NFL Nation: NFL schedule analysis 2012

Top five Monday night games for 2012

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
11:09
PM ET

One man's opinion on the top five Monday night games for 2012:

1. Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions, Week 16. Call this one the Karma Bowl. The Falcons took offense when Ndamukong Suh allegedly celebrated Matt Ryan's ankle injury during an October game between the teams last season. Suh called the injury "karma" for the Falcons' allegedly dirty tactics. Good teams and bad blood should make for good theater.

2. Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons, Week 2. Peyton Manning's first post-Indy appearance on "Monday Night Football" takes him to Atlanta for only the third time in his career. The Falcons are a footnote in this matchup. Manning plays only one indoor game during the 2012 regular season. This is it.

3. Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles, Week 12. Neither team had a winning record last season, but who cares? This game presents a chance to see Cam Newton and Michael Vick on the same night in the same stadium for the first time -- assuming they're both healthy enough to play after running around, into and through defenses for two-plus months.

4. Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers, Week 11. Patrick Willis vs. Matt Forte. Brian Urlacher vs. Frank Gore. Expect a physical game and a big test for Jay Cutler on the road. The 49ers have arguably the NFL's best defense and they'll be eager to show it in prime time.

5. Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks, Week 3. Two NFC West teams on the list? What is this, the NFC West blog? Yes, but this one's legit. Few venues can approach Seattle for atmosphere, especially in prime time. And this game marks Green Bay's lone appearance on Monday night. The Matt Flynn storyline adds interest.

NFL32: Hard road for Manning, Broncos

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
10:38
PM ET


NFL schedules are out, and Peyton Manning and the Broncos have a tough road ahead. The Texans look good with a healthy Matt Schaub; Russell Wilson draws comparisons to Drew Brees.
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

Video: NFL schedule released

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
9:00
PM ET

Damien Woody breaks down the 2012 NFL schedule, and weighs in on the Giants and Saints.
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 Bucs will make only one appearance in a nationally televised prime-time game (Oct. 25 at Minnesota) -- to be expected for a team coming off a 4-12 season. But that might be good news for new coach Greg Schiano and his squad because the Bucs won’t get a lot of attention and could sneak up on some opponents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buffalo Bills schedule analysis

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

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

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

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

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

Bills Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

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

Arizona Cardinals schedule analysis

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
8:22
PM ET
Breakdown: The Cardinals drew two prime-time games, both against division opponents, as part of a schedule that should let them avoid a second consecutive slow start.

Arizona, which rallied to 8-8 last season after a 1-6 start, plays three of its first four games at home, beginning with Seattle's visit to University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Seahawks and Cardinals played two close games last season, including a Week 17 matchup in Arizona that went into overtime. The 2012 season picks up where the 2011 season left off, in other words. That's a welcome early development for the division as these teams seek to close ground on the defending NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers.

Playing five of the first eight games at home sounds even better for Arizona knowing two of the road games during that stretch fall against St. Louis and Minnesota, teams coming off difficult seasons. Of course, this presumes the Cardinals will put forth a more respectable effort in the Metrodome this time around.

Kevin Kolb has to be looking forward to a Week 3 home game against his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Complaint department: The Cardinals drew a division-high five games kicking off at 1 p.m. ET, the earliest possible time slot and one coach Ken Whisenhunt has lamented over the years. While the Cardinals finished strong last season in rallying to 8-8, question marks at quarterback made it tougher for Arizona to command additional prime-time games -- the surest way for a Western team to avoid the early starts. Overall, though, the Cardinals came out OK. They get a Week 10 bye between road trips to Green Bay and Atlanta, but that portion of the schedule does feature four of five games on the road.

Home sweet home: The Cardinals are opening at home for the second consecutive season and only the fourth time since the team relocated to Arizona for the 1988 season. They can thank their new stadium for providing relief from the scorching Arizona sun. More road games late in the season can be tough, but the Cardinals are home against Detroit and Chicago in Weeks 15-16, followed by their shortest road trip of the season, albeit to San Francisco, site of arguably their worst 2011 performance.

Cardinals Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, Seattle, 4:15 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at New England, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Philadelphia, 4:05 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, Miami, 4:05 PM
Week 5: Thursday, Oct. 4, at St. Louis, 8:20 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Buffalo, 4:05 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Monday, Oct. 29, San Francisco, 8:30 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Green Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, St. Louis, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Seattle, 4:15 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Detroit, 4:05 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, Chicago, 4:15 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at San Francisco, 4:15 PM
Breakdown: There's no easing into the NFL, but assuming Robert Griffin III is the next starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins, the opening stretch of the schedule of his first professional season offers a couple of breaks. The Redskins open with a road game in New Orleans against the Saints, who will be without several coaches and possibly several key defensive players as a result of suspensions from the NFL's investigation of their bounty program. Their second game is against the Rams in St. Louis, and after the home opener Sept. 23 against the Bengals, they go on the road to Tampa Bay. Not that the Redskins are guaranteed to beat any of those teams with a rookie quarterback, but the tougher-looking part of their schedule doesn't come until a bit later on.

The Redskins' only scheduled prime-time game to this point is the Dec. 3 "Monday Night Football" matchup at home against the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, but they will be in the spotlight at 4:15 pm ET on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, when they take on the division-rival Cowboys in Dallas. And if Griffin is off to a strong start, the Redskins' Nov. 4 game at home against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers is likely to generate some advance hype.

The Redskins' bye comes in Week 10, and of the seven games that follow, a whopping five are against NFC East opponents -- one at home against the Giants and both of their matchups against the Eagles and Cowboys. They finish the season with a Week 16 trip to Philadelphia and a Week 17 home game against Dallas, so if they are in contention they'll have their chances to pull something off. And Griffin can wait a while before finding himself in the heat of these NFC East rivalries.

Complaint department: If I were a Redskins fan, it would annoy be a bit that Griffin is only scheduled to play three home games prior to Nov. 4. A Dec. 16 trip to Cleveland has a chance to be pretty unpleasant, weather-wise. And having to play division games against the Eagles and Cowboys in a five-day stretch doesn't look like a lot of fun, either.

Week 2 in St. Lou: Lots of connections between the two teams that will play in St. Louis on Sept. 16. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and new Rams coach Jeff Fisher are close friends. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett served the Rams in the same role from 2006-08 and was the team's head coach for the final 12 games of that 2008 season. And of course, the Redskins wouldn't be in position to draft Griffin if they hadn't traded three first-round picks and this year's second-rounder to St. Louis for the No. 2 pick in this year's draft. It'll be interesting to follow, over the coming years, the progress of the players the Rams take with the picks they got from the Redskins. It's possible that two of those players could play in this game.

Redskins Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at St. Louis, 4:05 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Tampa Bay, 4:15 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Minnesota, 4:15 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, at Dallas, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 3, NY Giants, 8:30 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Dallas, 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

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