If you’re like me — and all of you are — then you look at your day and anticipate potential bad stretches. The first possible land mine is when I have to put on pants (hashtag bloglife).
Last night we celebrated April Christmas when the 2013 schedule was released. Not to throw icy water on your joy, but we’re all surely aware that as far as the opponents for each team are concerned, the schedule was been essentially settled for months. Instead, what’s always important on schedule release day is when each team plays each opponent, and the order in which those games fall.
So it can be reduced to one word: stretches. If the truly challenging games are spaced out, then raise that glass. But if a gauntlet or two await, then drink the contents of said glass.
I went through the schedules, and found five such potential places where sadness is forthcoming.
1. Miami Dolphins
The offseason winners — if such a thing is possible — get an immediate face punch during the first quarter of their season, with little time for their new acquisitions to gel in a chillin’ environment. Sure, this is the NFL, so warm and fuzzy isn’t something that happens much on any schedule. But between Weeks 2 and 4, the Dolphins will have to defend three aerial attacks that are much less than fun (Colts, Falcons, Saints), and two of those games (Colts and Saints) are on the road. That three-game stretch is then followed by a rendezvous with the defending champs.
To make a fine cross-sport reference, if being a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays has taught me anything in April, it’s that if a team starts slow after spending many dollars in free agency, worlds explode.
2. Washington Redskins
Let’s play pretend for a second here, or if you wish, enter a world where you can have anything you desire. What do I want? I want Chip Kelly’s new offense to be really awesome, and for LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson et al to be equally awesome as a result.
Now keep those awesome hypothetical Eagles thoughts in mind, and look at the Redskins’ schedule starting in Week 11, a time when playoff pushing often stars. That’s when they face Philly on the road, and then of their final six games (against the 49ers, Falcons, Cowboys, Chiefs, and Giants twice), only one opponent finished with a record below .500 in 2012.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
Like the Dolphins above, a daunting early test awaits. How much will the Bears’ defense decline without Brian Urlacher? Probably not much, because that middle linebacker position was already declining with Urlacher.
Urlacher — or a lack of Urlacher — will be of a much lesser concern for Andy Dalton and co. to open the season. Instead they’ll be concerned with a defense that created 59 turnovers last year, and then in just Week 2 they’re faced with a divisional clash against the Steelers which often ends in great pain, followed by the Packers in Week 3, and then soon after New England in Week 5. Going 2-3 to start the season will be an accomplishment.
4. Chicago Bears
Oh, and about Da Bears: life ain’t fair. There’s a new head coach in the city where the hot dogs are heavenly, and again for what it’s worth (ultimately, little), the face of the franchise for the past 14 years is gone.
And sure, that pass defense is still strong, and Julius Peppers will still team up with Henry Melton along the defensive front to hurt people. But that scary defense will face many scary challenges over the first 10 weeks. That includes attempting to stop a top 10 passing offense from last season four times (Packers, Saints, Lions twice). Worse, in the middle of dealing with that potential passing pummeling, Chicago will also have to keep the Redskins and Vikings from running wildly prior to their Week 8 bye. Washington and Minnesota had the top two rushing offenses in the league this past season, both averaging over 160 yards per game.
5. Green Bay Packers
We’ve already played one fun hypothetical game, mostly because making stuff up is what I do best. But now let’s assume that Robert Griffin III returns for the beginning of the season. And while doing that, let’s also assume that he’s still a freakish running threat, because even at maybe 80 percent health, RG3 still makes defenders soil themselves.
Alright, so keep that mental image fresh, and then look at the Packers’ first two games. Yeah, I know it’s just two damn games, and mostly here we’ve discussed more lengthy stretches of potential awfulness in schedules. But consider how poorly the Packers fared against the 49ers’ read-option offense led by Colin Kaepernick during the playoffs (181 rushing yards by Kaepernick with two touchdowns). Then look at their schedule again, and see that they’ll have to figure out how to stop both Kaepernick and Griffin during the first two weeks. That’s a lot of potential for ughs.