With the NFL schedule being released yesterday, fans will begin the extraneous process of abortively trying to predict their team’s season record, which usually includes a double digit win total and an annual preseason trip to the postseason. It’s irrelevant that the draft is still a few weeks away or that injuries are, in fact, a cruel aspect of reality, or even that such fans haven’t seen their team play in months. No, none of that matters, because they’re all going to the playoffs!
Of course, fans and analysts are guaranteed to watch teams fail to meet their late-April predicted win totals often with much chagrin. Or in pessimist cases, teams may overachieve, and send their fans into a daze of the most gleeful of emotions they hadn’t previously deemed possible. Whatever the case, the W or L prediction game carries as much validity as any Roger Goodell press conference.
What isn’t totally asinine is to analyze each team’s schedule, and see which team’s playoff aspirations were aided by the schedule makers, and whose took a solid blow to the chops.
With each team’s home and away opponents determined months ago, the schedule release is merely evaluating the favorability of a team’s schedule based on details such as bye weeks, national television appearances, home and away stretches, timing of cross-country trips, ordering of divisional opponents, end of schedule slates, weather, etc. Based on all of these factors as well as other tidbits, let’s see which teams may want to send thank you notes and candies in the mail to the schedule makers versus those who would rather egg someone’s car over their frustrations.
Thank You and What’s Your Favorite Candy?
Denver Broncos– The Broncos play four of their last five games at home, which is particularly notable when considering the effects of the season on Peyton Manning’s arm. Playing at home in December is always beneficial. Also the Week 15 meeting at Pittsburgh is the only cold-weather game away from home in the season’s final month. The team’s Thursday night game comes in Arrowhead which is nearly a death sentence on a short week, but that matchup comes in Week 2, which is far more preferable than a Thursday matchup later on in the season when players are struggling to recover in time for a Sunday game. The Week 7 bye is a bit earlier than optimal, but coming on the heels of a primetime matchup with the Packers and a trip to Indianapolis, it provides extra preparation and rest before two of the toughest opponents on the schedule.
Indianapolis Colts– As if playing the two worst divisions in football weren’t enough (the Souths), the Colts received an advantageous schedule to boot. The team plays back-to-back road games only once all the season, and the second game of that back-to-back is at Jacksonville. After the game in Jacksonville two of their last three games are at home. In fact, after their LATE bye week in Week 10, the Colts play only one opponent that had a winning record last season (Pittsburgh). Also, the Colts play just one team coming off their respective bye week and that’s the Falcons in Week 11. In case you didn’t put it together, the Colts are also coming off their bye week in Week 11! The Colts do face a difficult stretch in Weeks 6-9 when they will take on Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning over a four-week span. However, heading into that AFC Championship rematch against Brady and company, the Colts will enjoy extended preparation after playing Thursday night the previous week.
New Orleans Saints– The Saints’ Week 11 bye will be met with much adoration from players as will the lack of back-to-back road games. The Saints’ road woes have been well-documented, but the schedule makers cut the Saints a break by never taking them away from the comfy confines of the Superdome for more than a week at a time. After the Week 11 bye, the Saints will travel to Houston before returning home for three of their final five games, where the Lions are the only opponent that achieved an above .500 mark last season. The Saints will encounter a difficult October, in which they will host two primetime matchups against the Cowboys and Falcons with a game at Philly sandwiched in between, before ending the month with a trip to Indianapolis. However, that game against the Falcons is a Thursday matchup, meaning they dodged the dreaded preposition of playing on a short week on the road. Plus it will give them a solid 10-day layoff before playing Andrew Luck and the Colts.
Where are the Damn Eggs?
Carolina Panthers– The Panthers’ Week 5 bye is reason for frustration, but someone has to get an early-season bye week. Cam Newton and his boys best rest up too considering the gauntlet that follows. Although three of the next four games are at home, the Panthers play at Seattle, before hosting the Eagles, Colts and Packers. After playing at Tennessee and hosting the Redskins, the Panthers will play four of their final six games on the road, starting with a trek to Jerry World as the Cowboys Thanksgiving matchup. Following the holiday festivities, four of the Panthers remaining five games come within the division, which includes two matchups with the Falcons in Weeks 14 and 16. The NFC South isn’t exactly a pantheon of juggernauts, but divisional games are an emotional grind, and four in five weeks is excessive.
Washington Redskins– The Redskins’ appear to have received a fairly soft slate before their Week 8 bye. However, it becomes sneaky difficult with closer analysis. The Redskins have a phantom triple decker in Week 3 playing a divisional opponent on the road on a Thursday. Fortunately, it’s early in the season and easy on travel with it coming in New York. The big kicker are the two games at the Jets and versus the Bucs in Weeks 6 and 7. While those matchups aren’t daunting by any means, both are following the team’s respective bye weeks. In fact, when including the Week 12 game against the Giants, the Redskins play three teams after their byes, second most in the NFL behind the Seahawks with four. The Redskins’ major gripe comes with playing three of their last four games on the road, especially when their last two games of the season are divisional roadies against the Eagles and Cowboys.
Dallas Cowboys– The Week 6 bye is displeasing, coming in the first half of the season, but the most distressing portion of the schedule for the Cowboys will come in Weeks 10-14 when they play four out of five games on the road. After a back-to-back in the sunshine state against the Bucs and Dolphins, the ‘Boys will return to Texas, gorge some turkey, and host the Panthers on Thanksgiving then head back out on the road with games at Washington and Green Bay. The trips to Washington and Green Bay in Weeks 13 and 14 along with a voyage to Buffalo in Week 16 will make for a frigid December for the warm-weathered Cowboys. The only home stand for the Cowboys during this chilling stretch is against the Jets, which comes on a Saturday. The Cowboys also get the Patriots and a primetime home matchup with Eagles with both teams coming off their respective byes.