time games will not be against the Denver Broncos. But we will get to that later.

The Patriots will begin their journey on the road against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 9.

Complaint department: It's hard to pick out a particularly brutal stretch for the Patriots. There are back-to-back home games against Houston and San Francisco that will be a challenge. But otherwise, my biggest complaint about New England's schedule is it's too easy. The Patriots are the reigning AFC champs and do not need the easiest schedule in the NFL. Yes, the AFC East was a weak division last season. There's nothing the Patriots can do about that. It’s up to the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills to step up their game. But I'd like to see a talented New England team tested more next season. The Patriots play just four games against playoffs teams from 2011 -- and three of those games (Denver, Houston, San Francisco) are at Gillette Stadium. Barring significant injuries, New England could be a virtual lock for at least 11 or 12 wins again next season.

Manning vs. Brady is back: One of the first things I did when New England's schedule was released was to check for its game against the Broncos. Week 5 will rekindle the Hall of Fame quarterback rivalry between Denver's Peyton Manning and New England's Tom Brady. Brady has struggled against the younger Eli Manning, but has had Peyton Manning’s number over the years. Brady is 8-5 against Peyton Manning, which included some huge playoff wins that led to Super Bowl victories. Manning missed all of 2011 with a neck injury. With both Manning and Brady reaching the tail-end of their careers, football fans should appreciate these final meetings involving two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Patriots Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Arizona, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Baltimore, 8:20 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Denver, 4:15 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, NY Jets, 4:15 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, at NY Jets, 8:20 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Monday, Dec. 10, Houston, 8:30 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, San Francisco, 8:20 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Miami, 1:00 PM

Buffalo Bills schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
8:32
PM ET
Breakdown: The Buffalo Bills will look to climb out of the basement in the AFC East with a favorable schedule. The Bills finished last in the division with a 6-10 record after being swept by the Miami Dolphins (6-10) last season.

The result was a last-place schedule that is ranked 29th in the NFL. Buffalo has a chance to make a jump but must improve on the road, where the team is 3-13 the past two seasons. The Bills also are 2-10 against AFC East teams in that span.

Buffalo will look to ride a new-look defense to the top of the AFC East. The Bills defensive line, led by new free-agent acquisition Mario Williams, should be one of the NFL's best.

Complaint department: Buffalo definitely got the short end of the league's early-season schedule. The Bills play six of their first nine games on the road. Ouch! As we mentioned earlier, Buffalo has been awful in recent seasons away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. This team will have to grow up fast or fall behind. The good news is Buffalo finishes the season with five of its last seven games at home. Therefore, if the Bills are in playoff contention in down the stretch in November and December, their chances look good to get over the hump.

Williams Bowl: Williams will have to wait a while to seek revenge against his former team: the Houston Texans. The Bills will travel to Houston in Week 9 to play the Texans. Williams was a former No. 1 overall pick in Houston but was didn’t return in free agency after Buffalo offered him $100 million. The Texans will be out to prove they will be just fine without Williams, while the stud defensive end tries to take a new team to the next level.

Bills Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, New England, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, at San Francisco, 4:15 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Arizona, 4:05 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at New England, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 15, Miami, 8:20 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, NY Jets, 1:00 PM

Arizona Cardinals schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
8:22
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 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 15-16, 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 Eastern)
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

Miami Dolphins schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
8:11
PM ET
Breakdown: The Joe Philbin era gets underway for the Miami Dolphins in 2012, with a strength of schedule ranked 18th in the NFL.

The Dolphins will have an entirely new look under Philbin, who was the former offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. The Dolphins are in the process of implementing a new West Coast offense as well as principles of a 4-3 defense.

Miami is rebuilding but should give opponents trouble this season with a solid defense. The team also has a quarterback competition to settle in training camp, between veteran David Garrard and incumbent Matt Moore.

Complaint department: I have two complaints about the Dolphins' schedule. The bigger is that Miami received a very tough draw in the opening game at the Houston Texans. Houston should be very good season, a Super Bowl contender in the AFC. The Dolphins have to work out a lot of wrinkles under a new head coach and will be coming off a quarterback competition in training camp. This probably will be an awful start for Miami's new regime, which has to guard against losing confidence. The league could've helped by providing an easier opening opponent or at least a home game for Miami. Second, the Dolphins do not play the reigning AFC East champion New England Patriots until Weeks 13 and 17. Although I don't expect it, the Dolphins might surprise and find themselves in the wild-card hunt late in the year. But two December games against New England would quickly end those hopes.

Lone prime-timer: Every team is required to play in a prime-time game this year. I'm not sure how I feel about that rule. But Miami will get its only national game on Thursday night Nov. 15 against the AFC East rival Buffalo Bills. With a pair of 6-10 teams, this feels kind of forced by the television networks. Things can always change via performance -- and Buffalo is my sleeper pick this season -- but right now Dolphins-Bills doesn't look like an attractive national game.

Dolphins Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Oakland, 4:15 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Arizona, 4:05 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 15, at Buffalo, 8:20 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, Seattle, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, New England, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at San Francisco, 4:05 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at New England, 1:00 PM
Breakdown: After all the punishments the NFL has placed on the Saints for their bounty program, there was some fear that would continue when the schedule came out. But that didn’t come true. The Saints got four nationally televised games. They’ll host San Diego in a Sunday night game (Oct. 7) and play at Denver (Oct. 28). They’ll host Philadelphia Nov. 5 in a Monday night game and they’ll be at Atlanta Nov. 29 for a Thursday night game.

That’s plenty of national attention and there will be other reasons why the Saints will be an attraction throughout the season. They’re in a very unique situation with head coach Sean Payton suspended for the entire season. General manager Mickey Loomis will be suspended for the first eight games. Loomis will return just in time for a Nov. 11 home game with Atlanta. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt will start off the season as the interim head coach. Vitt won’t coach the Saints in the regular season until the Denver game.

Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer is expected to step into the top role while Vitt is out and he might be catching a bit of a break. The first six teams the Saints will face went a combined 47-49 last season. After Vitt’s return, the Saints will face teams that went a combined 84-76 last season.

Complaint department: The Saints face a potentially brutal November schedule. From Nov. 5 through Nov. 29, they’ll play five times and not a single one of those games looks easy. The Nov. 18 game at Oakland might appear to be the easiest in that stretch, but any time you have to travel to the West Coast, it’s a challenge. The game with the Raiders is sandwiched between home games with Philadelphia and Atlanta and a home game with San Francisco on Nov. 25 that’s followed quickly by a Thursday night game at Atlanta.

Bounty Bowl: Gregg Williams is gone. First, the former New Orleans defensive coordinator left for the same job in St. Louis. Then, he got suspended indefinitely for his role as the ringleader in the bounty program. But you know Williams’ name, or at least audio tapes of his voice, are going to come up when the Saints play San Francisco. That will be a rematch of the January playoff game that was won by the 49ers. That also is the game that has become the most tangible example to most people of the bounty program. The night before that game, Williams spoke to his defenders and urged them to injure specific members of the 49ers. There’s no doubt those San Francisco players and their teammates will remember Williams’ words. That audio tape likely will get constant play that week -- in the media and in the 49ers' locker room.

Saints Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Green Bay, 4:15 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, San Diego, 8:20 PM
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Denver, 8:20 PM
Week 9: Monday, Nov. 5, Philadelphia, 8:30 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at Oakland, 4:05 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, San Francisco, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 29, at Atlanta, 8:20 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at NY Giants, 4:15 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Dallas, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Carolina, 1:00 PM

Houston Texans schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
8:05
PM ET
Breakdown: The lone prime-time game in 2011 was on the road, and the AFC South champs didn’t feel like they had a sufficient chance to show off to a broad audience. They'll get that chance in 2012.

Five times they will play in the national spotlight, but only one of those games will be at Reliant Stadium -- Oct. 14 against Green Bay. That’s one of two games in the best of the prime-time slots, "Sunday Night Football" on NBC. The other is at Chicago on Nov. 11. Also nationally televised: at the Jets on Oct. 8, at New England Dec. 10 on "Monday Night Football," and at Detroit on Thanksgiving,

From Oct. 14 through Nov. 4 the Texans won’t leave Houston, with three home games and their bye. That includes a Nov. 4 visit from the Buffalo Bills and defensive end Mario Williams, who left Houston for the Bills as a free agent.

Complaint department: The Texans drew two cold weather games. They’ll play at Chicago on Nov. 11 and at New England on Dec. 10 in a couple of games that will be a challenge. But if they can block for Arian Foster, they'll be able to handle the weather slowing down their precision, rhythm passing game. Four of the team’s final six games are on the road.

Major gift: No matter how good Andrew Luck gets in his first NFL season, the Texans have to love their final three games -- the Colts at home; the weakest team in the NFC North, the Vikings, at home; and at Indianapolis. Houston’s chances for a big finish look good on paper. (I renew my complaint over a major pet peeve. Games between division rivals should take place a minimum of one month apart.)

Texans Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Denver, 4:15 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Monday, Oct. 8, at N.Y. Jets, 8:30 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Green Bay, 8:20 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Chicago, 8:20 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, at Detroit, 12:30 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Monday, Dec. 10, at New England, 8:30 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM

Seattle Seahawks schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
7:56
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 only 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 Eastern)
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: A year ago they were a completely unknown quantity under a new coach and didn’t have a single prime-time game. In Mike Munchak’s second season, the Titans will host two prime-time games -- Thursday, Oct. 11 against the Steelers and Monday, Dec 17 against the Jets. That will pull some major eyeballs back to the NFL in Nashville.

Overall the team has a nice balance of home and away, with only one pair of back-to-back road games -- Sept. 30 at Houston and Oct. 7 at Minnesota. The Titans also have only one pair of back-to-back home games -- against Indianapolis Oct. 28 and Chicago Nov. 4. A Week 11 bye breaks up another pair of road games.

Tennessee’s two potential coldest games landed on Oct. 21 (at Buffalo) and Dec. 23 (at Green Bay), while its two possible warmest weather games land in November: at Miami Nov. 11 and at Jacksonville Nov. 25.

Complaint department: We’ll know if the Titans are going to be much of a contender after a month, because New England, at San Diego, Detroit and at Houston should make for a pretty good test. A defense that we don’t know will be able to rush the passer well starts out with Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford and, presumably, a healthy Matt Schaub. No easy stretch at all.

Division test: Four of the Titans’ final six games are from their AFC South slate, with both games against the Jaguars, the home game against the Texans and the road game against the Colts. After their Nov. 18 bye, they have three division games in a row -- at Jacksonville, Houston at home and at Indianapolis.

Titans Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, New England, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at San Diego, 4:15 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, at Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 11, Pittsburgh, 8:20 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Chicago, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Monday, Dec. 17, NY Jets, 8:30 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Breakdown: The Falcons might as well go ahead and appear on HBO’s “Hard Knocks’’ during training camp because they’re going to be regulars on national television. They’ll play two Monday night games (Week 2 against Denver and Week 16 at Detroit), once on Sunday night (against Dallas in Week 9) and a Thursday night game against the New Orleans Saints in Week 13.

This will be the second consecutive season the Falcons have been featured in four prime-time games. This gives Atlanta a chance to really raise its national profile to the highest level in franchise history. That brings pressure, but it also brings a world of opportunity for a franchise that’s trying to get over the hump and win a playoff game for the first time since coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan have been around.

You’ve got to like the fact the Falcons don’t play the New York Giants until Dec. 16. That will be a rematch of last season’s playoff disaster. By that point, we should have a pretty good idea if the Falcons are legitimate contenders and facing the Giants should be a reminder of where they’ve been and where they might be going.

Complaint department: The Falcons play at New Orleans on Nov. 11 and host the Saints on Nov. 29. That’s two games against the Falcons’ biggest rival in 18 days. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather see at least one of these games being played in the last week or two of the season.

Back and forth: The people who made the schedule played it right down the middle on the Falcons. Amazingly, the Falcons don’t play back-to-back home games or consecutive road games all season. They alternate between home and road games all through the season.

Falcons Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Monday, Sept. 17, Denver, 8:30 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at San Diego, 4:05 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Oakland, 1:00 PM
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Dallas, 8:20 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Arizona, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 29, New Orleans, 8:20 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 22, at Detroit, 8:30 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Tampa Bay, 1:00 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 follows, 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 2008-2011. The trend continues and actually gets worse this year. 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 Eastern)
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

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