NFL Nation: AFC Schedule Analysis 2012

Breakdown: The Steelers parted ways with big-name veterans in Hines Ward and James Farrior, but they are still in demand. Pittsburgh is one of eight teams to receive five prime-time games.

In a cruel twist by schedule makers, the Steelers begin their season where it ended -- in Denver. Instead of rehashing the memory of Tim Tebow's winning touchdown pass in overtime, Pittsburgh has to deal with Peyton Manning and his Broncos debut. It's then possible that the Steelers will face Tebow in Week 2 when the New York Jets visit.

The division should come down to the final two months of the season. The Steelers finish by playing five AFC North teams over the last seven weeks of the regular season. The most intense part of the schedule is the time when the Steelers battle the Ravens twice in three weeks (Nov. 18 and Dec. 2). That doesn't give the teams too much time to heal.

Complaint department: Pittsburgh starts the season by playing four of six games on the road. In September, the Steelers have one home game and two trips out west. A bye week is sandwiched in that rough opening stretch, but that even hurts the Steelers. Who wants a bye week in Week 4? That means the Steelers have to play 13 consecutive games without a break.

Home cooking: If the Steelers can survive that challenging start, the last month of the schedule works in their favor. Pittsburgh plays three of its final four games at home, which includes contests at Heinz Field against Cincinnati and Cleveland to finish out the regular season.

Steelers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Denver, 8:20 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, NY Jets, 4:15 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Oakland, 4:15 PM
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 11, at Tennessee, 8:20 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Cincinnati, 8:20 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at NY Giants, 4:15 PM
Week 10: Monday, Nov. 12, Kansas City, 8:30 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Baltimore, 8:20 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Baltimore, 4:15 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, San Diego, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at Dallas, 4:15 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Breakdown: Don't play that lack of respect card this year Who Dey nation. After not making a prime-time appearance last season, the Bengals were rewarded with three after a surprising run to the playoffs. The last time the Bengals had more prime-time games was 2007, when they had four.

Cincinnati opens the season on Monday night at Baltimore, plays a home Sunday night game against Pittsburgh on Oct. 21 and a Thursday night game at Philadelphia on Dec. 13. The most shocking part of the Bengals' schedule is that the return of Carson Palmer to Paul Brown Stadium on Nov. 25 isn't on national television.

The Bengals will find out where they stand in the AFC North early -- four division games are in the first seven weeks of the season. Cincinnati then goes nine weeks without facing an AFC North team until it finishes at Pittsburgh and home against Baltimore.

Complaint department: There really isn't much to complain about. Four of the Bengals' first six games are on the road. But that could also be considered the easy part of the schedule, with only one of those road games against a playoff team from last season. After playing at Baltimore, the Bengals travel to Washington, Jacksonville and Cleveland.

Sellout streak?: It's no secret that the Bengals have had trouble selling tickets. Only two home games last season weren't blacked out (and one was the result of a "buy one, get one free" promotion). But there's no excuse for a lack of sellouts this year. The Bengals have a three-game home stretch in the middle of the season when Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning come to town. If the Bengals can't pack the stadium for those games, there's a major problem in Cincinnati.

Bengals Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 10, at Baltimore, 7:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Jacksonville, 4:05 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, Pittsburgh, 8:20 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Denver, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, Oakland, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at San Diego, 4:15 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, Dallas, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Thursday, Dec. 13, at Philadelphia, 8:20 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
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 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
Breakdown: The Ravens will show the nation if they're ready to make a run at the Super Bowl. Three of Baltimore's first four games are on national television, including the season-opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on "Monday Night Football."

Baltimore has a strong shot at opening strong and finishing the same way. The Ravens play three of their first four games at home and three December games at M&T Bank Stadium, where they went undefeated last season.

Both playoff rematches from a season ago come in the first half of 2012. The Ravens face the New England Patriots at home on Sept. 23 and play at the Houston Texans on Oct. 21, their final game before their Week 8 bye.

Complaint department: As a result of a lot of home games early and late, the Ravens are on the road for a large portion in between. Baltimore plays one game at home in November. The Ravens finish the month with their grudge match at Pittsburgh before flying across the country to San Diego, where they lost 34-14 last season.

Quarterback challenge: The Ravens face seven Pro Bowl quarterbacks in their final eight games. Those quarterbacks total 22 Pro Bowls: Carson Palmer (two); Ben Roethlisberger (two), who faces Baltimore twice in this stretch; Philip Rivers (four); Peyton Manning (11), Eli Manning (two) and Andy Dalton (one). They also account for five Super Bowl titles.

Ravens Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 10, Cincinnati, 7:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, New England, 8:20 PM
Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 27, Cleveland, 8:20 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, at Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Dallas, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, Oakland, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at Pittsburgh, 8:20 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, at San Diego, 4:05 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, Pittsburgh, 4:15 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Denver, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Breakdown: The Chargers will be on "Monday Night Football" twice. They open the season at Oakland in the second game of a Monday night doubleheader. The Chargers must get used to playing in prime time. They have five night games and they come early in the schedule.

The Chargers play in prime time in Week 5 -- at home on Sunday night against Drew Brees and the Saints. San Diego will then play at Denver against Peyton Manning on Monday night in Week 6. The Chargers host Kansas City in a Thursday night game on Nov. 1 and will visit Tim Tebow and the Jets on Dec. 23.

Complaint department: The Chargers have challenges throughout the season, especially in the second half with some difficult road games. Playing at Pittsburgh in Week 14 and the Jets in Week 16 is not ideal for a team that will likely be playing meaningful late-season games.

Start fast: Starting fast is always paramount in San Diego. This season is no different with coach Norv Turner on the hot seat. After opening at Oakland, the Chargers have tough home games against the Titans and Falcons in Week 2 and Week 3, respectively. Starting strong was a problem until last year when the Chargers fell apart with a six-game losing streak in the middle of the season. But if the Chargers don’t start quickly in 2012, the pressure will be on Turner.

Chargers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 10, at Oakland, 10:15 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Tennessee, 4:15 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Atlanta, 4:05 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, at New Orleans, 8:20 PM
Week 6: Monday, Oct. 15, Denver, 8:30 PM
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Thursday, Nov. 1, Kansas City, 8:20 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at Denver, 4:15 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, Baltimore, 4:05 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, Cincinnati, 4:15 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Carolina, 4:05 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at NY Jets, 8:20 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Oakland, 4:15 PM
Breakdown: Mike Mularkey has a shot at a good start in his first season as coach of the Jaguars, with an opener at Minnesota and a Week 3 trip to Indianapolis sandwiched around a home game against defending division champ Houston.

Last year the Jaguars got a surprising three prime-time games, including two at home. This time they get the minimum of one, and it’s a Thursday night game that kills two birds with one stone for the NFL -- Nov. 8 at EverBank Field against the Colts.

This looks to me like a reasonably balanced schedule. But come Nov. 25, Jacksonville will have played all but one of its six AFC South games, with only a season finale at Tennessee left. That makes it tougher to make up ground late if the Jaguars are in the mix for the division’s top spot.

Complaint department: The Jaguars have only one set of back-to-back road games, but the schedule-maker did the team no big favors with the set up. Following a trip to Oakland, the furthest of the season, the Jaguars draw a trip to Green Bay for what could be their toughest road game of the year. At least that’s on Oct. 28, before Lambeau Field gets the most severe weather that provides the largest home-field advantage.

Quirky: Just as I struggle to understand why games between two teams in the same division can’t be separated by at least a month (see Colts-Texans this season), I would love an explanation why a team should play all four of the teams from a division in consecutive games. That’s what the Jaguars get with the AFC East in December with at Buffalo, Jets, at Miami and New England lined up.

Jaguars Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, Cincinnati, 4:05 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Chicago, 4:05 PM
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Oakland, 4:15 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Thursday, Nov. 8, Indianapolis, 8:20 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, New England, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Tennessee, 1:00 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: The Reggie McKenzie, Dennis Allen era starts in style as the Raiders host San Diego on "Monday Night Football" in Week 1. It’s a rematch of a game that knocked the Raiders out of playoff contention last season in Hue Jackson's last game with the team. The Raiders start and end the 2012 season against San Diego. Oakland plays at San Diego in Week 17.

The Raiders host Denver and Peyton Manning on Dec. 6 in a Thursday night game in primetime.

The Denver game falls in the middle of a pivotal three-game home stretch in which the Silver and Black plays against the Browns, Broncos and Chiefs. The Raiders can make a playoff push during that stretch.

Complaint department: There really isn’t too much to complain about with this slate. Only once does Oakland have to play back-to-back weeks on the road and it’s at the end of the season, when it travels to Carolina and San Diego. So, the Raiders better be in good shape heading into the holidays.

Early wake-up call: The Raiders play five games in Eastern Time zone, beginning in Week 2 in Miami. It marks the first time in team history Oakland has to play five games in the Eastern time zone. West Coast teams have often talked about the challenges of playing on the East Coast.

Raiders Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 10, San Diego, 10:15 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Miami, 4:15 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Pittsburgh, 4:15 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Denver, 4:05 PM
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, Jacksonville, 4:15 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Kansas City, 4:05 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Tampa Bay, 4:05 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, New Orleans, 4:05 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, Cleveland, 4:15 PM
Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 6, Denver, 8:20 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Kansas City, 4:15 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at San Diego, 4:15 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
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

New York Jets schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
7:49
PM ET
Breakdown: The mercurial New York Jets will kick off their 2012 schedule with a home game against the upstart Buffalo Bills. New York's schedule is ranked 20th in the NFL, based on strength of schedule.

This is a big year for Jets head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum. New York reached the AFC title game in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010 but suffered a meltdown and missed the playoffs entirely last year. Is this veteran team still a contender or beginning a downward spiral? We are about the find out.

New York was just 8-8 last year but has four prime-time games. You can give some credit to popular quarterback Tim Tebow, who was acquired in a high-profile trade this offseason. The Jets will host the Houston Texans in Week 5 and travel to play the Tennessee Titans in Week 15 on "Monday Night Football." The Jets also host the New England Patriots (Week 12) in a Thursday night game and host the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night (Week 16).

Complaint department: We are going to find out how good the Jets are early. The Jets should be very leery of their first five games. It includes three good playoff teams from a year ago (Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Houston) and two division rivals (Buffalo, Miami). None of those first five games will be easy. If the Jets get off to a slow start and are 1-4 or 2-3 in the first five games, tensions will rise quickly in that locker room.

Sanchez needs fast start: Perhaps no player in the Jets locker room needs a faster start than quarterback Mark Sanchez. With Tebow breathing down his neck, Sanchez needs to quiet the doubters early. That makes New York's season-opener against Buffalo at home huge for Sanchez. The good news is the Jets have pummeled Buffalo in recent years, including last year's sweep. Sanchez will have a ton of pressure on him in that Week 1 matchup against Buffalo's new-look defense and defensive line.

Jets Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Pittsburgh, 4:15 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, San Francisco, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Monday, Oct. 8, Houston, 8:30 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at New England, 4:15 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, Miami, 1:00 PM
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, New England, 8:20 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, Arizona, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Monday, Dec. 17, at Tennessee, 8:30 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, San Diego, 8:20 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Breakdown: Tony Gonzalez is coming back to Kansas City in Week 1. In his first meeting against his former team, the superstar tight end will try to ruin the opening game of the permanent Romeo Crennel era.

The Chiefs have an interesting stretch after their Oct. 21 bye. They host Oakland on Oct. 28 and then play in a prime-time game at San Diego four games later on Nov. 1. After a long layoff, the Chiefs are back on prime time in their lone Monday night game -- in Pittsburgh on Nov. 12. The Chiefs will face former head coach Todd Haley, who is now the Steelers’ offensive coordinator.

Then, the Chiefs have three straight home games, against Cincinnati, Denver and Carolina before playing three of their final four on the road.

Complaint department: The Chiefs’ schedule has two trouble spots. Playing back-to-back prime-time roadies at San Diego and Pittsburgh is not ideal. Having one home game in the final quarter of the season is challenging as well. The Chiefs must enter the final stretch is good shape.

Berry-Johnson meeting: There will be some juice involved in the Chiefs’ Week 2 trip to Buffalo. Kansas City star safety Eric Berry suffered a torn ACL when he was hit by Stevie Johnson in Week 1 last season. Berry has openly questioned the hit. Johnson has denied that it was dirty. Expect emotions to be high.

Chiefs Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, San Diego, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, Oakland, 4:05 PM
Week 9: Thursday, Nov. 1, at San Diego, 8:20 PM
Week 10: Monday, Nov. 12, at Pittsburgh, 8:30 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, Denver, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at Oakland, 4:15 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Denver, 4:15 PM
Breakdown: The Cleveland Browns knew it wasn't going to be easy. Cleveland has the third-toughest strength of schedule and the hardest for non-playoff teams.

The good news for the Browns is they open at home, playing host to the Philadelphia Eagles. The bad news is what follows. Cleveland plays three of the next four games on the road and all come against teams that made the playoffs last season (Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and the Super Bowl champion New York Giants).

If the Browns can survive that tough stretch, they catch a break by playing three of four games at home before entering their bye. But their softest part of the schedule comes at the start of December, when the Browns play at Oakland and at home against Kansas City.

Complaint department: The NFL schedule makers didn't do the Browns any favors to end the season. Cleveland finishes the regular season at Denver and at Pittsburgh. That's consecutive road games against Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Cleveland is a combined 1-19 against them.

Not prime-time players: Luckily for the Browns, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell guaranteed one national television game for each team this season. If not, the Browns might not have received any prime-time exposure. Cleveland's only time on national television is a Thursday night game at Baltimore on Sept. 27. The Browns know they have to earn more prime-time games.

Browns Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Buffalo, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 27 at Baltimore, 8:20 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, San Diego, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at Dallas, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Oakland, 4:15 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Denver, 4:05 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM

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