No easy road for first-year coaches in 2012


Seven new NFL head coaches are sitting in their offices right now, staring at the 2012 NFL schedule. Many of them face an uphill climb, few of them will catch any breaks. Perhaps it's too early to tell, but let's take a look at who won and lost the schedule competition:

Rough introduction

Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders: The Raiders march out of the gate on "Monday Night Football" at home against the San Diego Chargers. Allen takes on another first-year head coach, Miami's Joe Philbin, in Week 2. From there, Oakland is handed the Steelers and Broncos before catching their breath with a bye in Week 5.

He'll look smarter than he is

Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs: Only technically a first-year coach, Crennel is already hailed in the streets of Kansas City as the man who knocked off the undefeated Packers as an interim coach last season. The AFC West is much-improved, but the Chiefs are two seasons removed from a division title. Romeo's in a good spot here.

Meet the No. 2 pick

Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams: It's a mystery who the Rams will take in next week's draft, but we're willing to mortgage the farm on who the Redskins will snatch with the No. 2 pick they netted in a blockbuster trade with Jeff Fisher and Co. Robert Griffin III might start immediately in Washington, turning the Week 2 meeting between the Rams and Redskins into a compelling affair (considering it's one we would have skipped a season ago).

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Easiest slate?

Mike Mularkey, Jacksonville Jaguars: None of these coaches face an easy schedule, but the Jaguars get my vote. Outside of Houston, the AFC South is a cluster of teams that regularly beat up on each other. Mularkey isn't an exciting hire, but he brings previous head-coaching experience and that counts early on. None of that fill the holes on this roster, so feel free to fry me on this one.

Toughest schedule

Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins: It's not so much the four improved NFC West teams they'll face. It's their own division, the AFC East, that makes 2012 a tall order for Philbin. As of today, they're heading into the season with Matt Moore and David Garrard at quarterback -- or a rookie to be named later. Not the formula for knocking off Bill Belichick.

Second-toughest schedule

Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Two games against both the Saints and Falcons. Two more against the NFC South's new mega-headache, Cam Newton. There's a reason the Bucs gave up a league-worst 494 points in 2011. We love Schiano's fire, but Tampa will be challenged early.

In Need of some luck

Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts: I love the Pagano hire and believe the team will play hard for their new coach after a disastrous 2011 cost Jim Caldwell his job. It's an unusual early slate for the Colts, opening against two NFC North teams: the Bears in Week 1, followed by the Vikings in Week 2. Everything will be new to likely top pick Andrew Luck, but the bye in Week 4 -- an early one -- might be just what the doctor ordered for the prized quarterback.