NFL Nation: AFCE Schedule Analysis 2012
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
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
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
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
1:00 PM ET Washington Atlanta 1:00 PM ET Chicago Cleveland 1:00 PM ET Houston Indianapolis 1:00 PM ET New England Miami 1:00 PM ET Philadelphia Minnesota 1:00 PM ET Seattle New York 1:00 PM ET San Francisco Tampa Bay 1:00 PM ET Buffalo Jacksonville 4:05 PM ET Kansas City Oakland 4:05 PM ET New York Carolina 4:25 PM ET Green Bay Dallas 4:25 PM ET Arizona Tennessee 4:25 PM ET New Orleans St. Louis 8:30 PM ET Cincinnati Pittsburgh