Baltimore Ravens: get their bye week towards middle of season, Wk8, yielding a favorable split to their season vs. an SOS I have rated #6 based on 2012 current power ratings, and #8 based on a blend of last year’s ratings. The Ravens play no back to back divisional games, but bookend their season with matchups vs. CIN, the opener at home. BAL also has four instances of back to back road or home games, one of which is sandwiched around their bye. Travel wise, they do not play a game past the Central time zone, a definite advantage. BAL has one MNF, two SNF and one TNF contest on the slate currently – all four take place prior to Wk12. As mentioned, their opener with CIN is on MNF, travel to PHI in Wk2, host NE on SNF in Wk3, then have a real short week turning around hosting another divisional rival CLE in Wk4. Talk about a tough start to the season, a pair of divisional contests sandwiched around a trips to NFC & AFC contenders….and the last game, probably the easiest of the bunch, comes off very short rest and a game vs. NE. In Wk11 they travel to PIT for their final night game of the season, and follow that up with back to back late kicks on Sunday @ SD then the return visit from hated rival PIT. Facing PIT twice in three weeks isn’t good for anyone involved, and I strongly feel the schedule maker should be chastised for making such a terrible display of judgment. Just for fun, and something to keep an eye on as we approach Wk12, targeting a play on SD when they host the Ravens may not be a bad idea as that game will be a massive look-ahead spot for the Ravens with the Steelers coming up next, along with BAL having to travel across the country following what is likely to be a physical SNF game the week before vs. those same Steelers. Overall there are a few key spots where the schedule didn’t work out well for BAL, and savvy handicappers can and will take advantage of such instances.
Pittsburgh Steelers: an early bye week is the first concern regarding a slate that appears to be pretty tough not so much opponents wise (middle of pack in all analysis), but layout wise for certain. PIT plays 5 of their last 7 games within the division, including a pair to close their season at home vs. CIN & CLE. Sandwiched in between those five divisional contests is a pair of tough games, hosting SD and travelling to DAL in Wk15. The Steelers play 4 of their first 6 on the road, including games vs. potential playoff teams @ DEN in Wk1, hosting NYJ in Wk2, and hosting PHI off their bye in Wk5. Look for those divisional contests late in the season to determine their fate as far as the playoffs go. Analyzing kickoff times for PIT, we have a ton of variation which without question impacts a team as their normal game day routine is impacted. This year PIT plays games at the following times: six 1pm, five 4pm, three SNF, one MNF, and one TNF for good measure. Talk about variation! With a schedule as such there are clearly games to target early on – remember, these are only games to keep an eye on when the time comes – by no means at all can you make wagers on any of these games based solely on this information, and by no means do I ever recommend playing any game right now vs. the spread – way to many things can still happen which makes placing bets now more of a crapshoot than a true skill set. The only truly tough turnaround with all that variation comes in Wks 4-5, where the Steelers host PHI then travel to TEN 4 days later. Overall this certainly has the makings of a tough schedule this season for the Steelers.
Cleveland Browns: my ratings have the Browns with the #1 toughest schedule using a blend of last year’s final power ratings & last year’s statistical performance of their opponents. When using my power ratings where things currently stand (which will move obviously as we get closer to the season and get a better feel for team’s strength) they check in at 4th toughest, including 3rd toughest home slate. On a favorable note, CLE has a 9/7 split to their schedule around their bye week. Before their bye week they will play 4 of their 6 divisional contests, and also face a pair of teams coming off their bye weeks when they take on SD in Wk8, and BAL in Wk9 – both at home. The easiest portion of their schedule is the last 5, although a pair of road games to close the season vs. DEN & PIT will not be easy whatsoever. CLE only has a pair of 4pm kicks, along with their one TNF game – the rest of their games, as of now, will start at 1pm. Their short week could be worse, as they host BUF the week before going to BAL for a Thursday night showdown in the Big B. It will clearly be an uphill battle for the Browns to improve on last year’s 4 wins with this schedule, even with a fair breakout of kickoff times.
Cincinnati Bengals: bye week comes Wk8, which is the same as BAL & CLE – overall favorable spot, only Wk9 can be better as that splits the season in two eight game slates. What is interesting about the Bengals schedule is they play their six divisional contests in three back to back sets, starting with the opening two weeks @ BAL then hosting CIN; right before their bye week they play @ CLE then hosting PIT; and last two weeks @ PIT then hosting BAL. Playing divisional contests in back to back weeks is not favorable as those are always the biggest and most important games in a season. CIN does have a three game home stand sandwiched around the bye week – Wk7 PIT, Wk8 bye, Wk9 DEN, Wk10 NYG – talk about a tough trio, all those teams have designs on winning a Super Bowl in 2012. After enjoying some success last season, the NFL has decided to showcase the up and coming Bengals in three primetime games, along with a pair of 4pm starts (one of which is @ SD, the other in JAC Wk4 so no real options there for early starts as early season games in Florida for most part will start at 4pm due to the heat factor). None of those five instances come back to back, and their short week at least involves games vs. the NFC where they host DAL before travelling to PHI for their TNF matchup. Look for a strong start from the Bengals as outside the opener and game before their bye week they face a very manageable schedule, with no teams in the top 18 of statistical performance from 2011 (highest is #18 MIA whom they host in Wk5).
Check back later in the week for the next installment, the AFC South
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