It’s mid April, and I’ve been able to sit on my balcony without looking like a lunatic for a few weeks now, assuming that I wear clothes. Warmer weather is coming, so football season still feels like it couldn’t be further away.
But pour out the contents of that half empty glass, my solemn football friend, and re-fill it to the exact same level. Now it’s half full, because we’re already over two months into the long, painful offseason. Time has flown by too, so thanks Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow, and Gregg Williams’ profanity, because we’ve already arrived at schedule release day, the day that makes Week 1 feel like it’s this Sunday.
Now we just have to begin the process of tricking ourselves, and analyzing each matchup as though it’s scheduled for tomorrow. As exciting as this day is, a three-hour special on ESPN is equal parts embarrassing and absurd, but I’m still watching it like the good trained Pavlov dog that I am.
Let’s dig in. The full schedule is available on NFL.com, and keep in mind two key changes as we go through some initial thoughts and observations: every team will be featured in at least one primetime game, and every game in Week 17 is a divisional matchup.
Defending the Lombardi Trophy isn’t supposed to be easy. The rules dictate that as the defending champs, the Giants have the hardest schedule. And just like they did last year with a brutal six-game stretch starting in Week 10 that resulted in four losses, New York will face the brunt of their gauntlet late in the season. Here’s what’s waiting starting in Week 12: vs. Packers (Sunday night), @Redskins (Monday night), vs. Saints, @Falcons, @Ravens, vs. Eagles. With the potential exception of Washington, that’s downright scary, and the combined 2011 record of those teams was 63-33.
The Bills Toronto Series will redeem itself…hopefully. In the four-game history of regular season NFL action in Toronto, Canadian fans have had two entertaining games sandwiched between two games which featured football that created soul destroying depression. Last year was the latter, as although the Bills finally won a game in Toronto, they did it against a stumbling, fumbling Redskins team led by John Beck and his passer rating of 53.6 that day. Now the promising Seahawks and their offense that averaged 27.2 points over their last five games of 2011 will come to the Rogers Centre in Week 15. The entertainment value should be much higher, and the result could be similar for the Bills against a Seahawks team that’s struggled on the east coast under Pete Carroll.
Good luck with those first two games, Andrew Luck. Any mock draft that doesn’t have Luck as a Colt is just doing a mad troll job at this point. He’ll replace Peyton Manning, and in his first two games he’ll face Julius Peppers in Week 1 and Jared Allen in Week 2, two defensive ends who had a combined 33 sacks in 2011, with Allen ‘s 22 leading the league.
Good luck with that first game, Robert Griffin III. The defense may not be as daunting, but if we assume that New Orleans finally does something right this offseason and satisfies Drew Brees, then RG3 may be forced to showcase his athleticism early and match the Saints’ offense in a shootout. Between Cam Newton and Andy Dalton we were spoiled with rookie QB flash last year, but the schedules are lining up for some early growing pains in 2012 for Luck and RG3.
Peyton isn’t thanking Tim for those wins. The quarterback who’s monopolized our attention this offseason now faces an extremely difficult schedule made possible by the heroics of the man he pushed out of Denver. Manning will lead his Denver offense against the Steelers, Falcons, and Texans over the first three weeks, which starts a brutal first half of the season that also features the Patriots, Chargers, and Saints. Manning’s wonky and improving but still uncertain neck will be tested early, possibly sustaining blows from heavy hitters like James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, John Abraham, Ray Edwards, and J.J. Watt.
Thanksgiving Day 2012 won’t top Thanksgiving Day 2011, but it could be pretty close. Last year we had Packers-Lions when Green Bay was still undefeated, and Ndamukong Suh was still crazy enough to stomp on opponents (yeah, he probably still is crazy enough to stomp on opponents). That was the appetizer, and the main course later on that night was the battle of the Harbaugh brothers. This year the Texans visit Detroit, putting two high octane offenses on the field along with two of the league’s toughest defensive fronts. Then there’s Jets-Patriots on NBC in primetime, a divisional rivalry that always ends in foot insults and/or ring kissing.
Green bay and Houston are the only teams with three straight road games. Although winning road games is never an easy task in the NFL, the stretch away from Lambeau Field between weeks five and seven isn’t too bad for the Packers. One of those games is against the Texans, while the other two are against Luck and the Colts in what will be just the rookie’s fifth start, and the Rams in Week 7. For Houston, the string of road games is much tougher, and it could have a significant impact on playoff seeding in the second half of the season. Between weeks 12 and 14 they’ll visit the Lions, Titans, and Patriots.
And there are only two teams starting with back-to-back road games. The Cowboys start under the spotlight in the kickoff game, which doubles as a divisional game against the Giants. Then they make the long flight to the northwest to Seattle, meaning there’s a very real chance Dallas cold be 0-2 before hosting a Bucs team in Week 3 that just added Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks. The rival Redskins are the other team that starts the season with two road games, but life gets easier for RG3 after the aforementioned opener against New Orleans when the Skins travel to St. Louis in Week 2.