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Thursday, April 18, 2013
Updated: April 19, 12:18 PM ET
What does 2013 schedule tell us?

By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com

Now we know. Baltimore will open at Denver. Manning vs. Manning will be in Week 2. Chip Kelly will begin to revolutionize the game -- as Philadelphia tight end Brent Celek predicted earlier this week -- and make his head coaching debut on "Monday Night Football" in Week 1 against Washington.

We are still more than four months away from real football, from the big games and the packed stadiums. Every team is 0-0. Every team is optimistic. Every team can still win its division, can still make the playoffs, and can still win the Super Bowl. At least, they can on paper.

The National Football League finally released the 2013 slate of games, which begged these 10 questions:

What is the impact of the Baltimore Ravens opening the season on the road?

Joe Flacco
Opening at Denver is a tough way for Joe Flacco and the Ravens to start their championship defense.

Since 2004, the NFL has opened the regular season with the defending Super Bowl champions playing at home. It has allowed the teams to bask in the glory of their accomplishment one last time in front of their own fans. It has been a tremendous advantage. Prior to last season, when the New York Giants lost their season opener to the Dallas Cowboys, the defending champs were 8-0 in season openers with an average margin of victory of 10.4 points.

Translation: Open at home, start the season 1-0.

Because of a conflict with the Baltimore Orioles, the Ravens will open at Denver in a rematch of Baltimore's thrilling double overtime win in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs.

Since 2008, when John Harbaugh became the coach and Joe Flacco the starting quarterback, Baltimore is 33-7 at M&T Bank Stadium and 21-19 on the road. The Ravens lost six starters on defense from the Super Bowl team, traded valuable receiver Anquan Boldin to San Francisco and have a big question at left tackle. What should have been a home win in the season opener has become a possible road loss. The good news: Three of their next four games will be against teams that finished below .500 in 2012.

Who's got the easier road to the NFC West title, the San Francisco 49ers or Seattle Seahawks?

Along with the Atlanta Falcons, the 49ers and Seahawks will open the season as favorites to win the NFC. It is scary how they are almost mirror images of each other. Dynamic young quarterbacks. Potentially dominating defenses. Brash head coaches who have carried over a collegiate rivalry to the pros.

Both teams will have to deal with their opponents having spent much of the offseason devising schemes and collecting players to counter the read option.

San Francisco caught a break on who they play at home versus the road. Of the Niners' nondivisional opponents, they will play Atlanta, Carolina, Green Bay, Houston and Indianapolis at home. Four of those teams made the playoffs last year. They will travel to New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Washington, Jacksonville and Tennessee. Only one of those teams made the playoffs.

The Seahawks will play New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Jacksonville and Tennessee at home and travel to Atlanta, Carolina, the New York Giants, Houston and Indianapolis.

So, advantage San Francisco.

San Francisco's strength of schedule is tougher (.520 versus .516 for Seattle), but the Niners' path is easier given which teams they get at Candlestick Park, where San Francisco is 13-2-1 under third-year coach Jim Harbaugh.

If Robert Griffin III is ready to play Week 1, how does the first month of his season look?

Of all the players attempting to come back from a major injury, Griffin will be watched the most closely. He tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in his right knee in the Washington Redskins' playoff loss to Seattle. The reports of his recovery have been positive, although Griffin has not yet been cleared to participate in the team's offseason workouts, which began this week.

If he is able to start the season, Griffin will face a challenging September. Washington opens with Philadelphia at home, and then will play at Green Bay, home versus Detroit and at Oakland. Usually teams like having their bye week toward the middle of the season, but Washington gets its bye in Week 5, which probably will come at a perfect time for Griffin to rest and reload.

The next four after the bye: at Dallas, vs. Chicago, at Denver and vs. San Diego. Washington better hope Griffin is ready.

How many wins is Sean Payton worth to the New Orleans Saints?

I've heard three, maybe four. That might be a little high. Payton certainly has his work cut out for him.

As Payton noted at the NFL owners meeting, last season the Saints finished last in the NFL in defense and ranked toward the bottom of the league in rushing offense. A porous defense and an ineffective running game are not friends to a quarterback.

"We found a way to 7-9," Payton said, "and that's where we are right now."

The Saints probably won't be there for long, but they will start the season looking up at the Falcons, who have won 36 games in the past three seasons. From 2008, when Mike Smith took over the Falcons, through 2011, New Orleans won six of eight games against Atlanta. The teams split last season, each winning at home. They will meet in Week 1 in New Orleans and Week 12 in Atlanta.

What's the can't-miss homecoming game?

There are some compelling ones. Ed Reed returns to Baltimore in Week 3. Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis in Week 7. Wes Welker returns to New England on Week 12.

But I'm most interested to see Andy Reid return to Philadelphia for a Thursday night game in Week 3.

"That should be a warm welcome," Reid told ESPN's Trey Wingo.

Andy Reid Fans
Will Eagles fans be kind to Andy Reid when he returns to Philadelphia as coach of the Chiefs?

It is always entertaining to see how Eagles fans respond when one of their former star players returns in another team's uniform. Some burned their green No. 81 jerseys when Terrell Owens returned in 2006 with the Cowboys. Most cheered for Donovan McNabb when he first took the field as Washington's quarterback in 2010, then booed his every throw thereafter. They lauded Brian Dawkins, one of the most beloved Eagles ever, when he returned as a Bronco in 2009.

How will they react to Reid, who led the Eagles to five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl but never delivered what has eluded the organization: a Lombardi Trophy? The Eagles went 12-20 in Reid's final two years. His play calling and clock management throughout his tenure irritated fans. Reid didn't run the ball enough with Brian Westbrook or LeSean McCoy. He stuck with McNabb too long. He entrusted Michael Vick too much. And Reid never found an adequate replacement for the masterful Jim Johnson, his defensive coordinator who died prior to the 2009 season.

Change was overdue in Philadelphia. The fans at Lincoln Financial Field likely will politely applaud Reid when his Kansas City Chiefs take the field, and then howl -- and cheer  if he calls three straight passing plays for Alex Smith on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

The Carolina Panthers have the toughest schedule. What does that mean for their playoff chances?

It means they'll miss the postseason. Again.

The last team to enter the regular season with the league's toughest schedule and still make the playoffs was Pittsburgh in 2008. The Steelers went 12-4 in the regular season, won the AFC North, got a first-round bye in the playoffs and beat San Diego, Baltimore and Arizona to win their second Super Bowl in four years. Tough schedule? What tough schedule?

The Panthers probably won't be so lucky. Carolina's 2013 opponents had a .543 winning percentage in 2012. Denver's had a .430. The Panthers have an early bye in Week 4 and have a brutal three-game stretch in Weeks 9-11 playing at home vs. Atlanta, at San Francisco and vs. New England.

That's a tough stretch. Tougher still is that this is the second time in three years Carolina has faced the league's hardest schedule. It also did in 2011, when Cam Newton was a rookie and the Panthers finished 6-10.

The 2012 Giants, the 2010 Titans and Texans, and the 2009 Dolphins each missed the playoffs when faced with the NFL's toughest schedule heading into the season. If the Panthers do, too, that likely will be it for coach Ron Rivera.

How quickly will the New England Patriots win a fifth consecutive AFC East crown?

Can the Jets win the division? No. Can Buffalo? No. Can Miami? General manager Jeff Ireland has improved his team in free agency and has 11 picks in the draft, but it is probably unrealistic to think the Dolphins can knock off the Patriots just yet.

Look at New England's early schedule. The Patriots open at Buffalo, then face the Jets and Tampa Bay at home. Depending on the health of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, it is likely New England will be 3-0 entering a Week 4 game at Atlanta. The Patriots will be finished with the Jets after Week 7, and get what should be three of their toughest opponents at home: New Orleans in Week 6 Pittsburgh in Week 9 and Denver in Week 12. Three of their final four games are vs. Cleveland, at Miami and vs. Buffalo.

In the past three seasons, the Patriots have gone 16-2 in their division games. Even with the uncertainty surrounding their tight ends and an underwhelming cast of wide receivers, New England should have the division wrapped up by December.

What did the NFL do to help the four teams that will play in London this season?

Minnesota will "host" Pittsburgh in London in Week 4, and Jacksonville is the designated home team against San Francisco in Week 8. For each team, the league scheduled a bye week following the London game. The week before, the Vikings, Steelers and Jaguars have home games. The 49ers, who have the longest trip to London, requested a Week 7 road game on the East Coast to cut down the 5,300-plus-mile trip from San Francisco to England. They will play at Tennessee in Week 7.

The league wants to encourage teams to play international games. Making a favorable schedule, particularly with the bye week after the game, is an important way to do that.

What team has a schedule that could get its head coach fired midseason?

You've got to feel for Leslie Frazier. Here's how the Minnesota Vikings' schedule looks starting in Week 7: at the Giants, vs. Green Bay, at Dallas, vs. Washington, at Seattle, at Green Bay, vs. Chicago, at Baltimore, vs. Philadelphia, at Cincinnati.

Jason Garrett and Rivera are happy it is Frazier who must face that stretch, and not them.

So cut to the chase: Looking at the schedule, what team is going to win the Super Bowl?

Consider this quirk: The past four teams the Eagles have hosted in their home opener -- New Orleans in 2009, Green Bay in 2010, the Giants in 2011 and Baltimore in 2012 -- all went on to win the Super Bowl. Coincidence?

So the San Diego Chargers, who will play at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 2, are going to win the Super Bowl.

I'm kidding. Or am I?