NFL Nation: 2014 NFL schedule analysis

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

Breakdown: We already knew the Raiders would have, based upon opponents and last year’s records, the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL in 2014, including the toughest road opponents in the league. And still, the actual dates and times announced made it seem all the more daunting. A slow start, which we show is very possible, would have third-year coach Dennis Allen feeling the heat by the Raiders’ bye in Week 5. A pair of home games against the San Diego Chargers and the Carson Palmer-led Arizona Cardinals, with Jared Veldheer protecting his blind side, could act as a salve. Maybe. The middle of the schedule is also rife with pitfalls. Oakland faces the two teams that played in the most recent Super Bowl in consecutive weeks with a home game against the Denver Broncos and on the road at Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. The Raiders should have an identity by then. But will they still have something to play for by that point? Oakland finishing with two of three on the road at AFC West rivals Kansas City and Denver will let us know if the Raiders are mere spoilers. Again.

Complaint department: The schedule makers did the rebuilding Raiders no favors, immediately sending them to the New York Jets and the New England Patriots in Weeks 1 and 3 (Oakland has lost 13 straight games in the Eastern time zone) before the "home" game in London against the Miami Dolphins. Then in December, they play in cold-weather climates at both Kansas City and Denver. What’s that about the alpha and the omega? Then there’s this -- sure, the Raiders have been among the league’s dregs for the better part of a decade, but they have a certain national appeal. And yet, Oakland is shut out of "Monday Night Football" for the second time since 2007. The Raiders’ lone scheduled prime-time game is a Thursday night matchup at home against the Chiefs on Nov. 20. Like the man said, it’s not paranoia if they’re out to get you, or something like that.

Down in the dirt: The Raiders are the lone NFL team to still share a stadium with a major league baseball team. And if the Oakland A’s make a deep run in the playoffs, the Raiders could have as many as three games on the baseball infield dirt. If the A’s fail to qualify for the postseason, it should be only one -- newly acquired quarterback Matt Schaub’s reunion with the Houston Texans for Oakland’s home opener in Week 2. Speaking of renewing acquaintances, the preseason series between the Raiders and 49ers was suspended due to fan violence, but the Bay Area rivals meet for real on Dec. 7.

Strength of schedule: 1st, .578 | Vegas over/under : 5

Raiders Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Houston, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at New England, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Miami, 1 p.m. (in London)
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Cleveland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Denver, 4:05 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 20, Kansas City, 8:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Buffalo, 4:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Denver, 4:25 p.m.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: Could you ask for a better season opener for the Colts, Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning Part II in a nationally televised game on Sept. 7? I didn’t think so. The Colts have not won a road opener since 2006. They happened to win the Super Bowl that same season with Manning under center. Back-to-back 11-win seasons and Luck’s emergence has allowed them to appear in prime time five times, including playing their home opener in Week 2 on "Monday Night Football" against the Philadelphia Eagles, next season. Indianapolis’ other three prime-time games are at Houston on Oct. 9, at the New York Giants on Nov. 3 and they come out of their bye week at home against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Nov. 16.

Complaint department: The schedule makers didn’t do the Colts any favors when they put them in the position to have a short turnaround on their Thursday night game. They host the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 5, then go on the road to face the Texans on Oct. 9. The Colts could have at least had a home game if they weren’t going to have a bye week before playing on Thursday night. Luck vs. Robert Griffin III with a 1 p.m. game on Nov. 30? You would have thought that would have at least been a 4:25 p.m. game since it’s the first time the first two players chosen in the 2012 draft are facing each other. The Colts end their season with back-to-back road games at Dallas and Tennessee.

Reunion games: Something tells me that linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, defensive lineman Arthur Jones and receiver Hakeem Nicks looked at their season-opening opponent then shifted their focus to other games on the schedule. Jackson will face his former team, the Cleveland Browns, in Week 14. Jones goes up against the Ravens in Week 5 and Nicks will have his shot at getting back at the Giants in Week 9. Mike McGlynn, who should have been the Colts' starting center last season, comes back to Lucas Oil Stadium with the Redskins on Nov. 30.

Strength of schedule: 32nd, .430 | Vegas over/under : 9

Colts Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Denver, 8:30 p.m.
Week 2: Monday, Sept. 15, Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 9, at Houston, 8:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Pittsburgh, 4:25 p.m.
Week 9: Monday, Nov. 3, at NY Giants, 8:30 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, New England, 8:30 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Dallas, 4:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.

New York Jets schedule analysis

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: Rex Ryan must have done something to upset the folks in the league's scheduling department. Ryan's beloved defense, which struggled against the pass last season, will face five of the NFL's top six passing offenses from 2013 in rapid succession, Weeks 2 to 6. And that doesn't include the New England Patriots, which finished 10th. It's a Murderer's Row of quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The challenge wouldn't be as daunting if the Jets had made significant improvements in the secondary, but all they've done is replace Antonio Cromartie with journeyman Dimitri Patterson. It might be a good idea to draft a cornerback or two. A year ago, the Jets allowed 3,947 passing yards, the most since 1986. Assuming they seek help in the draft, they will be trying to rebuild part of the secondary, but it'll be tough to accomplish that on the fly, especially with no breathers over the first half of the season. On the bright side, they get to open against the Oakland Raiders.

Complaint department: For the second straight year, the Jets' road game against the Patriots is on a Thursday night -- a tough turnaround under the best of circumstances. That the Jets face the Denver Broncos the previous Sunday makes it an extraordinarily difficult back-to-back. They go from Manning to Brady, two of the all-time greats, in a span of four days, conjuring up memories of when they beat Manning and Brady in the 2010 playoffs. But at least they had a full week to prepare for Brady and New England that year. Ryan, speaking to reporters Wednesday night, didn't sound thrilled. "It isn’t ideal, but, hey, we’ll be up for it," he said. The Jets got hammered in similar fashion in 2011, when they lost to the Patriots at home and played four days later in Denver, falling to Tim Tebow in the final seconds. We'll know a lot about the Jets by Week 7, that's for sure. Their trip to Foxborough, of course, will be spiced by the showdown with former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis.

On the bright side: The good news is the Jets play three of their first four games at home, increasing their chances of getting off to a good start. Historically, they're a fast-starting team under Ryan, whose September record is 11-6, far and away his best month. The downside is that three of the last four games are on the road, and that's not a good thing. The Jets were a pitiful 2-6 on the road last season, with many of those blowout losses. This year, they close at the Minnesota Vikings, at the Tennessee Titans and at the Miami Dolphins. This marks the third time in four years they've finished in Miami. The Vikings will be outdoors in 2014, so that could be a frigid day. If the Jets don't play better as a road team, they will have no shot at the playoffs.

Strength of schedule: 9th, .520 | Vegas over/under : 6.5

Jets Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Oakland, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Green Bay, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Monday, Sept. 22, Chicago, 8:30 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at San Diego, 4:25 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Denver, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Thursday, Oct. 16, at New England, 8:25 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 1, Miami, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Tennessee, 4:05 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, New England, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Miami, 1 p.m.

Denver Broncos schedule analysis

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: Denver Broncos coach John Fox will always caution against making judgments about a schedule based on what happened the year before. Regardless, it's easy to see the challenges that await the Broncos in 2014 and they won't have to wait very long to get right down to it. The Broncos' first three games are against three teams that made the playoffs in 2013 -- the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs and the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. They will face 2013 playoff teams in six of their first eight games. The opening eight-game stretch also includes the Arizona Cardinals, who did not make the NFC's playoff field last season despite a 10-6 record. The Broncos are also going to have be ready to finish strong on the road if they are going to add a fourth consecutive division title. They have three consecutive road games -- at New England, at Oakland and at St. Louis -- in November and play six of their last nine on the road.

Complaint department: OK, now I'm with Peyton Manning on this one. Manning has questioned whether some things in the NFL schedule are truly "random" and the almost annual trip to Foxborough, Mass., is starting to look like a non-random event. Sure, Tom Brady-Manning matchups are historical, but the Broncos wish more of those would happen in Denver. The Broncos have played the Patriots on the road in each of the previous three seasons, in 2011 season it was a playoff game, and 2014 will be the fourth. Since the start of the 2002 season the Broncos have played five regular-season games in Gillette Stadium and one playoff game. Also, the Broncos may not admit it, but they won't like the early bye week. They like the off week to hit close to the midpoint of the season, but this year get the off week in Week 4, before September had even drawn to a close.

Muscle up: With a flashback to the 2013 preseason, when the Broncos were pushed around a bit by the San Francisco 49ers and the Seahawks, this year's regular-season slate will have that same physical flavor. And a team that has largely built its back-to-back 13-3 finishes on the precision and timing of its next-level passing attack, will have to be ready to roll up its sleeves and wrestle in the heavyweight division. The team has tried to add some grittiness to the defense this offseason in cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and defensive end DeMarcus Ware, they have made their intentions clear to try to run the ball more efficiently. To have a shot to get back to the Super Bowl, they'll need all of the above as the league's divisional rotation has them facing the NFC West. The Broncos will have to muscle their way through those games to win a fourth consecutive division title of their own.

Strength of schedule: 2nd, .570 | Vegas over/under : 11

Broncos Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Indianapolis, 8:30 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Kansas City, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.
Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 23, San Diego, 8:25 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at New England, 4:25 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Oakland, 4:05 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Miami, 4:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Kansas City, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Buffalo, 4:05 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Week 16: Monday, Dec. 22, at Cincinnati, 8:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

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

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: We already knew the Texans were going to have the third weakest strength of schedule in the NFL before the schedule release, and that they were to face only one road opponent that had a winning record in 2013. Last season figured to be perilous, as the Texans faced a first-place schedule and the daunting NFC West. This season, a last-place schedule and the less formidable NFC East will offer a smoother road for new head coach Bill O'Brien and his staff. There aren't any major road trips on this schedule; the longest the Texans will be on the road is back-to-back, which happens twice -- with the Raiders and Giants in Weeks 2 and 3, then the Steelers and Titans in Weeks 7 and 8. If anything is at stake late in the season, the Texans will be in a good position to take advantage of it. They have two home games, against Baltimore and Jacksonville, to finish the season.

Complaint department: Don't have too many complaints here, but those back-to-back road games against Pittsburgh and Tennessee could be tough considering the Texans will be playing on Monday night against the Steelers. As usual, their schedule is backloaded with divisional games. Four of the Texans' five final games will be against AFC South teams, including two against the Jaguars in December.

Reunited: Former Texans who might have chips on their shoulders get to face the Texans in Weeks 2, 11 and 16. First, quarterback Matt Schaub, traded away after losing his starting role, and defensive end Antonio Smith, who departed in free agency after being told he'd be used as a third-down rusher, get to host the Texans in Oakland in Week 2. In Week 11, the Texans will visit Cleveland, where they'll see running Ben Tate, who left Houston in free agency to a contract that pays him $6.2 million over two years to be a starter. In their second-to-last game of the season, a home game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Texans will see Gary Kubiak, the coach who was fired last December. He'll bring with him former Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, now the Ravens' quarterbacks coach, and former Texans tight ends coach Brian Pariani. Also returning that day will be former Texans tight end Owen Daniels. When Daniels was asked by reporters in Baltimore what it will be like to return to Houston, he said, "What Steve Smith said," to laughs. Here's to blood and guts!

Strength of schedule: 30th, .441 | Vegas over/under : 8.5

Texans Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at Dallas, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 9, Indianapolis, 8:25 p.m.
Week 7: Monday, Oct. 20, at Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: Consecutive 8-8 seasons have not taken away from the Pittsburgh Steelers' broad appeal, at least to TV executives. The Steelers play five prime-time games -- that is the maximum teams are allowed unless granted a waiver by the NFL -- including two Monday night contests on ESPN. The Steelers host the Texans on Oct. 20. They play another Monday night game on ESPN a month later when they visit the Titans. Both of the Steelers’ games against the Ravens will be prime-time affairs, including Sept. 11 in Baltimore. The 8:25 p.m. game marks the Steelers’ only Thursday night game of the season. No stretch of the schedule looks particularly daunting, though the Steelers play four of their first six away from Heinz Field. Coach Mike Tomlin is probably pleased that the Steelers have 10 games scheduled for 1 p.m. and only one contest scheduled for the 4 p.m. ET slot. I’ve always gotten the sense that the players prefer early games or night ones since the latter provide a bigger stage. The schedule, in that sense, makes it a little easier on the coaches.

Complaint department: Yo, NFL, did I not make it clear that I prefer the bye week to come somewhere in the middle of the season and not right before Thanksgiving? The Steelers and Panthers are the last teams to get a bye as each is off in late November. That is not any better for beat-up players than it is for whiny beat writers who want to catch their breath. Early back-to-back night games on the road (Ravens and the Panthers) aren’t exactly a treat either, and couldn’t you have spaced out the Bengals games a little better? The Steelers visit Cincinnati on Dec. 7 and host their AFC North rival on Dec. 28, the final day of the regular season. Props for sandwiching two home games around Christmas.

Roads less traveled: The most favorable aspect of the Steelers’ schedule is it keeps them close to home even when they are on the road. The Steelers only play one game out of their time zone, and they are only an hour behind when they travel to Nashville, Tenn., for a Nov. 17 game against the Titans. Long-distance travel has not agreed with the Steelers under Tomlin. Since 2007, the Steelers are just 2-7 when playing outside of the Eastern and Central time zones. If minimal travel isn’t enough of a boost for the Steelers they only play two road games against teams that had winning records last season -- the Panthers and Bengals.

Strength of schedule: 23rd, .469 | Vegas over/under : 8.5

Steelers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Thursday, Sept. 11, at Baltimore, 8:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Carolina, 8:30 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Monday, Oct. 20, Houston, 8:30 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Indianapolis, 4:25 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Baltimore, 8:30 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Monday, Nov. 17, at Tennessee, 8:30 p.m.
Week 12: BYE
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Cincinnati, 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.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: Remember a year ago, when the consensus was the Tennessee Titans had a brutal start and would probably do well to go 1-3? Well, they went 3-1. That should console Tennessee fans as they look at this first month -- at Kansas City, Dallas, at Cincinnati and at Indianapolis. Tennessee will have some element of surprise early as not much will be known about how Ken Whisenhunt and his staff will deploy their people. But that's three 2013 playoff teams on the road right at the start. We'll quickly get a measure of how the Titans stand against teams that were good. Three out of four in the stretch after that could offer some relief, as they feature opponents with major quarterback questions.

Complaint department: That start is the biggest story -- and the biggest thing to complain about -- on initial observation. Whisenhunt immediately looked for a silver lining. "The good thing is maybe it will create a sense of urgency with our team in the offseason workouts and training camp," he said in the team's schedule release. "We know what faces us and we must come together and create those bonds." Having two stretches with three of four on the road seems difficult. The second trips feature Baltimore, Philadelphia (on a short week) and Houston. But the road trips also mean there will be stretches of three out of four games at home.

Big finish: The Titans hosted the defending AFC champion Texans at home in the final week last year and they host the defending AFC champion Colts at home in the final week this year. I like it. I don't expect the Colts to tumble the way the Texans did and if the Titans are any sort of challenger for the division, they'll finish with an important game. If the Colts run away with it and the Titans are contending for a Wild Card berth, they could get a team more concerned with resting than with winning. The Titans should be rested for that finale, as they play Thursday in Jacksonville in Week 16.

Strength of schedule: 31st, .438 | Vegas over/under : 6.5

Titans Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Dallas, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Monday, Nov. 17, Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, NY Jets, 4:05 p.m.
Week 16: Thursday, Dec. 18, at Jacksonville, 8:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions



Breakdown: Getting off to a fast start will be important if the Baltimore Ravens want to take back the AFC North title. The Ravens play all three AFC North teams in the first three weeks of the season, including the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers at home. After Week 9 (Nov. 2), the Ravens will know where they stand in the division because they will have played five of their six divisional games. The only AFC North game remaining after that is the Dec. 28 season finale against the Cleveland Browns at home. It marks the first time the Ravens have finished the regular season at home since 2010.

The Ravens are scheduled to play only three games in prime time this season, which could be viewed as a slap in the face. It's the fewest nationally televised games for the Ravens since 2009. This could change because of flexible scheduling. But the Ravens had to expect this after failing to make the playoffs last season.

Complaint department: The brutal part of the Ravens schedule begins in October. The Ravens have a stretch in which they play on the road four times in five weeks. It begins Oct. 5 at Indianapolis, the Ravens' toughest out-of-division game in the first half of the season. The Ravens then play at Tampa Bay and home against Atlanta before traveling to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. This is what happens when there are three home games in the first month of the season. The Ravens can't be too happy with their bye either. It comes in Week 11, which means only the Steelers and Carolina Panthers have a later bye. It's the Ravens' latest bye since 2001. That just compounds a long opening haul for the Ravens.

Potential easy finish: If the Ravens have to make up ground, the schedule sets up favorably in the final month of the season. The Ravens finish up home against Jacksonville, at Houston and home against Cleveland. Those three teams combined to go 10-38 (.208) last season. If all three struggle again, it's not out of the question that the Ravens will see rookie quarterbacks in all three games. Getting the Browns in the final game is historically a luxury. Cleveland has lost its past four season finales, including the last two by a combined score of 44-17.

Strength of schedule: 28th, .461 | Vegas over/under : 8.5

Ravens Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Thursday, Sept. 11, Pittsburgh, 8:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Monday, Nov. 24, at New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, San Diego, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: Don’t expect the Kansas City Chiefs to be the NFL’s final undefeated team again this season. Their schedule is loaded throughout, particularly early in the season. After opening against the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium on Sept. 7, the Chiefs play against three of last season’s four conference finalists over the next four weeks. The Chiefs play four of their last six games against their rivals from the AFC West. Their final three home games are against the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers. That could be a useful feature of their schedule if they’re still in the playoff race by then.

Complaint department: The Chiefs have an early stretch with four of five games on the road. Included are road games against Denver, the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers and a home game against the New England Patriots. They could be buried by the time this stretch ends on Oct. 19. If they can find a way to win two of those games, including a matchup with the Dolphins in Miami, the Chiefs might be able to survive. No matter how the schedule was drawn up, the Chiefs weren’t going to have many soft spots. If such a thing exists this year, it’s a midseason stretch when they face the St. Louis Rams and New York Jets at home followed by a game against the Bills in Buffalo.

Prime-time players: The Chiefs were given three night games, one each on Thursday, Sunday and Monday. That’s no surprise given they were an 11-win team last season and have a schedule featuring several of the league’s top teams as opponents. But Arrowhead Stadium will be home to its first prime-time game in three years on Monday, Sept. 29, when they play against the Patriots. Arrowhead will also be the venue for a Sunday night game on Nov. 20 against the Broncos, though that game could eventually be flexed from that time slot. Their Thursday night game is Nov. 20 against the Raiders in Oakland.

Strength of schedule: 7th, .559 | Vegas over/under : 8.5

Chiefs Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Denver, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Miami, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: Monday, Sept. 29, New England, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Seattle, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 20, at Oakland, 8:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Denver, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Oakland, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, San Diego, 1 p.m.

NFL Nation: How will your team finish?

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