The 2012 NFL Schedules came out on April 17th. This report takes a quick look at what each team’s schedule looks like. Some interesting games will be noted, along with comments about the pace of the schedule, trap games, etc. We go in alpha order. This is part one – Part two will showcase the final 16 teams, and will be available later today.
NOTE: Pre-draft Power ratings have been assigned. Schedule difficulty has NOT been determined. Sometime in May-June, after the draft has long been completed we will assign Post-draft Power ratings. At that time we will compute the schedule difficulty for each team, obviously based on the opponents each team will face and their Power #’s, which are not based on the win-loss record of a year ago. The post-draft ratings and schedule difficulty will remain in place until after week #3 of the pre-season. At that time we will finalize our opening 2012 seasonal Power #’s and schedule difficulty.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: Arizona plays the AFC East and NFC Central this season. They open hosting Seattle and may need to win this one (6-16 SU in home openers) with games at NE and vs. Philly next. Former Eagle QB Kolb missed the win vs. Philly last year. Minny and Arizona have played six times in the last seven years. Arizona has had a poor record in that stadium. Games 7-16 are difficult. The bye is in week 10, but the Cards might have to fight to be 5-4 by this time. Arizona has a tentative Power # of 23 for now, typical of teams with some talent but with QB inconsistency (league average 25.3). Reducing their -13 turnover ratio would go a long way to making that Power rating stand up or even improving.
A FIRST LOOK PRE-DRAFT AT THE 2012 SEASON: Atlanta’s unique schedule features alternating road and home games! They open with at KC, with TE Gonzalez visiting his old home. They host Peyton Manning and Denver on MNF and then have to travel to SD with a short week. They have some tough games following the week seven bye, and must avoid a letdown vs. a well rested Arizona team week 11. They have 24-2 playoff revenge hosting the NYG on 12/16. We show Atlanta with a solid 29 Power #. To move into the more elite group the Falcons need to have a strong defensive draft and play better on the pass D.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: Baltimore has been a playoff fixture for years and the NFL knows that. The Ravens play three of their 1st four games in prime time, two in Division and one being AFC Championship revenge vs. New England. Games five and six interest us because they have to avoid a letdown at KC and then host a Dallas team with two weeks of rest. Add in game #7, with Houston hosting Baltimore with playoff revenge as well and one can see ’12 may be a bit tricky. There’s very little time between games vs. Pittsburgh, the most physical rivalry in the NFL. The sandwich west coast game at SD and the beltway game at Washington could represent additional letdown situations. Baltimore hosts the Manning brothers weeks 15 and 16 before closing at Cincy, just like they did in ’11. At 1st glance, this schedule is not good. We have the Ravens starting at a Power # of 30, pre-draft. All ratings are finalized in early September. This one could actually go down, especially considering the fact that DC Pees is not one of our favorites!
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2011 SEASON: Buffalo started fast in ’11 before fading. A good start in ’12 might be sustainable thanks to what looks like a winnable slate of December games, beginning with three straight at home vs. non-playoff teams Jacksonville, STL and Seattle. Overall, Buffalo plays five of their final seven at home and all seven games are vs. teams who did not make the ’11 playoffs! Mario Williams and Buffalo travel to face his old Houston team 11/4. Buffalo looks improved but if still error prone at QB then even the “easy” games won’t be automatic wins. We have them with a Power # of 24.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2011 SEASON: Year two for Ron Rivera and Cam Newton begins with the Panthers playing Divisional opponents three times in September. Going 2-1 in these games and at least 3-2 before the bye would propel them to serious playoff contender. They’ll host Dallas right after the bye and the Cowboys will be off an intense game at Baltimore. Ron Rivera was a DC for a number of years in Chicago. His Carolina team lost at Chicago 34-29 last year. Conversely, ex-Panther HC Fox brings Denver into Carolina on 11/11. Not everyone was sad to see Fox gone. Carolina plays one MNF game, at Philly. They will have a short week before staying on the road to face KC. December features games with Divisional playoff teams Atlanta and New Orleans, but also finds Rivera returning to SD where he was a (successful) DC just prior to obtaining this job. Carolina is the trendy team to pick as much improved, and with a + point ratio they may deliver. We have them with a Power # of 25 but might consider moving that # up if the draft produces some ready to go talent. Hopefully their special team play will improve.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: The biggest challenge to Chicago’s ’12 schedule is dealing with a NFL high three MNF games. Their overall record on MNF is dismal, but comes in around 50% the past decade. Chicago is 16-3 SU in home openers and gets a brand new Indy team to open the season. A key game is 10/7 at Jacksonville. This is a winnable game but comes with a short week and is the 2nd of back-to-back road games. Their other MNF road game is at dangerous SF. This game is followed by a host of Minnesota, who will have two weeks to prepare. Chicago must handle these challenges if they want to return to the playoffs. They close on the road at Arizona and Detroit and have to hope they don’t need a sweep to make a playoff entrance. The team appears a bit better (and healthier) as of now so our current Power # is 26.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: Cincy seldom makes the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. If they want to make the playoffs in ’12 a fast start is imperative. Games 2-6 are hosting Cleveland, at Washington, at Jacksonville, hosting Miami and at Cleveland. These four teams combined to go 20-44 in ’11! Games 7-9 are all at home, with a bye week thrown in. Cincy faces the AFC West four times in weeks 9-13. The schedule is not easy in the middle but all these home games helps to put them on at least equal footing. LB Rivers and Cincy host the NYG week 10. CB Newman and Cincy host Dallas week 14. These affairs pale in comparison to the return of Carson Palmer (and Oakland) on 11/25. Palmer himself vowed that he would “never set foot” in Paul Brown stadium again. Adding to the drama is Oakland’s old HC, Hue Jackson is with Cincy now. That should be fun. Cincy’s final five games are the toughest, beginning with a possible letdown trip to SD week #13, before closing December hosting Dallas, at Philly and Pittsburgh and hosting Baltimore. Cincy closed ’11 with a Power # of 24 and that is where we open ’12, although the Bengals, with choices 17 and 21 could see that # move up before September.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: Those in the media say that Cleveland has the toughest ’12 schedule of all the non-playoff teams from a year ago, based on record. We base our schedule difficulty on each opponent’s Power #, and will tabulate that closer to the start of the ’12 season. Cleveland does have to face tough Divisional rivals and face the NFC East, but also gets a break in facing the AFC West. This will be the 13th time in the past 14 years that the Browns open the season at home. Unfortunately, they are 1-11 in those games. They finish playing rivals Cincy and Baltimore before their week 10 bye. They travel to Dallas off the bye, hoping to catch the Cowboys napping after playing at Philly the week before. RB Hillis, HC Crennel and OC Daball all used to be with Cleveland. They return to Cleveland 12/9 as part of the KC Chiefs. Cleveland closes at Denver and at Pittsburgh. Local writers can’t find many wins for the Browns. We have them currently with a Power # of 20.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: At 1st glance the schedule is not unreasonable but Dallas does have to beware of some letdown situations. NFL 2012 begins on a Wednesday, with the Cowboys traveling to the Super Bowl champion NYG. Had Dallas won once vs. the NYG last year these Giants would not have even made the playoffs! They have plenty of time before heading to Seattle week two. When last there, Tony Romo was seen fumbling a snap that led to a playoff loss. They play at Baltimore after the bye week, and are 0-3 lifetime vs. the Ravens. They stay on the road to face Cam Newton and Carolina, and the Panthers will be off a bye week. Playing at Atlanta and at Philly after hosting the NYG won’t be easy. Playing Cleveland with the Browns off a bye week could result in an upset with a letdown clearly possible. The December schedule is tricky (Philly, at Cincy, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, at Washington). Dallas lost five games they led in the 4th quarter last year. That must stop. We list them with a Power # of 28, about 10th or 11th thus far in the pecking order.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: Denver enters ’12 with a – point ratio, meaning they were more like 6-10 and not 8-8. Couple that with a 1st place schedule and games vs. the tough NFC South and AFC Central and this could be a disaster. Honestly, if Peyton Manning was NOT here this would be last place material! The good news is a likely fix of the fumble ratio (saving them points) and a decent DC (Del Rio). Pittsburgh has playoff revenge on SNF in the opener. Denver has a pair of MNF games and must reverse their poor track record in these games. They have excellent trends off a bye week and may need to grab that 10/28 win vs. New Orleans to offset the schedule bump. HC John Fox returns to Carolina week 10. December looks manageable but these Broncos have to again reverse poor records in their last road game and last home game. This is by far the toughest team to set a Power # on! Setting them at an average # of 25 makes them the BEST in the AFC West, but their schedule is likely the toughest of the group. We’ll certainly need to use the preseason to make a full team assessment.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: The Lions have an interesting schedule path in ’12. They have a quartet of back-to-back road games and have a total of just three home games before Thanksgiving. Is this team solid enough (especially on defense) to handle any of the back end road games? Game #2 is at SF, where “coaches hand shake gate” takes center stage. That could lead to a letdown at Tennessee. They travel to Chicago right after playing at Philly and the Bears will be off a bye week. On the plus side, the week eight game hosting Seattle could be a chance for the Lions to gain revenge vs. new Seahawk QB Flynn, who torched them for 480 yards last year. The Lions stay home weeks 11-13, and hope to gain their 1st Turkey Day win since ’03 when they host Houston. The 4th and last set of back-to-back road games is at GB, followed by at Arizona. That’s hard, especially since the Lions are not that good historically after playing the rival Packers. They’ll be happy if the week 17 game hosing Chicago is for a playoff berth (good last home game history). We are looking at a solid 28 Power # opening. What has us worried is the schedule, the pass D%, and the +11 turnover ratio which is probably going to be hard to replicate.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: GB is one of just two teams to play three consecutive road games in ’12. Those games are in October and are at Indy, Houston and STL. The bye comes after hosting Jacksonville and Arizona, meaning GB has a nice stretch of winnable games. Considering that games 1-4 are vs. SF (13-1 SU last 14), vs. Chicago, at Flynn and Seattle, and vs. New Orleans (with Haley, Vitt and probably a few suspended players not there), it sure seems like the Packers will get off to a roaring start. Five of their final seven games are inside the Division, with a week 12 game at the NYG showing playoff revenge, but also finding the NYG off a bye week. Can the Packers continue to produce double digit + turnover ratios? We’re giving them a tentative Power # of 33 (#1 in the NFL), but might lower it before the season starts
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: Will Houston be able to handle the prime time bump in the schedule? They’ll be in the spotlight five times, but just once at home! They draw the AFC East and NFC Central, plus 1st place Baltimore this season. September is manageable. October starts on MNF at the NYJ, followed by three straight at home, but a short week to host GB. They play Buffalo the week following the bye, a game which ex-Texan Mario Williams called “judgment day”. They, like GB have three straight on the road, but at least the 1st one is on Thanksgiving, giving them extra time before moving on to Tennessee and New England. If Houston proves they can handle all of this then there is good news at the end of the year, with games 14-16 vs. Indy twice, and Minnesota. They have the + point ratio which indicates value, but the roster is weaker. For now we are at a conservative Power # of 27, but perhaps that # will rise before the season starts.
INDY (22, 53, 87):
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: Each team now has at least one prime time game thanks to the expanded Thursday night schedule. The Colts will be at Jacksonville week 10 on Thursday night, but unfortunately it will be in a slightly negative situational spot. Indy’s September schedule is fair, featuring games vs. 3 non-playoff teams. That is a hopeful sign for any new staff, as is the early bye week so that adjustments can be made. All Sunday games kick off at 1:00 PM! This is the 10th straight season and 13th game in 10 years that Indy will play New England. We’ll be interested to see how the new management drafts and if the new staff can coach. The roster purge is amazing. Indy starts out with our lowest Power #, 16.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: Like the Colts, this new coaching staff gets a chance to win some early games. Games before the (nice) early bye week are at Minny, Houston, at Indy, Cincy and Chicago. Game six is at Oakland, but these Jags have two weeks to prepare while the Raiders will have had an east coast road game (Atlanta). Compared to the double whammy of ’11 (- point ratio, difficult schedule) this gives QB Gabbert a shot at improvement, OR, it gives Chad Henne a shot to get some wins. We applaud the NFL for perhaps the fairest schedule rollout we’ve seen, both in rhythm and with respect to most of the new coaches. Speaking of Henne, will he be the starter when the Jags go to Miami week 15? December is their toughest month, but perhaps early success can translate into late season opportunity. The Power # starts at just 19 however.
A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2012 SEASON: Interim HC Crennel got the full time job, but unlike Indy and Jacksonville this early schedule is not conducive to winning early. Weeks 1-5 are hosting Atlanta, at Buffalo, at New Orleans, hosting SD and hosting Baltimore. A win in any of these games (Berry a score to settle vs. Bills, Saints with suspensions, SD September issues) is possible, but the likelihood of about 2-3 to start is far more probable than a 3-2 start. KC’s job is to avoid September disaster. On week 10 they travel to Pittsburgh for a MNF game vs. old HC now Pitt OC Haley. Games 10-12 are all at home, against Cincy, Denver and Carolina. These games could go either way! The final four games are vs. teams 8-8 or worse, but three of the four are on the road. KC was hit with key injuries EARLY in ’11 but they must overcome a – point ratio and have a very conservative HC in Crennel. Teams with KC’s Power # (23) have QB inconsistency. Cassell is a marginal NFL starter.