NFL Nation: 2014 NFC schedule analysis

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Breakdown: It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish, right? Arizona will be able to cut its teeth on a slew of non-division games during the first half of the season starting with San Diego on "Monday Night Football" in Week 1. The only division game the Cardinals play before Week 10 will be at home against San Francisco in Week 3. But their first half isn’t all gravy, either. Playing at the Giants and then home against the Niners before visiting Peyton Manning in Denver after a bye will be tough. Then add in three NFC East games -- home against Washington and Philadelphia, then at Dallas -- before the majority of their NFC West slate begins, and the Cardinals will either be fighting for their playoff lives or battling for a better seed in the final eight games. Their season ends with the eyes of the NFL on them. Two of Arizona’s final three games -- Thursday night at St. Louis and Sunday night at home against Seattle -- are on prime time followed by a season finale in San Francisco. The tides in the NFC West could turn late in 2014.

Complaint department: Regardless of how the Cardinals do early in the season, their fate could be decided in five of their final eight games. There are simply too many high-stakes games packed into a small window. The Cardinals thought playing Seattle and San Francisco twice in consecutive weeks was tough last season, they play half their division slate in their final three games. Too much can go wrong with that many division games that late. And while the NFL made the right decision to make the final weeks matter, this year it’s just going too far. The Rams come to Arizona in Week 10 before the Cards head to Seattle in Week 12 to finish the first round of West games. Then Arizona is at St. Louis, home against Seattle and end the year at San Francisco.

A lucky 13? Having a bye week in Week 4 isn’t conducive to a successful second half of the season, especially with an older roster like Arizona has. After just three games -- two of which are at home -- the Cards have a week off before going to Denver. The only benefit is getting an added week to prepare for Peyton Manning. But with 13 straight games without a weekend off, Arizona can be stammering and struggling into Week 15 when it plays what could be the three most important games of the year.

Strength of schedule: 8th, .547 | Vegas over/under : 7.5

Cardinals Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 8, San Diego, 10:20 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, San Francisco, 4:05 p.m.
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at Denver, 4:05 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Washington, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Philadelphia, 4:05 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Dallas, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, St. Louis, 4:25 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Detroit, 4:25 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Seattle, 4:05 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Atlanta, 4:05 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Kansas City, 4:05 p.m.
Week 15: Thursday, Dec. 11, at St. Louis, 8:25 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.

» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Predictions


Breakdown: Sixth overall in strength of schedule is worse than it sounds. Half of Seattle’s games will come against 2013 playoff teams, and that doesn’t include two games against 10-6 Arizona. This is a brutal road schedule that includes five 2013 playoff teams and five teams with at least 10 victories last year. The Seahawks play only two teams (Oakland at home and Washington on the road) that didn’t win at least seven games last season.

Complaint department: The Seahawks have a nightmarish stretch with six games over only 35 days during games 10 to 15. It includes four games against 2013 playoff teams (two with the 49ers within 18 days, one with Philadelphia and one with Kansas City) and two others against Arizona. That stretch includes four road games. Five of the final six games are against NFC West opponents, including Arizona and San Francisco over a four-day stretch by facing the 49ers on road on Thanksgiving. And the Super Bowl champions have only one Monday night game -- at Washington on Oct. 6. Really? And only one prime-time home game for the Seahawks, which is the season opener against Green Bay in the "Fail Mary" rematch. That seems a little disrespectful for the defending champs. The early bye week means Seattle will have to play 13 consecutive weeks, starting in October.

A good chance to start well: The Seahawks need to make it count early and pile up some victories. They start the season with three out of five games at home, including two of the first three. They have a Super Bowl rematch at CenturyLink Field against Denver on Sept. 21 before an early bye week, then go on the road to play the Redskins on Oct. 6 and return home to play the Dallas Cowboys. Seattle needs to win at least four of those five games to have cushion for the difficult final month and half of the regular season.

Strength of schedule: 6th, .561 | Vegas over/under : 11

Seahawks Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Thursday, Sept. 4, Green Bay, 8:30 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Denver, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Monday, Oct. 6, at Washington, 8:30 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Dallas, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, NY Giants, 4:25 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, at San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Philadelphia, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Arizona, 8:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, St. Louis, 4:25 p.m.

Philadelphia Eagles schedule analysis

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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Breakdown: The Philadelphia Eagles will open the 2014 season at Lincoln Financial Field for the first time since 2010 as they host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 7. The following week, the Eagles travel to Indianapolis to battle quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts in the first of two Monday night matchups. In Week 3, the Eagles welcome the Washington Redskins and former wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Overall, the Eagles have four primetime games -- two on Sunday night (Oct. 12 against the New York Giants and Dec. 14 against the Dallas Cowboys). The Eagles play on Monday, Sept. 15 at Indianapolis, and Monday, Nov. 10 against the Carolina Panthers. It’s the second consecutive season the Eagles will open their road schedule on "Monday Night Football." The Eagles won their Monday night road opener last season at Washington. The Eagles will face six teams who held a winning record in 2013. Four of their opponents had 12 or more losses. If Philadelphia can stockpile enough wins through the first 13 games, it will help immensely with its final three games against NFC East foes.

Complaint department: The NFL didn’t do the Eagles any favors with an extremely difficult 11-day stretch in late November. On Nov. 16, the Eagles travel to historic Lambeau Field to battle the Green Bay Packers. That is never an easy task. One week later, the Eagles host the Tennessee Titans -- certainly a very winnable game. But Philadelphia must travel to Dallas four days later on Nov. 27 to play the rival Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. It’s the first Thanksgiving Day game for the Eagles since 2008. Three games in 11 days is daunting, especially later in the season when injuries become a real factor. It certainly will test the team’s mettle as it pushes for a second potential playoff berth.

Divisive December: The Eagles will finish their season with three straight games against NFC East teams -- Dec. 14 against the Cowboys, Dec. 20 at Washington and Dec. 28 at the New York Giants. These divisional games will likely decide whether the Eagles earn a playoff spot or not. It’s a fascinating subplot, especially the matchup against the Redskins. That will be the second meeting against Jackson, who will surely be anxious to perform well. Divisional games are usually mixed in a little more, so these final three games could be even more competitive than usual. It also means the NFC East title could be decided on the final week, just like last season when the Eagles defeated the Cowboys.

Strength of schedule: 20th, .479 | Vegas over/under : 9

Eagles Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Monday, Sept. 15, at Indianapolis, 8:30 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, NY Giants, 8:30 p.m.
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Monday, Nov. 10, Carolina, 8:30 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, at Dallas, 4:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 20, at Washington, 4:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.

» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Predictions

Breakdown: The NFL rewarded the Panthers for their 12-4 season with three prime-time games, Sept. 21 vs. Pittsburgh (NBC, Sunday), Oct. 30 vs. New Orleans (NFLN, Thursday) and Nov. 10 at Philadelphia (ESPN, Monday). The irony is Carolina had the league's toughest schedule last season after going 7-9 in 2012 and this year's schedule ranks only 22nd. It sets up well for a fast start, something Carolina hasn't had in three seasons under coach Ron Rivera. None of the first five opponents -- at Tampa Bay, vs. Detroit, vs. Pittsburgh, at Baltimore and vs. Chicago -- had better than an 8-8 record last season. And three are at home. That bodes well for an offense that needs time to gel after losing its top four wide receivers and starting left tackle Jordan Gross.

Then it gets tough with three consecutive games against 2013 division winners: at Cincinnati, at Green Bay and vs. Seattle. It's hard to imagine an eight-game winning streak in the middle of the schedule, like Carolina had last season, against that stretch. The end of the schedule gives Carolina a chance for a late-season run if needed with home games against Tampa Bay and Cleveland, followed by the Falcons in Atlanta. While some games will be bigger nationally, the most anticipated locally will be the Sept. 28 trip to Baltimore to face former Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith, who was released in February under a cloud of controversy.

Complaint department: I don't understand why the NFL didn't schedule Carolina's Oct. 26 home game against Super Bowl champ Seattle in prime time. They were the top two seeds in the NFC a year ago. They played a tough defensive battle in last season's opener, won by the Seahawks 12-7. It just seemed like a natural choice. Speaking of the Seahawks, they fall in an 18-day stretch for Carolina that includes road games against Cincinnati and Green Bay and a home game against New Orleans. If the Panthers don't get off to a fast start this could be the stretch that breaks them.

Familiar friend or foe? This is the blood-and-guts category, that Sept. 28 trip to Baltimore. That's when the Panthers face Smith, their all-time leading receiver. It's also my birthday if anybody is keeping track. Nobody deserves blood and guts, as Smith promised his former team when released, on their birthday. This, as said previously, will be the most anticipated game on the schedule. Smith is out to prove the Panthers made a mistake in releasing him. The Panthers will be out to prove it was the right move. That the game will take place in the first month of the season puts a lot of pressure on a new group of Carolina receivers who will be under the microscope.

Strength of schedule: 22nd, .473 | Vegas over/under : 8.5

Panthers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Tampa Bay, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Seattle, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Thursday, Oct. 30, New Orleans, 8:25 p.m.
Week 10: Monday, Nov. 10, at Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 12: BYE
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.
» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Predictions

Breakdown: What jumps out immediately when glancing at the Atlanta Falcons' schedule: a season-opening tilt against their bitter NFC South rival New Orleans Saints on Sept. 7. The two met in last year's season opener in New Orleans, won by the Saints, 23-17. The Falcons actually played their most spirited game of 2013 when the Saints visited the Georgia Dome on Nov. 21 and walked away with a 17-13 victory. For a team that needs to start strong in 2014, the Falcons couldn't have asked for a better matchup in terms of the fans rallying behind them. The Falcons are 3-3 in season openers under Mike Smith.

As for the rest of the schedule, the Falcons have a few tough hurdles. First, they travel to London on Oct. 26 for a "home" game against the Detroit Lions. This is followed by a bye week, then with consecutive road contests against division foes Tampa Bay (Nov. 9) and Carolina (Nov. 16). And at the end of the season, the Falcons have a stretch of five tough games against Arizona, Green Bay (road), Pittsburgh, New Orleans (road), and Carolina.

Complaint department: I can hear Roddy White complaining right now. White was shivering in the cold at Lambeau Field last season when the Falcons made the trip to Green Bay in December. Guess what? The Falcons once again have to travel to Green Bay with a Dec. 8 matchup for ESPN's "Monday Night Football." The Falcons didn't handle the elements too well last year and let the ball slip one too many times in a 22-21 loss. Better pack long underwear and gloves. At least the Falcons get to travel to Minnesota early.

Not ready for prime time? We mentioned the Green Bay game on Monday night. The Falcons also face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night in Week 3. Other than those games, the Falcons are not slated for any other prime-time games after having five on the schedule last season, with one flexed back to the afternoon (Green Bay). The new flex-scheduling rules allows for games to be changed as of Week 5. If the Falcons regain their footing and are back in the playoff hunt, it wouldn't be a surprise to see either of the last two games -- at New Orleans and home against Carolina -- moved to the evening. Facing the Bears at home on Oct. 12 with the possibility of Devin Hester exploding against his old team also sounds appealing as a prime-time matchup.

Strength of schedule: 11th, .512 | Vegas over/under : 8.5

Falcons Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Thursday, Sept. 18, Tampa Bay, 8:25 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at Minnesota, 4:25 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Detroit, 9:30 a.m. (in London)
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 14: Monday, Dec. 8, at Green Bay, 8:30 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Carolina, 1 p.m.

NFL Nation: How will your team finish?

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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Breakdown: We might as well fast forward to Turkey Day. The 49ers don’t play heated rival Seattle until a Thanksgiving night game at home in the 12th game of the season. What a delicious holiday treat. The NFC Championship Game in which the Seahawks barely beat the visiting 49ers in January was a classic. This game should be tremendous. The two teams meet in Seattle in two weeks later. So, the first 11 games of the season for both teams will be setup for these end-of-the-season showdowns. The 49ers should really like this schedule. There aren’t a lot of tough spots. They finish the by playing six games on the West Coast. Because one of those games is at Oakland, the 49ers will have to take just one flight late in the season -- to Seattle.

Complaint department: The 49ers really can’t whine much here. Yes, they do have stretch from Week 6 to 11 where they play four road games, including games at Denver and New Orleans. But they have a bye during that stretch. The toughest time will become when they go to New Orleans on Nov. 9 and then play the next week at the New York Giants. It won't make the team happy to know their two longest road trips are back-to-back. This could be an instance where the 49ers spend the week between in Youngstown, Ohio, where their ownership family is from. The 49ers worked out there in 2011 and 2012 when they had back-to-back road games.

Easier road slate: No NFL team traveled as much as the 49ers did in 2013. They traveled about 33,000 miles in the regular season, including a trip to London. Then, they logged about another 9,000 in three road playoff games. The 49ers played five of their final six games on the road. The road slate eases in 2014. The 49ers will travel about 19,000 miles. Their only game on the East Coast is at the Giants. The 49ers handled their heavy road schedule well last year, but are likely looking forward to easier road work this season.

Strength of schedule: 4th, .563 | Vegas over/under : 11

49ers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Dallas, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Chicago, 8:30 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Philadelphia, 4:25 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Kansas City, 4:25 p.m.
Week 6: Monday, Oct. 13, at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Denver, 8:30 p.m.
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, St. Louis, 4:05 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Washington, 4:25 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 20, San Diego, 4:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Predictions

Breakdown: In general, the New Orleans Saints' schedule is fairly manageable. Their strength of schedule is tied for 23rd in the NFL, and they don’t face the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos or New England Patriots. However, the Saints probably would have drawn things up a little differently if they could have written their own weekly lineup.

The Saints had better win on the road early in the season. Their first four road games are arguably the four easiest -- at Atlanta in Week 1, at Cleveland in Week 2, at Dallas in Week 4 and at Detroit in Week 7 following a bye.

The Saints need to go at least 3-1 over that stretch. They should really start out 6-2 or 7-1 overall if they want to contend for a top seed in the NFC. The schedule gets tougher down the stretch with a Thursday night game at Carolina in Week 9 and road trips at Pittsburgh in Week 13, at Chicago in Week 15 and at Tampa Bay in Week 17.

Complaint department: The Thursday night game at Carolina marks the third straight year the Saints have to face a division rival on the road on a Thursday night. And that’s the toughest challenge for teams all season. They’d much rather play at home during those short weeks.

The cold-weather games late in the year also stand out, especially playing at Chicago on a Monday night in late December. But some cold-weather games were inevitable with the Saints' road schedule this year since they're traveling north so often. At least they get to avoid the boiling-hot weather by playing at Tampa in Week 17.

Prime-time players: One other complaint -- only two of the Saints' five prime-time games are at home. You can pretty much chalk up a prime-time game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as a victory for the Saints. They've won 13 consecutive home night games, and 16 of their last 17, by an average score of nearly 20 points per game dating back to 2008.

So that means both Green Bay on Sunday night in Week 8 and Baltimore on Monday night in Week 12 are doomed.

Strength of schedule: 23rd, .469 | Vegas over/under : 9.5

Saints Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Green Bay, 8:30 p.m.
Week 9: Thursday, Oct. 30, at Carolina, 8:25 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, San Francisco, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Monday, Nov. 24, Baltimore, 8:30 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Monday, Dec. 15, at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Predictions

Breakdown: The Vikings' efforts to improve their defense under new coach Mike Zimmer will get a firm test early in the season; the team will have faced Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers by Oct. 2, with two of those three games coming on the road. The Vikings will have to handle that stretch of their schedule if they want to burnish their playoff chances with a soft stretch in the middle of the season -- four consecutive games against Detroit, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Washington, with a bye week coming at the end. And the NFL gave the Vikings their fair share of chances to play cold-weather games in their first season at TCF Bank Stadium; four of Minnesota's last six are at home.

Complaint department: If the Vikings were to have a gripe with this schedule, it would probably come right up front. They will open on the road for the sixth time in seven seasons, face Brady in their first game at TCF Bank Stadium and travel to two of the toughest venues on their schedule -- the Superdome and Lambeau Field -- in a five-week stretch. The other home game in there is against the Atlanta Falcons, who will be trying to rebound from a rare down year. It will be incumbent upon Zimmer to have the Vikings' defense in good working order early in the season, or the passers on the Vikings' schedule could make it tough to recover.

Getting acquainted with the elements: The Vikings haven't played well in cold weather in recent years, but they are going to have to learn, because the NFL loaded up the back half of their schedule with home games. They get three in a row at home from Nov. 23-Dec. 7, and close the season with Jared Allen's return to Minnesota on Dec. 28. In fact, the Vikings will play five of their seven games after the bye in cold-weather climates, with four of those at home and another in Chicago. The only breaks will come on Dec. 14 in Detroit's dome, and Dec. 21 in Miami.

Strength of schedule: 21st, .477 | Vegas over/under : 7

Vikings Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, New England, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Atlanta, 4:25 p.m.
Week 5: Thursday, Oct. 2, at Green Bay, 8:25 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Chicago, 1 p.m.
» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Predictions

Breakdown: The Washington Redskins have a chance to get off to a good start with winnable games in the first two weeks before starting a potentially difficult stretch. They need to generate momentum in those first two games or another tough season could await. The final seven games after the bye week will be interesting as well. Tampa Bay could be a surprise team and that's followed by road trips against NFC heavy weight San Francisco and AFC contender Indianapolis. That means we'll go from a Colin Kaepernick vs. Robert Griffin III storyline to one about Andrew Luck vs. Griffin. And Griffin is not a fan of talking about such matchups. But at least the Redskins get to finish with consecutive home games. And the fact that they play all their prime-time games in the first eight weeks followed by six 1 p.m. games in the final eight weeks suggests the NFL isn't confident a hot start will equal a strong finish. Then again, they can always flex. But most teams coming off a 3-13 season do not get so many prime-time matchups. Griffin's potential re-emergence and an offense that could be high-scoring will make for entertaining viewing.

Complaint department: One thing that jumps out right away is playing Seattle on a Monday night followed by a West coast trip to Arizona. The Monday night games always take a little more out of players, as does a long trip. They also have four road trips in five games (with a bye mixed in), starting with a Monday night game in Dallas. And if you want to stretch it further, it's five road games out of seven. The brutal part is playing at San Francisco and then at Indianapolis. But the other road games are winnable. However, those two home games in that stretch, against Tampa Bay and St. Louis, could be tricky. Those teams might be better than people think.

Early success a key: Despite the complaint department, there's a lot to like about this schedule for Washington, starting with the opening two weeks and the closing two weeks. A chance for a good start and a strong finish. And that's especially true in the division. Washington did not win a game in the NFC East a year ago, but the Redskins have two divisional games in the first four weeks and then finish the year with three straight. Washington can not only get off to a good start overall, but also re-establish itself in the NFC East. And if they need to make up ground late, they should have that ability. While Philadelphia will enter the season as the divisional favorite, it's still hard to say how big the gap is between the Eagles and everyone else. Last season the Eagles rode a good start to a division title. The Redskins will have a chance for that good start. They must take advantage.

Strength of schedule: 17th, .490 | Vegas over/under : 7

Redskins Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 25, NY Giants, 8:25 p.m.
Week 5: Monday, Oct. 6, Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Monday, Oct. 27, at Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 20, Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Dallas, 1 p.m.

Dallas Cowboys schedule analysis

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
8:34
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Breakdown: Despite not having made the playoffs since 2009, the Cowboys remain a popular national team with five prime-time games. But if they are to stop the playoff-less streak, they will have to start fast and hold the fort late in the season. Three of the Cowboys' first five games come against teams that did not make the playoffs last season: at the Tennessee Titans, at the St. Louis Rams and at home against the Houston Texans. The other two home games are against two of the best teams in the NFC in the San Francisco 49ers (Sept. 7) and New Orleans Saints (Sept. 28). Because of their Nov. 9 trip to London to play the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cowboys don’t have their bye week until Nov. 16, but the close of the season is particularly tough with four of their last six games coming on the road with trips at the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and finale at the Washington Redskins.

Complaint department: The schedule maker did not do the Cowboys any favors with their Thanksgiving matchup with a night game at the Giants. The Cowboys will not get back to Dallas until early Monday morning with a short week to get ready for the Eagles. The Cowboys shouldn't have to play a road game the week before the Thanksgiving matchup, and playing a night game is borderline unfair. The Cowboys will not get their customary 10-day break until after they play at the Bears on Dec. 4. The Cowboys had a similar Thursday-Thursday schedule in 2007 when they finished 13-3. They can only hope to be as fortunate in 2014.

Not safe at home: AT&T Stadium has not created the home-field advantage the Dallas Cowboys have craved since moving into the $1.2 billion facility in 2009, and the Cowboys will be tested at home in 2014. The Cowboys welcome four playoff teams from 2013 to Arlington: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Indianapolis and New Orleans. Plus Arizona won 10 games last year. The Cowboys have beaten the Giants just once at home since 2009 and Houston has more talent than its 2-14 record indicates. The Cowboys are 22-18 in the regular season at AT&T Stadium. The easiest formula to make the playoffs is to win your home games and split them on the road. That will be a tough case for the Cowboys in 2014.

Strength of schedule: The Cowboys have the second-toughest schedule in the NFC East based on 2013 winning percentage, following the Washington Redskins (No. 17, .490). The Philadelphia Eagles won the division last year and have the 20th-ranked schedule (.490).

Strength of schedule: 18th, .488 | Vegas over/under : 8

Cowboys Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, NY Giants, 4:25 p.m.
Week 8: Monday, Oct. 27, Washington, 8:30 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Arizona, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m. (in London)
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at NY Giants, 8:30 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m.
Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 4, at Chicago, 8:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Indianapolis, 4:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Washington, 1 p.m.

» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Predictions

Breakdown: In perhaps the least surprising news of all, the NFL picked the Green Bay Packers to open the season at the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks on Thursday, Sept. 4. It seemed likely from the moment the Seahawks hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in February. So many good story lines in that game, leading with the first meeting since the Fail Mary ending to the 2012 game and the replacement officials. The Packers don't play on Thanksgiving but still have two Thursday games. The other is Oct. 2 against the Vikings. After an unusually early bye last season in Week 4, the bye comes after eight games and is followed by a stretch of four out of five at home.

Complaint department: It's not the easiest opening stretch, with three of the first four on the road. That includes a pair of division games at the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. The only home game in that stretch, when the weather tends to be at its best in Green Bay, is against the New York Jets in Week 2. In the first six weeks, the Packers have only two home games. That means plenty of cold-weather games are possible at Lambeau Field. And it's not like their warm-weather trips are all late in the season, either. They play at the Dolphins in Week 6, when the weather still could be decent in Green Bay.

Seeing division rivals early: A year after playing a late-season, division-heavy schedule, this year features only one NFC North game over the final five weeks of the season. That's against the Lions in Week 17, when everyone plays division games. Instead, the Packers play three straight division games in a 12-day stretch early in the season. Two of those -- against Lions (Sept. 21) and Bears (Sept. 28) are on road -- followed by the Thursday home game against the Vikings.

Strength of schedule: 13th, .504 | Vegas over/under : 10

Packers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Thursday, Sept. 4, at Seattle, 8:30 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, NY Jets, 4:25 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Detroit, 1 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at Chicago, 1 PM
Week 5: Thursday, Oct. 2, Minnesota, 8:25 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Miami, 1 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Carolina, 1 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at New Orleans, 8:30 PM
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Chicago, 8:30 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Philadelphia, 1 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Minnesota, 1 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, New England, 4:25 PM
Week 14: Monday, Dec. 8, Atlanta, 8:30 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Buffalo, 1 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Tampa Bay, 1 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Detroit, 1 PM
» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Predictions

Breakdown: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to find out right away if their many offseason moves have helped close the gap in the NFC South. The Bucs play their three division foes (Panthers, Falcons and Saints) within the first five weeks of the schedule, including the opener at home against Carolina. The Bucs have a Week 7 bye (two weeks later than each of the past two seasons) and they should have a good idea of where they stand by then. A fast start could go a long way toward putting the Buccaneers in playoff contention, because the middle of the schedule potentially could be a little soft. But the Bucs need to be above .500 heading into the final four weeks of the season, because they have road games at Detroit and Carolina, followed by home games with Green Bay and New Orleans. Those final four opponents all have realistic chances to be playoff teams, and a cushion by the end of November could go a long way in helping the Bucs get to the postseason.

Complaint department: The Bucs get only one nationally televised game, a Thursday night contest in Atlanta. Fans have a legitimate gripe that the Bucs don't get much national attention. But the reality is the Bucs were 4-12 a year ago. If they are going to become media darlings, they need to win some games to start attracting some attention. That Atlanta game also will be the start of a scheduling rarity. The Bucs will play three straight games on the road. They follow the Atlanta game with a trip to Pittsburgh on Sept. 28, and follow that with an Oct. 5 game in New Orleans.

Lovie's homecoming: The Nov. 23 game at Chicago has a great storyline: Head coach Lovie Smith going against his former team. Smith will downplay the significance of the matchup. But Smith is a proud guy. He might not admit it, but he certainly remembers the Bears fired him after a 10-6 season in 2012. This game will mean a lot to Smith, and he will have the Bucs ready for this one. The bad news is that there is a very real chance this will be a cold-weather game. Nov. 16 at Washington and Dec. 14 at Carolina also could be cold-weather games. Historically, the Bucs have been dismal when playing in cold weather.

Strength of schedule: 19th, .484 | Vegas over/under : 7

Buccaneers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Carolina, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, St. Louis, 4:05 p.m.
Week 3: Thursday, Sept. 18, at Atlanta, 8:25 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, New Orleans, 1 p.m.

» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Predictions


Breakdown: Teams discuss the need to start off quickly so often it's become almost cliché. But in Chicago's case, it holds true with the club playing two of the first three games on the road against quality opponents. The Bears open Sept. 7 at home against the Buffalo Bills, before hitting the road for the opening of the new Levi's Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers in a prime-time clash. In Week 3, the Bears go back on the road for a Sept. 22 game against the New York Jets on "Monday Night Football." So Chicago's revamped defense, which finished 32nd last season against the run, will be tested early on in the schedule against Frank Gore (1,128 yards last season) and new Jets addition Chris Johnson (1,000-plus yards in six consecutive seasons). Maybe both backs are truly washed up. Maybe they're not. Either way, the Bears get a chance to find out while they're fresh. After the outings against the 49ers and Jets, the Bears host the Green Bay Packers. So what's expected to be a revamped Bears defense better be prepared.

Starting with the matchup at San Francisco, the Bears play four of their first six games on the road: at Carolina on Oct. 5, at Atlanta on Oct. 12 and at New England on Oct. 26 just before what will likely be a much-needed Week 9 bye. What's good for the Bears is they play five of their final eight games at Soldier Field, which could make for a tremendous advantage as the weather begins to turn downright frigid in Chicago.

Complaint department: Why not start the schedule at Soldier Field against former coach Lovie Smith and former backup quarterback-turned-starter Josh McCown? That would make for an intriguing, potentially drama-filled matchup to kick off the season. Instead, that matchup won't come until four days before Thanksgiving.

Furthermore, the Bears play the Lions on Thanksgiving, and then host them in Week 16 before concluding the regular season on the road Dec. 28 against Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium. Prior to the Thanksgiving clash with Detroit, the Bears host the Vikings Nov. 16. That means the Bears face the Lions and Vikings for a combined four games over the last seven weeks of the season. That could be either boring, which might be complaint-worthy, or full of drama and playoff implications if the teams are in the thick of the hunt in the NFC North. So we're not sure whether to complain or applaud here.

Thanksgiving turkeys: That's typically what the Bears have been on this holiday in recent history, but perhaps that changes this year with the schedule featuring a Thanksgiving matchup on the road against the Detroit Lions. Interestingly, Chicago and the Lions have squared off on Thanksgiving on 15 occasions, with the Bears holding an 8-7 record. But the Bears own a 1-4 mark in their past five outings on Thanksgiving, with their last win coming courtesy of the Lions on Nov. 25, 1993. The Bears haven't played a Thanksgiving game since Nov. 25, 2004, when they lost 21-7 at Dallas during former coach Lovie Smith's first season at the helm. That season, the Bears finished with a record of 5-11.

Strength of schedule: 15th, .496 | Vegas over/under : 8

Bears Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.
Week 3: Monday, Sept. 22, at N.Y. Jets, 8:30 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at New England, 1 p.m.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Green Bay, 8:30 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, at Detroit, 12:30 p.m.
Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 4, Dallas, 8:25 p.m.
Week 15: Monday, Dec. 15, New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Predictions

Breakdown: The Lions hired head coach Jim Caldwell on Jan. 14 to provide stability to a talented but reckless team that posted a 7-9 record in 2013. The nation won’t have to wait long to see if Caldwell can deliver results. Detroit opens its regular season at home on "Monday Night Football" versus the New York Giants before facing back-to-back playoff qualifiers from last year: the Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers. Winnable games appear on the schedule from Weeks 4-7 (New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings) until the Lions host the always dangerous New Orleans Saints and then travel to London to square off against the Atlanta Falcons. The highlights of the second half of the schedule include a trip to New England in Week 12, and two games versus NFC North rival Chicago Bears, who will be this year’s Thanksgiving Day opponent at Ford Field. Detroit could have a chance to control its destiny within the division with four of its final five games to be played against NFC foes. Caldwell and company wrap up the regular season with consecutive road games in Chicago and Green Bay, cities that usually prove difficult for road teams in December.

Complaint department: The easy target is the trip to London in Week 8. But the NFL pulls out all the stops to make teams feel comfortable whenever they play overseas, and their bye is the following week. In all likelihood, the Lions will have overcome the long flight and time zone change by the time the second half of their season kicks off. The real issue for Detroit is wrapping up the year with back-to-back games in Chicago and Green Bay. The Lions did manage to knock off the Bears and their banged up quarterback, Jay Cutler, last year at Soldier Field, but had lost five straight in Chicago from 2008-12. But that pales in comparison to their struggles on the road versus Green Bay. Detroit has not won a game in the state of Wisconsin since 1991. If the NFC North crown or playoff positioning hangs in the balance for the Lions in Week 16 and Week 17, Caldwell’s group figures to be at an extreme disadvantage.

Uncharted territory: The Week 1 NFL prime-time matchups are generally reserved for the league’s elite -- except for the second of the opening Monday night doubleheader that caters to the West Coast audience -- but a pair of 7-9 teams pop up on the schedule this year. This is the first time the Lions will open their season on Monday night since September 20, 1971, when they lost a 16-13 decision to the Minnesota Vikings at old Tiger Stadium. This marks the fourth straight year "Monday Night Football" has paid a visit to Ford Field, with the Lions owning a 1-2 record the past three years in that prime-time spot.

Strength of schedule: 16th, .492 | Vegas over/under : 8

Lions Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 8, N.Y. Giants, 7:10 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Atlanta, 9:30 a.m. (in London)
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at New England, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, Chicago, 12:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Green Bay, 1 p.m.

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