Philadelphia Eagles: wow, where to start. The Eagles have absolutely drawn the toughest schedule layout in the entire NFL, and it frankly is not even close. Add on top of that they will face the 3rd toughest opponents according to my 2011 blended numbers, and the 8th toughest slate using initial 2012 numbers, and there just aren’t many good things about it as they head into a critical year for HC Andy Reid. At least the breakout of home vs. road SOS is favorable as I have PHI facing the 21st toughest road schedule, paired with the #1 toughest home slate - better to at least get a bulk of your tougher games in the friendly confines of Lincoln Financial Field. The first point to be made, and it is a major one, is the Eagles will face four teams coming off their bye week – one of them however, in Wk8 hosting ATL, is at least when they are coming off their own bye. Yes, four times this season a team will have had two weeks to prepare for the Eagles – there is no other NFL team that has four instances of this, the only other team with more than 2 is ATL with 3. That is really a tough break, and frankly seems extremely unfair as there are 11 teams in the NFL that are not facing one team off a bye week all season long. PHI also faces the toughest NFC East schedule as far as my 2011 figures go; on a good note, using my initial 2012 power ratings, they are tied with Washington for the easiest NFC East slate. Next major point is their division games – they are very bunched up which is typically looked at as a disadvantage. Outside a Wk4 meeting hosting NYG, they do not play another game vs. a division rival until Wk10 when they host DAL. Five of their final 8 are vs. the division, including 3 of the final 4 on the road. Not only that, they face a divisional opponent back to back in Wks 10&11, then 16&17. The good part of the closing schedule after Wk9 is they do not face a playoff team from last season until the closing game @ NYG. On another slightly good note they only play back to back road games once all year (Wks 13&14), and back to back home games once (Wks 15&16). One quirky point is they do not play WAS until Wk11, giving RG3 9 games of experience before these two teams matchup. As far as time of games go, like most other big name contending type teams, they will face 5 night games – a pair of SNF & MNF contests, along with their lone TNF contest. Their TNF matchup comes off a trip to TB, and is followed by a pair of divisional games to close out the season, so that could be placed worse for sure. Three of their four SNF/MNF games will be played on the road, and three of those four feature matchups in that next game that will be tough to overcome given the short week of preparation: @ PIT, DAL, @ DAL – so both games vs. DAL this season will come off a short week for the Birds. This is no question a very tough schedule, perhaps the toughest in the NFL overall when taking opponents and layout into the equation – and this will make it very tough to reach their lofty goals in 2012 following a disappointing 2011 campaign.
Washington Redskins: The Skins check in with the easiest schedule of NFC East teams measured by opponent’s strength using both 2011 & 2012 numbers - and like PHI, they will face the #2 SOS in home games, vs. #16 SOS in road action. That will help RG3 ease into his NFL career for certain. Their divisional games, similar to the Eagles, are mostly bunched up late in the season – typically such a bunching is not prime for most teams – but since these games are the most critical ones on the schedule, and the fact they will be starting a rookie QB, it’s probably best to have the biggest games late in the season so the rookie can get his feet wet, and pick up some valuable game experience. Five of WAS’s last seven games are vs. the NFC East, including a trio in a row following their bye week in Wks 11-13, and a duo to close the season. The long outlier of sorts as far as divisional contests go is the Wk7 tussle with the defending champs in NY. The Skins unfortunately do open with 3 of 4 on the road, a baptism by fire of sorts for RG3 – especially the opener in the deafening Louisiana Superdome vs. NFC challenger NO. One good thing, if there is one, about the opening portion of the Redskins schedule that is very road heavy is the QBs RG3 will be facing – most are also very young with limited experience in the names of Bradford, Dalton, Freeman, and Ponder – four of their first six games. That should help their chances at winning games, especially considering that leads up to the likes of Eli Manning, Big Ben, Newton, Vick, Romo, and Flacco – you get the point. WAS has only 1 MNF & TNF game currently on the schedule – and they come in back to back weeks @ DAL on TNF Wk12 and hosting NYG on MNF Wk13. The short week before the Cowboys game (RG3’s return to Texas) will be tough as the Skins host PHI the week prior – but at least that game is coming off their bye. They also currently have a trio of 4pm kicks on the schedule, in Wks 2, 4, 6. Last point on kickoff times, WAS will only play 3 games in a time zone other than Eastern, and all three are Central – so not long road trips to be concerned about. Overall it’s hard to argue with this schedule if you are a Redskins fan, but it may be asking too much for WAS to challenge for an NFC East title or Wild Card berth just yet.
Dallas Cowboys: like most of their NFC East brethren, DAL’s schedule starts a little slow, and picks up late when the games matter most. Before their early bye in Wk5, they face four opponents who didn’t rank higher than 15 in my performance stats from 2011, with 3 of the 4 ranked 19 or worse. However, four of their first six are on the road, and those road games will be tests vs. team’s that believe they have a shot at playing meaningful games in January 2013. Starting in Wk8, DAL plays 4 of 6 inside the division (3 of 4 at home), with the other two games bookending their season, opening @ NYG (in NY for 2nd straight year to open their campaign, 2011 was vs. Jets), and closing @ WAS. That will be the critical portion of their schedule, say Wks 7-13 where they will face 4 divisional contests, and key games for potential tiebreaker purposes @ CAR & @ ATL. Starting in Wk11 they play 5 of 6 at home, with the lone roadie being @ CLE – very manageable. DAL does unfortunately face two teams coming off a bye week, that same CLE game just mentioned and @ CAR. With DAL being DAL there are also plenty of primetime games on the schedule – a pair of SNF & TNF games (they have two TNF games because of their annual Thanksgiving tilt), along with a lone MNF contest. The first TNF game is their opener @ NYG, with the 2nd coming in Wk12/Thanksgiving hosting WAS – and that game comes off a home game vs. CLE, so could be worse. Their lone MNF game comes in Wk4 hosting CHI, which follows a home game vs. TB and precedes their bye – again, very favorable. Wk9 is their first SNF contest @ ATL, which is sandwiched around a pair of key, divisional 4pm kicks; their second SNF game is hosting PHI in Wk13 which is off their Thanksgiving game. As far as mileage goes, they only play one game in the Mountain or Pacific Time zones – Wk2 @ SEA, with the rest of their road games in the Eastern Time zone. In all there truly isn’t that easy a stretch in the entire schedule and it will be a big time challenge for DAL to contend in the NFC this season based on that fact, along with the split of having the #2 toughest road schedule in the NFL.
New York Giants: the defending champs will face one of the tougher schedules in the NFL this season, which honestly should be the case after winning it all last year. I have their schedule rated #2 using blended 2011 figures, and #7 using the most up to date 2012 power ratings – which is some difference from what most of the media stories have trumpeted recently listing the NYG as the #1 rated SOS. As far as the layout goes, not much truly stands out besides the last four games being a brutal stretch facing NO, @ ATL, @ BAL, PHI – all those teams have designs on making the playoffs, at the very least – and typically, the end of the season is when the NYG typically turn it on and make a late run towards a divisional crown. Four of their first eight games will be inside the division, including the opener in MetLife Stadium vs. DAL. NYG do not face any teams off a bye week, and only has one instance of back to back divisional contests – Wks 7&8 vs. DAL & @ WAS. A late bye in Wk11 should help charging the batteries and getting everyone healthy for the key late game stretch, which starts right off the bye week when they host GB in Wk12. Like DAL, NYG face the same layout as far as kickoff times go – pair of TNF & SNF games, one MNF, and as of now four 4pm. Their two TNF games comes within the first three weeks of the season, hosting DAL to open then travelling to CAR in Wk3 – sandwiched in between is a tricky game hosting TB. Wk4 is their first SNF game @ PHI, which is followed by hosting the Browns in Wk5 – manageable. To close their primetime schedule, they host GB off their bye in Wk12 on SNF, then travel to WAS for a MNF contest before hosting NO in Wk14 for a late afternoon kick. Layout wise there are not many killer games, and NYG also do not face any teams coming off their bye week. Because of that, NYG should be well positioned towards the end of the season to reach the playoffs – the last four games could and likely will be the determining factor as far as if they make it, and/or what seed they play from.
Check back next time as we move to the NFC North
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